'Milestone' for Diné LGBTQ+

Proclamation signing of the 2020 "Diné Pride Week" on June 22 in Window Rock, Arizona. (Photo: Diné Pride)

Kalle Benallie

UPDATED: 'Above all, we just want to be accepted'

Kalle Benallie
Indian Country Today

The Navajo Nation signed a resolution Friday recognizing “Diné Pride Week” as a recurring celebration every third week of June.

Council Speaker Seth Damon signed the legislation at a livestreamed ceremony in front of the Navajo Nation Council Chamber in Window Rock, Arizona, and a Diné Pride banner. 

Attendees included resolution co-sponsors Nathaniel Brown and Carl Roessel Slater, along with Arizona state Rep. Arlando Teller and Alray Nelson, executive director of Diné Pride, an organization dedicated to celebrating and honoring Diné LGBTQ+. 

"I want to tell the Navajo Nation that this is a historic day," Brown said. "This is a start of bringing true equality to everyone, to be seen as equal, to truly be seen, to be heard by the Navajo Nation Council, our great Navajo Nation."

Brown noted when he first started as an openly gay delegate, it was uncomfortable at times.

“When you’re sitting on the council floor and when you’re looking at your colleagues, sometimes they don’t make eye contact,” he told Indian Country Today.

Brown said talks about LGBTQ-related topics began around 2017. But even then he noticed an avoidance of the discussion, especially when it came to LGBTQ words like “gay” and “transgender.”

The atmosphere was like, “If you don’t talk about it, you might not see it; if you don’t see it, then it’s not there.”

He credits Diné Pride for championing pride recognition and equality, particularly Diné Pride Week.

“I actually go to them for a lot of their help and all the work that they’ve been doing,” Brown said.

According to the legislation documents, Diné Pride Week is aimed at recognizing and honoring the LGTBQ+ community, including Two-Spirit people.

The resolution states: “The Navajo Nation stands behind LGBTQ+ members and will continue to uplift all people, both young and long-lived, in their pursuit of basic civil and human rights.”

"As we look into the future, to our young people, it's important and imperative that this is just a small step towards the right direction for the Navajo people," Nelson said.

Brown said he was introduced to the Diné Pride organization after attending their drag show in 2015. There he met Nelson and the board of directors.

“I really liked the messaging that it had, the very strong political message that they had on equality, gay rights and LGBTQ rights,” he said.

And when Brown was thinking about a political career, he noticed the lack of laws for LGBTQ+ teenagers who were experiencing bullying and suicide in his community. He said he understood because he was also bullied and called homophoic slurs in English and Navajo.

He said Diné Pride Week is to help highlight these issues, educate others about colonization that changed the Navajo matriarchal society and the ideas of sexual orientation.

“It’s just too painful. We need to have just a week to educate our Navajo society, that it’s not that our world is changing. … We’re going back to being who we are as Diné people,” he said.

Brown said other council delegates like Slater and Damon have been great allies. And the passing of the legislation is helping to elevate LGBTQ+ voices.

“We’re in the right time to be seen and heard. Above all, we just want to be accepted like everyone,” he said. 

Nelson said the group has been working on getting the legislation passed for three months with Damon and several members of the Navajo Nation Council.

“Our main goal was to ensure that we reached out to those sitting on the fence and to have a conversation about the importance of recognizing Diné Pride Week,” Nelson said.

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Proclamation signing of the 2020 "Diné Pride Week" on June 22 in Window Rock, Arizona. (Photo: Diné Pride)
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(Photo: Diné Pride)

The measure is one of many the group wants to push forward, including changing the Diné Marriage Act of 2005 to recognize same-sex marriage and enacting safety laws to protect those who identify as LGBTQ.

Nelson said the signing of the legislation is the Navajo Nation Council’s way of saying, “We are taking the right step in a good direction for our community.”

But Nelson recounts the dissenting opinions of some tribal leaders who said the weeklong celebration of Diné Pride Week is longer than other recognized celebrations for the police force or veterans.

However, Nelson said some Navajo members of the LGBTQ community include elders, military members and those who are battling the novel coronavirus on the frontlines. And the weeklong celebration is needed.

“This is an important milestone for the Navajo people, and it’s a way for us to uplift a voice that has not necessarily been publicly heard of [by] Navajo government for a while,” he said. 

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Kalle Benallie, Navajo, is a reporter-producer at Indian Country Today's Phoenix bureau. Follow her on Twitter: @kallebenallie or email her at kbenallie@indiancountrytoday.com.

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Indian Country Today national correspondent Dalton Walker, Red Lake Anishinaabe, contributed to this report.

Comments (1)
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caniscandida
caniscandida

Congratulations and best wishes to the LGBTQ+ people in the Navajo Nation! An interesting suggestion they seem to be making is that homophobia and transphobia are not original Navajo sentiments, but are colonialist imports from their white neighbors. Makes sense.


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