Reflections on Creating Change by mónica enríquez-enríquez

Reflections on Creating Change by mónica enríquez-enríquez

Together with our E.D. Bob Alotta and our Program Officer Namita Chad I attended this year’s Creating Change conference in Denver, Colorado. Being in this space allowed us to witness the power of our grantee partners as they lead a movement against the criminalization of queer, trans and gender non-conforming people of color, migrant, and undocumented communities in the U.S.

The devastating murder of Jessie Hernandez, as well as the movement moment we are living today, marked this Creating Change in distinct ways. On Monday, January 26, two officers from the Denver Police Department came to the spot where 17-year-old Jessie and her friends were reportedly in a stolen vehicle and used that as an excuse to fire at the car full of young people, empty an entire clip, and ultimately kill Jessie. Branching Seedz of Resistance, the youth-led group of our Denver grantee partner Colorado Anti-Violence Program, has been leading efforts to honor Jessie’s live, hold space for LGBTQ youth of color to mourn and heal, and demand accountability from the Denver Police Department.

Altar and Gathering for Jessie Hernandez at Creating Change, Denver 2015 (1) from Astraea Foundation on Vimeo.

During the opening plenary, our grantee partners and many other fierce QTPOC organizations and individuals took over the stage with signs and chants of “black lives matter,” “trans lives matter,” “si se puede,” “we are tired,” and “Jessie presente.” Trans Latinas took over the mic and demanded that we pay attention and stand against the deaths of trans women of color while holding a U.S. flag stained with red paint to symbolize blood. They demanded that LGBT foundations invest in trans-led projects and that LGBT organizations commit to hiring trans women of color. Branching Seedz of Resistance and other youth activists remained on stage and talked about the level of police violence in Denver, the criminalization of LGBT youth of color, and the importance of standing in solidarity with Jessie’s family and community. They managed to get the Denver mayor to cancel his scheduled speech at the opening plenary. #BlackLivesMatter creators Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi received an award and instead of giving a speech, gave a call to action and asked us to join in chanting Assata Shakur’s quote, “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

The previous day, our grantee partners PrYSM, BreakOUT! and Streetwise and Safe, along with other LGBT POC organizations across the U.S. who are members of the Get Yr Rights Network held a daylong institute, From Stonewall to Stop and Frisk: Policing and Criminalization of LGBTQ Communities. They held a conversation with Millennial Activists United from Ferguson and spoke about the solidarity work happening across the U.S. and the urgency of this movement moment. These ideas resonated with the conversation held by the Audre Lorde Project, the Transgender, Gender Variant and Intersex Justice Project, FIERCE, Streetwise and Safe, and Southerners on New Ground at the Queer Left: Strategies Going Forward panel. These movement thought leaders asked that foundations stop asking for outcomes and deliverables so they can actually work together without having to compete for the limited funding available. They talked about the violence of co-optation that organizations and movements have experienced from funders and mainstream LGBT organizations that appropriate their ideas, programs and strategies. They spoke of the hope and possibilities we are standing on. The time to strategize is over; it is time to act and move forward, and to learn from mistakes as we go. The urgency of now invites us all to act.

During the State of the Movement Address, Millennial Activists United (MAU) and other Ferguson activists came up on stage and asked all black trans people in the audience to join them and to take the space they deserve. During their panel titled LGBT Ferguson, MAU and other Ferguson activists talked about the origins of the Ferguson uprising. They stated “we say BlackLivesMatter because we see how uncomfortable it makes people and because our lives depend on it.” They spoke about courage, resilience and sustaining the movement moment. They invited white allies to stand in solidarity with this movement and they asked us all to stand against the #AllLivesMatter hash tag because it misses the critique to white supremacy and erases the important conversation we all must have about black racism in the U.S.

That afternoon, immigrant rights grantee partners Familia Trans Queer Liberation Movement and Southerners on New Ground organized a press conference to call for LGBTQI inclusion in an expanded Deferred Action program. The press conference included speakers from Colorado and across the country, and brought particular attention to the violence facing trans women in detention. It ended with an organizing call to #FreeNicoll, a fierce trans woman from Guatemala being held in a male detention facility in Arizona.

