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You are here: Community Features Third annual Diné Pride event lights up Window Rock

Third annual Diné Pride event lights up Window Rock

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The rainbow-colored balloons and painted concrete throughout Window Rock Tribal Park June 29 capped off what Navajo Nation Pride calls the official LGBTQ+ Two-Spirit event for the largest Sovereign Nation in the United States.

June is designated Pride Month, a month where people under the LGBTQ banner remember the Stonewall riots of 1969, which were a tipping point for the Gay Liberation Movement in the United States, as well as people who have been lost to HIV and
AIDS.

Rep. Sharice Davids, D-KS, one of the Diné Pride Champions, said in a video posted on navajonationpride.com that the work the Coalition for Diné Equality is doing is both important and inspiring.

“We know many tribal nations had recognized and been inclusive of people that today would be considered LGBTQ or two-spirit,” she said. “We have always been a part of tribal cultures, and we will continue to be.”

Despite their longevity, Davids said that Native LGBTQ people are among the most likely to live in poverty or face food insecurity. About 80 percent of Native women under this banner face some form of sexual violence or harassment, and many Natives under the spectrum face homelessness, she said.

“It’s why it’s so important that we keep supporting LGBTQ and two-spirit people through policy and action,” she said.

But, conversations and support events like the one hosted by Diné Pride will continue to raise awareness of the issues that LGBTQ people face every day, Davids added.

The Coalition for Diné Equality hosted a two-day event in Window Rock June 28-29 that consisted of a series of lectures in a symposium at Navajo Nation Museum and a festival at Window Rock Tribal Park, filled with song and dance performances and information booths.

Alray Nelson, founder and CEO of Diné Pride, said June 29 that one of the coalition’s goals for the upcoming year is to host a number of smaller pride events across the Navajo Nation, with the intent of getting LGBTQ youth involved with their cause.

“We want the youth across the country to join us,” Nelson said. “We will have these LGBTQ kids pitch ideas of events [they want] throughout the year.”

Nelson also recognized a number of Diné Pride champions during the festival at the tribal park. One champion was the first transgender woman to run for Navajo Nation President in 2018, Trudie Jackson.

The other champion was instrumental in helping Nelson come to believe in the sense of community that a pride event could bring to the LGBTQ community, when he saw her as a pride hostess at a previous event in Albuquerque.

Mattee Jim, pride hostess for the Diné Pride festival, was given an enthusiastic round of applause, as Nelson presented her with a plaque.

Jim also spoke about how important it is that the coalition’s efforts reach the LGBTQ youth across the Navajo Nation, and that the local communities can be particularly prone to violence and negativity.

“I will continue to advocate [for LGBTQ people] not just because of me, but for the kids standing in the audience,” she said.

The youth in the audience would eventually be the ones to step up and take charge, Jim continued, which is why it’s important they know the history of LGBTQ people fighting for equality and the community they’ve built together.

“They’ll carry on traditions,” Jim said. “We’ll be resilient in who we are.”

This notion of educating the youth extended to one of the lectures at the June 28 symposium at Navajo Nation Museum.

Gwen Benally, one of the speakers in the BIG Thoughts from Queer and Lesbian Diné Women panel, spoke about how her family didn’t accept her when she was growing up, but how she and her partner are now a strong couple.

Gwen thinks that present healthy LGBTQ couples will be a source of inspiration and courage for the young people worried about what their families will think.

“[That’s because] I wish we had people growing up who were out,” she said, reinforcing that it’s important for LGBTQ youth to have role models.

Another speaker, Dannise Benally, said that the support they do receive helps them to demonstrate the strength and diversity LGBTQ families have.

“No matter what, we’re going to be there for each other and love each other,” she said.

One of the audience questions during the BIG Thoughts from Queer and Lesbian Diné Women panel, focused on the obstacles that LGBTQ Diné face with marriage. Dannise Benally responded by speaking about how there are traditional folk she and her partner went to, who would not bless a same-sex couple in matrimony.

She said to prevent these troubles in the future, it is up to the current generation to educate themselves and the young people about how LGBTQ Diné is sacred and revered.

The idea of educating people was also emphasized by Jim at the festival, where she spoke about the troubles faced by LGBTQ people, including sexually transmitted diseases.

“Always tell your kids [about these issues]. Don’t just say ‘you’re not old enough,’” she said. “Educate your youth and yourself.”

For more information about Diné Equality, visit https://www.equalitynavajo.org/

By Cody Begaye
Sun Correspondent