Two Spirit tribal members gain new support and visibility

An unprecedented legal toolkit being published today helps tribal legislative leaders change their sovereign nations’ laws to support tribal members who are Two Spirit, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender.

“Two Spirit, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are part of our community, and some tribes have been recognizing them for centuries,” said Se-ah-dom Edmo, coordinator of the Indigenous Ways of Knowing Program at Lewis & Clark College, and one of the lead authors of the toolkit.

“This toolkit provides us with an opportunity to reflect on how we, as Tribal Leaders, and Tribal Communities, are either passively or actively perpetuating policies, ordinances, or other bodies of Tribal Law that are damaging to the fabric of our Nations — or whether we are already committed to equity and justice for all members… It gives our communities another set of tools for restoring ourselves,” said Robert Kentta, Siletz Tribal Member, Cultural Resources Director, and Tribal Council Member.

Creating the toolkit was a collaboration with the Native American Program of Legal Aid Services of Oregon, the Indigenous Ways of Knowing Program at Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Education and Counseling, Western States Center, and Basic Rights Oregon. The Pride Foundation provided financial support for the project.

The term Two Spirit was developed by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Native Americans as a way to reclaim their past. Before the process of colonization, Two Spirit people were often respected for the unique perspectives they provided to their tribes.

As outlined in the toolkit, native Two Spirit/LGBT individuals now face some of the highest disparities in the U.S. More than half of Two Spirit/LGBT students experience violence at school because of their sexual orientation; 56 percent of transgender Native Americans have had attempted suicide. The toolkit identifies areas where existing tribal laws may unintentionally discriminate, and offers sample legal language that tribes can adopt.

Coinciding with the release of the toolkit, Basic Rights Oregon created an 8-minute video that focuses on the trials and triumphs of Two Spirit Native Americans. The video is the latest in a series of “Our Families” videos featuring LGBT families of color. Watch it below.

Alley Hector

About Alley Hector

Alley Hector is proud to be a Q, a PDXer and Just Out's Editor-in-Chief.

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