On Friday evening, around 100 people joined Astraea at a nearby restaurant for our gathering for grantee partners, friends and allies. A majority of our U.S. grantee partners were present and got to strengthen and build new and old connections. It was a beautiful room full of committed activists who have been leading important and essential conversations and actions all over the U.S. Looking around the room and throughout the conference, it was evident that Astraea is supporting the most risk-taking, brave, thoughtful, strategic, radical, change makers in the LGBTQ movement in the U.S. today. The actions and connections around this Creating Change conference reminded me of some of Gloria Anzaldua’s words “build bridges, cross them with grace, and claim these puentes our “home.” Si se puede, que asi sea, so be it, estamos listas, vámonos. Now let us shift.”

Love is a Revolutionary Practice

Love is a Revolutionary Practice

To love in these times is revolutionary. We are reminded, every day, how radical it is to truly love as we confront homophobic laws, violence and discrimination. As radical philanthropists, activists, organizers and artists, we fight to make this world a better place for LGBTQI folks everywhere. Love–motivating lots of hard work & brilliant organizing–will create this world. We should never have to choose safety over self-determination. An army of lovers cannot fail!

On this Valentine’s day, we celebrate our brilliant and brave community who live the Revolution of Love by:

Painting the town Pink in Colombia

        Santamaría Fundación marching for trans womens visibility and rights at the Marcha Fucsia in Colombia

Becoming Penpals with incacerated LGBTQI folks 

By building community and working to demolish the violent prison system.

Black & Pink, Astraea grantee partner running a LGBTQ prisoner newsletter and Penpal program

Raising fists against violence and demanding lesbian rights in Honduras


Red Lésbica Cattrachas Honduras

Taking queer and trans* power to the streets!

CUAV members in SF at the Trans* March, June 2013. Photo by Erin Johnson. 
Photobombing Program officers

E.D. J. Bob Alotta with Astraea Program Officer, Namita Chad, 2015

Making art not war, because all queer her-stories are important


Guyana Trans United (GTU) and the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) hosted a week-long “Stand Against Transphobia” photo exhibition of work by artist and curator Ulelli Verbeke.

Opening hearts and homes for fundraising

Astraea donors come together to raise funds at house parties to resource LGBTQI work. 

Denver House Party

Friends gather at Fran and Anna Simon’s Denver House Party, 2015  

Choosing safety over truth, and being an army of lovers marching for equality

More than 300 folks walked for equality to end all violence in Guyana

GEF March
Guyana Equality Forum (GEF), at Walk for Equality, say NO to Violence in Feb 2014, Guyana. Organized by Astraea grantee partner SASOD  

Waging love with our wallets

Every penny counts. Whether it’s $5 or $5000 every month because love and compassion go hand in hand.

To the thousands of donors who support us, we love you.

To the fearless folks on the frontlines, we love you.


The moment we choose to love we begin to move towards freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others. That action is the testimony of love as the practice of freedom. 

– bell hooks

Astraea Grantee Partners at Creating Change in Denver 2015

Their work against the criminalization and militarization of LGBTQI people of color communities and queer and trans migrants in the U.S is timely, urgent and courageous.


Astraea at Creating Change 2015!

Below is a list of what Astraea grantee partners* are up to at Creating Change! Check out the many opportunities to see and learn from them throughout the conference. Astraea is proud to support the work of our U.S. grantee partners. Their work against the criminalization and militarization of LGBTQI people of color communities and queer and trans migrants in the U.S is timely, urgent and courageous.

We also want to congratulate Carlos Padilla from the Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project from United We Dream for being awarded the “Leadership on Immigration Reform” award.

Creating Change 2015 Schedule Highlights

Thursday, February 5, 9-6pm

Long day Institutes:

From Stonewall to Stop and Frisk: Policing and criminalization of LGBTQ communities

This Institute will explore the current moment and historical legacy of policing and criminalization of LGBTQ communities. “Policing” comes in many different forms. Policing appears as a larger systemic structure of control and violence against the self determination we seek over our bodies. Participants will discuss patterns of policing, police violence and criminalization of LGBTQ communities across the country. The Institute will highlight various campaigns and organizing models across the country to provide resource sharing and tools for participants to organize against policing and criminalization in their communities.

