Indigenous LGBTQ Americans on their hopes for 2021: Nondiscrimination protections, and an end to anti-transgender violenceBy Megan Clayton • November 24, 2020 • 8:17 am
November is Native American Heritage Month, a time to honor Indigenous Americans as the first Americans and to celebrate their rich and diverse contributions to this country’s past, present and future.
As Thanksgiving nears, we must acknowledge it as a day of mourning for our Indigenous friends and neighbors. This day when many of us give thanks is also a day that marks the beginning of centuries of genocide and discrimination.
As an organization whose mission involves telling the stories of LGBTQ Americans as a way to help end discrimination, we strive to capture the full range of LGBTQ experiences. Our movement must reflect the diversity of the LGBTQ community if it is to succeed in winning comprehensive, nationwide nondiscrimination protections for every LGBTQ American.
That’s why today we would like to share with you stories from a few of our Indigenous messengers. These stories reflect their diverse identities and experiences, and what progress they hope to see for LGBTQ Americans in the future.
Read excerpts from their stories below.
Eric Alva, San Antonio, TX
Eric Alva is a retired E6 Staff Sergeant who served in the U.S. Marine Corps under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” He lost his right leg during the Iraq War.
“Even as LGBTQ Americans are serving and protecting our country, our elected officials are failing to serve and protect LGBTQ Americans. Every year, LGBTQ veterans—like me—who have risked their lives for the United States come home to states where they’re still vulnerable to discrimination. Nondiscrimination protections would grant significant relief to LGBTQ people who face discrimination each year. In fact, 1 in 3 LGBTQ people have faced discrimination in the past year, and that mistreatment or fear of discrimination can limit our ability to thrive.
“Comprehensive nondiscrimination protections would send a message that everyone is respected, welcome, and safe. And as a man with a diversity of identities—including not only being gay, disabled, and a veteran of the Armed Forces but also Latino and Native American—I know personally how important it is that everyone feel welcome, regardless of who they are. The diversity of our nation is what makes America great. That’s the America that I fought for.”
Jaden Johnson, Richmond, UT
Jaden Johnson identifies as lesbian and gender-nonconforming, and is an Indigenous member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“We are all different from each other. It makes us unique. I remember the Golden Rule taught to me as a child: ‘Treat others how you wanted to be treated.’ We have our rights. Why take a right away? We all deserve to be treated with respect.
“As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we are taught to love one another. It is not our job to judge others. We have also been taught that we are to treat others as friends and to show that they are loved by God. How is that done? Through the acts of services and just being there for others.
“Living in Cache County, I have seen it grow by including others, through the works of drag shows and having its own Pride festivals. But there’s still more progress we need to make. My biggest hope for 2021 is to see fewer murders of transgender people. They are not hurting you—they just want to live their own life too.
Rina Kowalski, Fairbanks, AK
Rina Kowalski is a proud Indigenous LGBTQ2+ activist and mother of two. She is the founder of Indigenous Lives Matter.
“At times it remains difficult to live in Alaska knowing that I’m not legally protected as an LGBTQ2+ individual. I was involved in the movement to pass Fairbanks Ordinance 6093, which would have provided comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ2+ people. Unfortunately, it was vetoed by the mayor after passing by a majority.
“People leave Alaska because they don’t feel accepted or protected. I get this, I have two multi-tribal children and I want them to feel comfortable calling Alaska home. I don’t want to leave and I don’t want my children to leave. I want to see change. But the current patchwork of protections is unfair and unworkable. Now that the nation’s highest court has decided that LGBTQ2+ workplace discrimination is illegal, it’s time for Congress and Alaska lawmakers to do their part. We need comprehensive protections in all areas of life, including housing and public spaces.”