Pictured above: Two Spirit attendee of Baltimore Pride kisses partner.
Indigenous LGBTQIA2S people have existed on Turtle Island (a term we use to describe our homeland, the continent of North America) since time immemorial. Over 500 years of genocide, forced assimilation, and Christianity have left many Two Spirit individuals without a home within our tribal nations and the larger white society, including the non-native LGBTQIA2S community. Despite living on the margins, we have persevered and are representing our indigenous and LGBTQIA2S relatives through political resistance and cultural revival.
Two Spirit is a contemporary, umbrella term that refers to non-binary gender identities that were present in some tribal nations pre-white invasion. Many indigenous nations have multiple genders and names for those who fall outside the gender binary. Tony Enos (of the Cherokee Nation) wrote that Two Spirit people have both a “male and female spirit within them, and are blessed by their Creator to see life through the eyes of both genders. These names and roles go back to a time before western religion.” We were often the caretakers of orphaned children, medicine people, warriors in battle, and tribal ambassadors in dealings with the U.S. government.
Seal of the Cherokee Nation.
As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots and the heroic actions of trans women of color who led the rebellion, we cannot leave behind the over 500 years of Two Spirit resistance on indigenous land—our land. Fifty years of modern LGBTQ liberation, while essential, is a drop in the bucket compared to thousands of years of queer indigeneity on Turtle Island. It’s crucial that the lives of Two Spirit people, both past and present, are recognized and honored. By acknowledging not only our existence but the centuries of our resistance to the white, heterosexist, gender binary, we move closer to the decolonization of Turtle Island and the full liberation of all LGBTQIA2S people.
I have repeatedly heard claims that the issues that impact me as a Native aren’t important to the non-Native queer community, as if to say that I, and other LGBTQIA2S Natives, don’t matter. Native land is being stolen and polluted. Native women and Two Spirit folks are being raped, sexually trafficked, and kidnapped partially due to the construction of oil pipelines and resource extraction, which contributes to an increased risk of sexual assault. Native people are incarcerated and murdered by police at frightening rates and Two Spirit folks are even the targets of police violence, including at Pride. Meanwhile, non-Native LGBTQIA2S organizations and communities are complicit in my community’s genocide all in the name of “equality." But whose equality and lives matter?
The activities and the rights of the LGBTQIA2S community in the so-called United States have come to fruition on indigenous soil, often without tribal consultation or active engagement with the Two Spirit community, and even at our expense. From white, gay men, such as Walter L. Williams, who made a living off our backs, to the overwhelmingly non-native led HRC and Pride parades and festivals, Two Spirits are rarely recognized, let alone honored.
Dakota Access Pipeline protest at Standing Rock.
Many Prides in the U.S. not only lack indigenous leadership and inclusion, but often accept sponsorship from entities that are actively harming indigenous communities. Wells Fargo funded the Dakota Access Pipeline, as well as private prisons and ICE detention centers. Despite this, the bank is a sponsor for the 2019 New York City and WorldPride marches. I have a difficult time understanding how a corporation that is complicit in indigenous genocide, as well as the harm of black and brown people, is considered queer-friendly.
This very issue led me to take part in the No Justice No Pride (NJNP) coalition in 2017 in Washington D.C. As a result of the coalition's work, there were numerous protests, marches, and the blockading of the Capital Pride parade three times. This included a blockade, that myself and another Two Spirit took part in, in front of the Wells Fargo float that brought the parade to an end. During negotiations between NJNP and Capital Pride, Capital Pride referred to us as “terrorists.”
Pride, just like the survival of Two Spirit people, is an act of revolution and rebellion birthed by Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Brenda Howard, and many more marginalized queer people whose names we may never know. Pride shouldn't consist of rainbow capitalism. Rainbow Doritos, Absolut ads for Pride, and the plastering of Chicago trains and sidewalks with rainbows means nothing to me as someone who's queer Indigenous ancestors have existed and resisted for far longer than a few decades of this one-month long, targeted marketing. It also means little to me that the Chicago Transit Authority covered their trains in rainbows when they haven't made the system fully accessible so that my disabled, queer body can use the train.
Out of the 50 events at this year's New York City and WorldPride, there's only one Two Spirit event. While I'm excited for the 2 Spirits & HIV Conference, this simply isn't enough. It's tokenization, not inclusion, nor is it the reorganization of Pride's existence on our stolen lands. Sue Doster, who sits on InterPride's Conference Structure and Integrity Committee (CSIC) and Restructuring Working Group told me in a community meeting held by Capital Pride in May 2017 that there just weren't enough indigenous people to represent us in WorldPride leadership and activities. To this, I have to wonder why they're not doing the outreach and work to decolonize their organization in order to meaningfully include indigenous people across the world. Have Pride organizations stopped to ask why the numbers of indigenous people are low and how they are actively taking part in our genocide?
While I love a good party, I can't help but be troubled by the millions of dollars and countless resources poured into Pride. These resources could be better used to fund the survival of indigenous, black, brown, East Asian, disabled, trans, non-binary, and Two-Spirit community members. We need this money a great deal more than privileged white, gay cis men and lesbians need another party.
Wells Fargo employees march at Orange County Pride.
There is power in celebrating who we are. I owe it to my ancestors to walk with pride every day for all that they allowed me to become. I owe the disability, bisexual, and Two Spirit communities, and the generations to come to stand for what’s right at all times, regardless of how difficult and unpopular that challenge may be.
Every day that we draw breath as oppressed people is an act of revolution and joy. Despite all the vitriol and violence, we have survived, and that deserves fanfare. There is a place for laughter, disco balls, round dances, and hip-shaking in the LGBTQIA2S revolution, but there is no room for those who profit off our pain and chose to live blissfully off of indigenous genocide.