Organized by: BreakOUT!*, Lambda Legal, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, Native Youth Sexual Health Network, PrYSM*, and Streetwise and Safe*

Transgender Self-Empowerment: Building Communities for Resilience, Safety, Health, and Life

In this Day Long Institute, we will explore community building across race, class, and cultural barriers to assist both individuals and the community at large in being resilient in the face of systematic oppressions and violence. We will unpack different community building models traditionally used outside the LGBT community and others. The hope and intent is to be practical as well as about sharing analysis and ideas so that there are “take aways” for everyone to improve community building.

Organized by: Kylar Broadus, Senior Public Policy Counsel, Trans Civil Rights Project, National LGBTQ Task Force. Presenters: Cecilia Chung, Transgender Law Center; Milan Alexander, BreakOUT*; Bamby Salcedo, Trans Latina Coalition; Elliot Fukui, Audre Lorde Project*; Danny Kirchoff, Transgender Law Center; Arianna Lint, SunServe; Andrea Jenkins, Senior Policy Aide for Minneapolis City Councilmember Elizabeth Glidden and Trans People of Color Coalition; Mara Keisling, National Center for Transgender Equality; Kris Hayashi, Transgender Law Center; Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, National Center for Transgender Equality; Tiq Milan, GLAAD; and Gabriel Foster, Trans Justice Project.


Friday, February 6, 10:45 AM – 12:15 PM

POC & Indigenous Traditions of Giving

Surviving and Thriving • Intermediate

What are our experiences and relationships to giving and fundraising as people of color and indigenous communities within the conditions of white supremacy? How can we engage our own communities and build effective alliances with allies to resource our collective survival and liberation? This workshop, co-designed by FIERCE and the Audre Lorde Project, will include storytelling, and games as we map our traditions of giving, share current strategies, and lessons learned within our communities and movements. Presenters: Cara Page, Organizer, Audre Lorde Project*, New York, NY; Alok Vaid-Menon Communications and Grassroots Fundraising Coordinator, Audre Lorde Project, New York, NY; Krystal Portalatin, Co-Director, FIERCE, New York, NY

Friday, February 6, 3PM – 4:30PM

Challenging Institutional Power

Community Organizing • All Audiences

This workshop will tell the stories of how presenters have confronted institutions of power in order to win progress and will explore how workshop participants can do the same thing in their own communities and do so with limited resources. Participants should expect to analyze the barriers to progress in their home communities and to create a rubric for how to interrupt and redirect those systems of power. Presenters: Angela Peoples, Co-Director, GetEQUAL Washington, DC; Gregory Cendana, Director, Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, Washington, DC; Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez, Deputy Managing Director, United We Dream*, Washington, DC; Charlene Carruthers, Director, Black Youth Project, Chicago, IL

The Queer Left: Strategies Going Forward

Fundraising • Fundamentals

We will share lessons, and critical strategies that are working to resource the Queer Left. We will explore questions of how do we resource our longevity? What are the roles of allies and the roles of people of color in giving and fundraising for our collective survival and liberation? What are fundraising strategies that build effective alliances? We will explore the larger fractures within our movements caused by competition, co-optation and liberal frame. Presenters: Caitlin Breedlove, Co-Director, Southerners on New Ground*, Atlanta, GA; Alok Vaid-Menon Communications and Grassroots Fundraising Coordinator, The Audre Lorde Project*, New York, NY; Cara Page, Executive Director, The Audre Lorde Project, New York, NY

Queering Healthcare in the Southwest

Health • All Audiences

This workshop will provide participants with strategies led by Queer and Trans* people of color to increase access LGBTQ people have to a full range of healthcare including: reproductive/sexual health, birth, parenting and nursing support, and midwifery models of care. Participants will identify resources and barriers to healthcare in their own communities, and envision the inclusive spaces they want to see. Participants will also come away with concrete community advocacy tools, provider education strategies, and community health care assessment models they can utilize to shift policy and culture to build culturally safe access to healthcare. Presenters: Denicia Cadena, Communications and Cultural Strategy Director, Young Women United, Albuquerque, NM; Cecilia Kluding-Rodriguez, Branching Seedz of Resistance*, Denver CO

