Celebrating our Two Spirit Community
June is Pride Month, a time to celebrate and honor the LGBTQIA+ community. For Native American people, this month is also an opportunity to shine a light on our Two Spirit community members.
Two Spirit is a term used by some Native American communities to describe individuals who possess both male and female spirits. These individuals have been revered and respected in many Native American cultures for their unique gifts and abilities. Historically, Two Spirit people were often seen as healers, spiritual leaders, and caretakers. They were believed to possess a special connection to the spiritual world and were often called upon to provide guidance and healing to their communities.
However, with the arrival of European colonizers, the identities of Two Spirit people were forced into hiding, and their contributions to their communities were suppressed. European influence brought with it a rigid and binary understanding of gender and sexuality, which was at odds with the more fluid and accepting attitudes of many Native American cultures. In many cases, Two Spirit people were forced to hide their identities in order to avoid persecution or violence. “We were one of the first peoples to be targeted in every tribe with violence because of who we were as Two Spirit people,” said Two Spirit Programming Advocate Silas Hoffer, Yakama/Grand Ronde. “A lot of our erasure had to do with protecting us.”
The impact of European influence on Two Spirit people has been profound, and its effects are still felt today. Many Two Spirit people continue to struggle with discrimination and marginalization, and their contributions to their communities are often overlooked or ignored. According to Educational Re-engagement Coach Mitch Saffle, Potawatomi, “Unfortunately, our Two Spirit and Indigiqueer relatives are far more likely to experience hardships such as bullying, houselessness, depression, and attempts at suicide and homicide, more often than our counterparts. The lived experience of a queer person can often times be incredibly lonely, as many of us do not grow up having a safe space to be our authentic selves within our homes and families.”
Despite these challenges, many Two Spirit people continue to embrace their identities and work to create safe and inclusive spaces where they can express themselves freely and without fear of discrimination or judgment. They are advocates for social justice and equality and are often at the forefront of movements for LGBTQIA+ rights.
A popular program at NAYA is the Two Spirit Safe Space Alliance (TSSSA) which offers a safe, privacy-protected space for cultural, social, supportive, and other programming to Two Spirit youth and allies. The impact of TSSSA’s services is profound. Many Two Spirit and LGBTQIA+ youth face discrimination, bullying, and violence in their schools and communities, which can lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. TSSSA provides a safe and supportive environment where these youth can connect with others who share similar experiences, and where they can receive the care and support they need to thrive. TSSSA works closely with schools, community organizations, and families to provide education and resources that promote acceptance and understanding of Two Spirit identities and experiences. These services are especially important for Native American youth, who face unique challenges related to their cultural identity and history.
Hoffer recalls their journey helping a youth going through their transition, “Just to see him from when I knew him last summer when he was starting to come out to getting to know him now and how much happier he is. . . it’s lifechanging.”
As we celebrate Pride Month, let’s remember and honor the contributions of LGBTQIA+ and Two Spirit people to our communities and work together to create a world where all individuals are valued and respected for who they are.
“We all have a place on this beautiful Mother Earth and each of us possesses unique gifts that can benefit us all as a whole. There is so much joy, so much creativity, so much collaboration that can be shared, if we are able to see each other as through a lens of compassion and empathy,” said Saffle. “Two Spirit and Indigiqueer people have always been a part of community and will continue to be a part of community for generations to come. I hope one day soon we’re able to see a world in which our Two Spirit/Indigiqueer relatives are encouraged and protected to let their Spirits soar and together we can see the beauty that comes with it.”
Here are some resources to learn more about the Two Spirit and LGBTQIA+ community:
A precursor to Pride Month, on Friday, May 26, NAYA’s Queer Prom 2023 hosted more than 400 youth for a neon colored celebration in the Portland Art Museum’s sunken ballroom. Guests arrived early and ready to party (responsibly!), as the dance floor was immediately packed with youth of all ages, genders, and sexual orientations, dancing to music from DJ A.Spen. Delicious appetizers were provided by African American and woman-owned caterers Cooking with B Love, while performances by Portland’s Premier Drag Clown Carla Rossi and drag performer Gila Suspectum wowed the crowd. The feedback from participants and chaperones alike was that everything was perfect–a beautiful, fun evening, creating space for youth to feel empowered, uplifted and celebrated.
According to Hoffer, “This event was so needed! It was a great turn out, and youth and adults alike were beyond happy for their moment to shine and be themselves, and to see others like them.”