A rainbow streaks across the sky in the Solomon Islands. Photo by Daniel Lin.
This month as we celebrate and honor the history of Pride, let us raise up Indigenous queer liberation and the 2SLGBTQIA+ community!
June is Pride month, a time when we honor 2SLGBTQIA+* people and celebrate the diversity of queer identities, expressions, and liberation, as well as the queer people who have historically – and currently still – lead liberation movements. As 2SLGBTQIA+ people continue to exist under threat, it’s important to include telling true histories, beginning with the acknowledgment that Pride originates not in celebration, but in defiance; Pride is rooted in protest.
In June 1969, a police raid at the Stonewall Inn in New York City’s Greenwich Village sparked a series of demonstrations in protest of police involvement and ultimately, police violence. It is supposed that the violence was initially inflicted upon Stormé DeLarverie, a mixed-race Black butch lesbian and activist who was being escorted in handcuffs out of the Stonewall Inn by police, further provoking the crowd. Marsha P. Johnson, a Black transgender woman, and Silvia Riviera, a Puerto Rican/Venezuelan transgender woman, whose presence at Stonewall was significant (whether debated by others or denied by them), were influential drivers of direct action in the 1960s and beyond. Together, they founded STAR – Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries – which provided advocacy, support, and housing to gay homeless youth, sex workers, and prisoners; and fought for the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act in New York. The work of these three women, and many more, is foundational to queer organizing and movements we see today.
For many Indigenous peoples globally, gender and sexuality are multifaceted – not necessarily limited to linear or binary ideas of gender, and recognized as culturally embedded identities. They often come with specific roles in society, and sometimes sacred ones, as well. Indigenous languages themselves may reflect expansive perspectives on gender and sexuality — many either don’t have gender embedded within them, or may not assign gender to describe people or the surrounding world. Much of the revitalization of Indigenous languages is huge and healing, and shifts toward framing the world more expansively. Language is both shaped by perspective, and in turn, shapes perspective as a knowledge-bearing system. This has broad-reaching implications about the ways people see and accept Indigenous queerness, queer expression, and queer identity.
Later, as movements towards queer liberation began to gain mainstream visibility and support, Indigenous queer communities recognized there was a need to find language that brought Indigenous peoples to the forefront of queer discussions of identity more broadly. The term Two Spirit, originally called niizh manidoowag in Ojibwe, was identified as a way to subvert binaries in queer gender and sexuality, and to assert specifically Indigenous queerness and sovereignty. Two Spirit is not a Tribally specific identity, and it is not a synonym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, trans, or nonbinary identities; though a Two Spirit person may also be any number of these simultaneously. And many Indigenous peoples forego the term entirely, preferring to use their Native language, pronouns, and culturally-specific named identities instead.
As revitalization movements in Indigenous language and culture gain momentum throughout the world, more and more Indigenous peoples are reclaiming their queer cultural identities and roles in community as expansive, linguistically and culturally described, and rooted in community, self-determination, and sovereignty.
Indigenous peoples, queerness, and the environment share a few intersections as well, such as othering, abandonment, extraction, and exploitation. But each of them also evade categorization in their expansive, indefinable, and changing nature. Indigeneity, the environment, and queerness are culturally diverse and variable across the world, scale from a global community to bioregionally specific ones, and require strong, intimate, and reciprocal relationships to survive. In these ways, kinship, Indigeneity, queerness, and the land are connected. All require justice. And uplifting and amplifying justice for Indigenous queer and Two Spirit peoples is, in turn, climate justice.
*2SLGBTQIA stands for “Two Spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual”; and the + stands for all of the myriad of genders and sexualities and their expressions beyond and between.