Queering Immigration

Immigration • All Audiences

From local campaigns to stop the criminalization of immigrant people of color, to advocating for federal reforms on immigration and deportations, Queer folks have been central to advancing migrant and immigrant rights, as well as unprecedented intersectional movement wins. As more and more LGBTQ organizations are building campaigns to intervene on Police-Immigration [ICE] collaborations, racial profiling, and fight to expand immediate relief measures like DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), it’s imperative we come together to strengthen our shared strategies. Join us to learn more about key lessons from the ways we’re helping to advance sexual liberation, migrant / immigrant rights and racial justice unity struggles, and find ways to connect! Presenters: Pabitra Benjamin, Director of Organizing, NQAPIA, Washington, DC; Salem Acuña, Virginia organizer, Southerners On New Ground / SONG*, Atlanta, GA

Friday, February 6, 4:45 PM – 6:15 PM

Film Screening: Out in the Night

Plaza Ballroom Section A

Out in the Night is a documentary that tells the story of a group of young friends, African American lesbians who are out one hot August night in 2006 in the gay friendly neighborhood of New York City. They are all in their late teens and early twenties and come from a low-income neighborhood in Newark, New Jersey. Two of the women are the focus: gender non-conforming Renata Hill, a single mother with a soft heart and keen sense of humor, and petite femme Patreese Johnson, a shy and tender poet. As they and their friends walk under the hot neon lights in the West Village, an older man sexually and violently confronts them. The women defend themselves as a fight begins, captured by security cameras nearby. The man yanks out hair from one woman’s head and chokes Renata. Patreese pulls a knife from her purse and swings at him. Strangers jump in to defend the women and the fight escalates. As the fight comes to an end, all get up and walk away. But 911 has been called and the man involved has been stabbed. Police swarm to the scene as their radios blast out warning of a gang attack. The women are rounded up and charged with gang assault, assault and attempted murder. Three of the women plead guilty. But Renata, Patreese, and two others claim their innocence. They are called a “Gang of Killer Lesbians” by the media. In activist circles they become known as The New Jersey 4. Following the screening, a discussion will be led by director Blair Dorosh-Walther, Renata Hill of the New Jersey 4, and Krystal Portalatin of FIERCE. Written/directed by Blair Dorosh-Walther. 58 minutes. (USA/2014)

Movement Strategies Healing Justice

Surviving and Thriving • All Audiences

This conversation will ground us in the historical context of healing justice both inside of social movements (eg. prison abolition movement, environmental and disability justice) and responding to the systemic violence of the medical industrial complex as a means of controlling the bodies of people of color and our communities, specifically queer and trans bodies. We will then explore the concepts of “self care” and “collective wellness” practices as transformational and necessary for our organizing strategies and survival. As well, we will share examples of practice within our movement building that have included or centered a healing justice lens in our organizing strategies. Presenters: Susan Raffo, Minneapolis, MN; Cara Page, Executive Director, Audre Lorde Project*, New York, NY; Anjali Taneja, Co-Founder,

Saturday, February 7, 9:00 AM – 10:30 AM

Queers In Detention-Stopping Deportations

Immigration • All Audiences

QUIP, a program of United We Dream, addresses the issue of criminalization and incarceration of UndocuQueers and offer a movement building and liberation strategy that Dreamers have used to create a united front in resisting this deportation machine. Presenters: Carlos Padilla, QUIP* Coordinator, United We Dream, Washington, DC; Carolina Canizalez, END Coordinator, United We Dream, San Antonio, TX; Daniela Hernandez, QUIP END National Lead, NC QUIP, Charlotte, NC; Cynthia Domenzain, QUIP END National Lead, AZ QUIP*, Phoenix, AZ

