Two-spirit pride stories

It's Pride Month, Asia Brown is a sexual health communications specialist for the Washington Youth Sexual Health Project, she explains more. Sherenté Harris is a cultural educator, artist and activist. Harris is the subject of a recently released documentary, 'Being Thunder.' Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, ICT's managing editor, is a part of a team reporting on the COVID-19 death inaccuracies in Indian Country.
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Many Native LGBTQ youth are sitting in classrooms where their teachers and textbooks fail to appropriately address their identities, behaviors and experiences. Nowhere is this absence more clear, and potentially more damaging, than in sex education.

Asia Brown is a sexual health communications specialist for the Washington Youth Sexual Health project. Brown supports the circulation of youth friendly and inclusive sexual health content. She’s also a team member at We R Native, an organization striving to promote holistic health and positive growth in local communities and the nation at large.

Sherenté Harris is a cultural educator, artist and activist. Harris is the subject of a recently released documentary, "Being Thunder." Over the course of several years, the film documents the two-spirit, gender-queer teenager from the Narragansett tribe in Rhode Island revealing the struggles faced by the determined teen. She is currently attending Brown University.

As Indian Country continues to navigate the coronavirus pandemic, one thing is already clear, the exact numbers of cases may never be known.

Data is held by a number of entities, from tribal, state, county and even foreign medical centers creates barriers to collecting the information.

Indian Country Today partnered with the Indigenous Investigative Collective to look into this issue.

Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, our managing editor, was a part of this team reporting on the challenges. She joins us now to explain more about what they found and what they didn’t find. 

A slice into our Indigenous world 

  • One tribe is buying back an island it lost 160 years ago.

  • The effort to get the Mono Lake Paiute tribe federally recognized is coming down to the wire.

  • The Duke and Duchess of Sussex may be living near the site of an amazing discovery related to California’s Indigenous history.

  • Canada’s federal government released its national action plan responding to the National Inquiry Into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.
  • Canada’s Grand Council Treaty 3 has started off Pride month by announcing a new LGBTQ2S council for the territory.

  • This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

Some quotes from Today's show

Asia Brown

“So to me, a good sexual education program looks like a program that is one, inclusive to affirming, and three, is relatable. Those three components are what really stands out to me because they seem to be lacking in a lot of places and allow that due to social justice issues pertaining to colonization heteronormativity trauma, and a lot of those things we've seen in public health. And it's because it serves a lot of our relationships to each other, our bodies and our community in general. And so I feel like those three main issues really speak to what we need in sexual health education.”

“Because of the social justice issues of trauma and especially the huge influence of Western religion tying into that with colonization, we have a huge emphasis on shame and discomfort when it comes to talking about sexual health. However, here at the health board, we work with an epidemiology center that really shows us the data and research that backs up what we're doing. And we're also working with an analysis team called market casts that shows us what youth want and need when it comes to sexual health education. And sometimes when translating that into social media, it can be difficult because we're trying to connect the youth to the caring adults. And again, like I said, with this show also justice issues happening, the challenges really come through and those aspects. And so for me, one way to help address that is to be culturally sensitive. Sexual health is respectable. It' a huge part of who we are and there's nothing shameful about it. It's very enduring, just like. And so policies like humor and sweetness and a lot of those techniques to help make social media more relatable affirming and fun really helps. I would say offset, I don't want to say offset, but like it would help, soften some of those challenges.”

Sherenté Harris
"So my story begins as a young teenager realizing that I was two-spirit and luckily having a family that loved and supported me and was in touch with our traditional ways. And then that journey was a process of many comings out to my tribal community and the tribal communities around me. And that was all facilitated through dance. And I come from a family of champion pow-wow dancers and it is, I have always been taught that through our dance. We give sacred prayer and if I was not dancing in a style that spoke to my two spirit identity, I would be lying to myself and my prayer would be empty. So I began fancy shawl dancing as a two-spirit person, biologically born male and shook things up in a drastic way within my tribal communities."

"I feel very blessed that my home unit has always been right behind me because there's so many other two-spirit people in my tribal community cousins that at one point danced at powwows, but today feel uncomfortable and have almost been separated from so many of our tribal gatherings because of the homophobia and transphobia coming out. Isn't something that I think LGBTQ people ever just do once every time you meet someone new or even when you're revisiting old loved ones, it's a constant journey of making clear who you are. And that can be difficult when, who you are, is somewhere in this gray area. But I've leaned into that and embraced that because it is those in-between places that I feel are the most beautiful and are the most representative of our source where all things connect even the most seemingly opposite."

Jourdan Bennett-Begaye

“There are a couple, several reasons, but the one that we focused on was No. 1, death certificates. It's really difficult there's really no their standards for filling out a death certificate, but who fills those out? It's different among all the states. You have the physicians, the coroners, medical direct medical examiners and funeral directors. I know Abigail Echo Hawk, I spoke with for the story said sometimes, doctors look at the bodies and have to identify it without a family member, but for a funeral director, I've talked to Robert Gill in Minnesota, he said that he does talk to the family, but when he does he sends out information to the state, he doesn't know what the state does with that information. And just in the last year or two of this pandemic, I mean, I've talked to multiple  experts saying, asking you what the problem is on racial misclassification.”

“They pointed to the same contributing factors and the other one was, there's really no one system that aggregates all this data, right? You have the, Indian health system that is so complicated. It's made up of, direct health facilities, tribally run, and operated facilities, private hospitals, private clinics. There's really no way to know where every person goes, is up to their own situation. But there's really no one place where all the status is collected. The CDC has one number, other, third party entities have another number, Indian Country Today. We try to start our own database because I just wasn't doing it and IHS doesn't do it because they know that racial misclassification is a huge deal and they're not doing it right.”

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Mark Trahant, Shoshone-Bannock, is editor of Indian Country Today. On Twitter: @TrahantReports Trahant is based in Phoenix. 

Patty Talahongva, Hopi, is executive producer of Indian Country Today. Follow her on Twitter: @WiteSpider.

Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Diné, is the managing editor for Indian Country Today based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter: @jourdanbb or email her at jbennett-begaye@indiancountrytoday.com. Bennett-Begaye’s Grey’s Anatomy obsession started while attending the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.

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