Rainbow Warriors: Lifting Up Queer and Trans Youth Leaders

Youth • All Audiences Learn about a national queer and trans youth of color-led culture shift campaign on queer and trans youth resiliency. Members of the Strong Families’ RAD (Revolutionizing a Dream) Youth Movement share how their base of queer and trans youth leaders and allies have launched a campaign to counter the narrative surrounding queer and trans youth of color as victims, at-risk or powerless and lift up stories of creativity and resilience. Presenters: Quita Tinsley, Youth Organizer, SPARK Reproductive Justice Now, Atlanta, GA; Eleanor Dewey, Co- Executive Director, COAVP: Branching Seedz of Resistance*, Denver, CO; Denicia Cadena, Communications and Cultural Strategy Director, Young Women Unitied, Albequerque, NM; Nathaniel Faulk, Leadership Development/ Healing Justice, BreakOUT!*

Movement Fam Across Colleges & Communities

College Campus Issues and Organizing for Students • All Audiences

Working to create change on college campuses and within communities can often be an isolating experience. Not only do queer activists face institutions and community members hostile or apathetic to their survival needs, we often find ourselves lacking tangible movement family to lift us up and catch us when we fall. This workshop targets that need for movement building among young activists by examining strategies for cross-campus, cross-regional, and cross-issue solidarity among young people. Presenters: Jon Hoadley, President, Badlands Strategies, Kalamazoo, MI; Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez, Deputy Managing Director, United We Dream*, Tampa, FL; Erik Lampmann, Klagsburn Outreach Fellow, Alliance for Justice, Washington, DC; Marion Humphrey, Fellowship Program Manager, People For the American Way Foundation, Washington, DC

Criminal Justice System: Organizing & Engaging the LGBT Community

Community Organizing • All Audiences

Have your communities been overly policed/harassed by law enforcement or treated unfairly in detention facilities? Join us for a panel discussion and advocacy planning on how to mobilize against unfair treatment of LGBT people interacting with the criminal justice system. Presenters: Joey Hernandez, Community Engagement and Policy Advocate, ACLU of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA; Chip Charles, Skadden Fellow, ACLU LGBT Project, New York, NY; Jorge Gutierrez, National Coordinator, Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement*, Los Angeles, CA; Christopher Argyros, Project Manager, Anti-Violence Project, Los Angeles LGBT Center, Los Angeles, CA

Saturday, February 7, 3:00 PM – 4:30 PM

Trans and Queer Immigrant Rights Direct Action Organizing: A Case Study

Immigration • All Audiences

This workshop will highlight the current momentum and importance of intersectional organizing between LGBTQ and immigrants rights across the country. Attendees will be trained on direct action organizing as a tool/tactic to push for pro-LGBTQ and immigrant rights policies and legislation. The workshop will look at a trans and queer civil disobedience action that took place in May 2014 in Santa Ana, CA as a case study. Currently, the Santa Ana city jail includes an LGBTQ pod where LGBTQ undocumented immigrants are held. Attendees will engage in skill-sharing and learn about the process of organizing an effective direct action in order to advance a message and demands. Also, the workshop will present attendees with a model to ensure that communities most affected by issues take front center and are part of the strategy and organizing process from beginning to end. Presenters: Marco Castro-Bojorquez, Community Educator, Lambda Legal, Los Angeles, CA; Jorge Gutierrez, Director, Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement*, Los Angeles, CA; Isa Noyola, Community Advocate, El/La Para TransLatinas*, San Francisco, CA

Saturday, February 7, 4:45 PM – 6:15 PM

Our Community Is Our Campaign

People of Color • All Audiences

In this workshop participants will get a better understanding of how queer justice looks like through media justice. Participants will be lead through the process of creating a queer people of color campaign through the usage of in-person surveying, photography, and videography. Participants will get an insight on how to build and maintain cross racial and intergenerational organizing, through lessons learned and best practices on how to create culturally specific spaces and making sure those who are most impacted lead. Presenters: Zon Moua, Community Organizer, Freedom Inc*, Madison, WI; Monica Adams, Community Organizer, Freedom Inc, Madison, WI; Kayleb Her, Freedom Inc, Madison, WI; True Yee Thao, Freedom Inc, Madison, WI

Know Your Rights, Get Your Rights

Youth • All Audiences

In this workshop participants will learn about a growing national network of LGBTQ youth-serving organizations, Get Yr Rights, who are doing “know your rights” work around youth interactions with law enforcement. We will focus on three projects Get Yr Rights has developed over the last year, including a website, policy toolkit and curriculum. Participants will learn how to navigate the online database of KYR tools and tactics, as well as how to use the policy toolkit, which highlights the strategies of organizers in achieving effective change. The final project discussed in this workshop will include interactive role-plays in which participants will have the opportunity to act out portions of the KYR curriculum, as well as ask questions and share experiences from their own work. Presenters: Mitchyll Mora, Researcher and Campaign Staff, Streetwise and Safe (SAS)*, Brooklyn, NY; Andrea Ritchie, Coordinator, Streetwise and Safe (SAS), New York, NY; Wes Ware, Director, BreakOUT!*, New Orleans, LA

Astraea Denver House Party

Join us Tuesday, February 3, 2015 from 6-8 pm at the home of Fran and Anna Simon for an evening of great conversation, wine, and dessert with Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice’s Executive Director, J. Bob Alotta. Learn about Astraea’s unique history, core values, and vision for fueling a global campaign for LGBTQI rights.

The address is: 1705 17th Street, Suite 200 Denver, CO 80202.

February 3rd promises to be a wonderful evening. We hope to see you there.


The Denver house party host committee
(In formation as of 1/6/15)

Cynthia Beard, Sarah Burgamy, Judy Calhoun & Cheryl Weil, Courtney Cuff, Jennifer Eyl & Maggie Martin-Eyl, Kirk Fordham & Mike Cevarre, State Representative Alec Garnett & Emily Garnett, Leslie Herod, Katherine Pease, Morris Price, Leah & Rachel Pryor-Lease, Jean Saul & Carla Ficke, Pamela Scharf & Mona Lundy, Debbie Scheer, Tea Schook & Amy Berk, Alex Sheldon, Fran Simon & Anna Simon, State Senator Pat Steadman, Kyle Velte, Nancy Wadsworth, Hope Wisneski

Utne Reader features International Two Spirit Gathering

Last August, Astraea grantee partner Two Spirit Press Room coordinated the 20th International Two Spirit Gathering. Invited as a media guest, the Utne Reader has this account.

The next International Two Spirit Gathering, sponsored by Astraea grantee partner, the Denver Two Spirit Society, will be held in Estes Park, CO in October. Visit:

Sacred Rights of the International Two Spirit Gathering
Gay and transgender Native Americans find acceptance in tradition

by John Rosengren for Utne Reader

He checks his plaid skirt, stockings, and deep-cut white blouse. When another man’s eyes fall on his cleavage, Richard squeezes his breasts together and answers the silent inquiry: “They’re real!”

Beyond the bathroom doors, men and women dance around a drum in more traditional costume—feathers, fox pelts, moccasins, beads, and bells. They’re all here for the 20th annual International Two Spirit Gathering, a celebration of and for those who feel they carry both male and female spirits.

In late August 2008, some 85 Native lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people from three dozen tribes in Canada and the United States traveled to the Audubon Center of the North Woods, 90 miles north of Minneapolis.

There, communing under the tall pines, they would sit in a sweat lodge, pray together at the sacred fire, engage in a water ceremony, and dance at the powwow. They would listen to a mother talk about her son’s struggle with coming out, hear the results of a groundbreaking health study, and receive a blessing from an elder.

They would also watch Sanchez–—in full drag, lip-synching his version of “I Kissed a Girl–”—win the event’s annual talent contest.

“We want people who face difficulties in their day-to-day lives to be able to stop and breathe,” says Richard LaFortune, a Yupik from Minneapolis and national director of Two Spirit Press Room, sponsor of the 2008 event. “We want people to walk away with new friendships, good memories, and something to restore themselves.”

Organizers have wanted to keep out spiritual and cultural tourists who may be well intentioned but nosy. In 2008, however, they decided to allow a few media representatives, including an Utne Reader writer and photographer, to attend in order to tell their stories to a wider audience.

The Minneapolis Native community hosted the first Two Spirit Gathering in 1988. “We didn’’t have a lot of places to meet and socialize except with the mainstream LGBT community, which was in bars, and those aren’t a good place for us,” says LaFortune, one of the event’s original organizers. Since then, some 3,200 people have attended the alcohol- and drug-free gathering in locales including Montreal, Vancouver, Kansas City, Eugene, Tucson, San Jose, and Butte.

Many in the Two Spirit community just don’t feel at home within the broader LGBT scene. Karina Walters, a Two Spirit Choctaw and a professor of social work at the University of Washington, tells the group gathered at the Audubon Center about “the feeling of being expected to go along with the white homosexual party line, like getting your first dyke haircut or going to a gay bar and having a certain type of experience.”

Many are also misunderstood and shunned within their Native communities, even though some tribes once honored those with male and female spirits as shamans, warriors, and chiefs.

Men and women at the gathering speak of parents avoiding them or kicking them out of their homes, even being beaten by neighbors. “That’s what really hurts us, when our own people throw us out,” says L. Frank Manriquez, a Tongva-Ajachmem woman from Southern California. Manriquez, now 56, left as a teenager after her uncle asked if she was going to seduce her sister. ““I about threw up,”” says Manriquez. “”In his eyes, I wasn’’t human.’”

Misunderstanding and fear can manifest themselves—as they do in mainstream society—in overt abuse. Targeted because of both their race and their orientation, members of the Two Spirit community suffer higher incidences of physical and sexual abuse than the general population. According to a study Walters just conducted with funds from the National Institutes of Health, gay Native Americans also have higher rates of addiction, homelessness, depression, and suicide.

More often, though, LGBT Native Americans suffer a daily battering of “microagressions.” Walters defines these as “chronic injustices, messages that people of color endure every day that are denigrating, demeaning, and subtle.”

Take Richard Sanchez. Today, the 45-year-old theater prop artist from San Jose has an ebullient personality, but he has not always carried himself so confidently. When he was growing up in rural Northern California, the boys in his family adhered to rigid gender roles, fixing cars and taking care of livestock. Making clothes and cooking were not options, being gay out of the question.

It was not even cool to be Native American. Raised by his grandparents and schooled in the Catholic faith, Sanchez was taught that his ancestors were Mexican. It was not until he was 16 years old that his grandmother, literally on her deathbed, revealed the family’s Navajo heritage.

By then, his sexual identity was clear. As a preschooler, Sanchez was walking to school with his brother when they stumbled upon a girlie magazine. The pictures of naked women mesmerized his older brother, but Sanchez stared at the half-naked men. By the time he was 10, he had defined himself as gay and knew that meant he would be ridiculed. “My favorite character was Pinocchio, because he wanted to be a real boy,” Sanchez says. “I wasn’t a real boy because I was a sissy.”

During a break in the schedule, two men toss a football on the lawn in front of five colorful tepees. Two women, seated on the hillside above the lake, discuss a beading project. Half a dozen men and women smoke cigarettes outside the dining hall and trade jokes. “The laughter helps heal and transform all that oppression sickness that we get from this culture,” says Lawrence Ellis, a 47-year-old who refers to himself as Native, American, and African American. “There’s just such joy.”

A letter from Barack Obama to the Two Spirit Gathering pledges to “bring about a more tolerant America.” Clyde Bellecourt, a 72-year-old elder and one of the founders of the American Indian Movement, speaks to the group about the importance of connecting with their identity. His words carry special weight and move some to tears: “I stand in total solidarity with each and every one of you,” he tells them. “I love you.”

Bellecourt’s blessing, Obama’s words, and the gathering itself honor the community. “It’s a way to keep something sacred and alive,” Manriquez says. “Some people here are doing remarkable things, even if it’s as simple as being themselves.”

As seen in the Utne Reader

Survivors Organizing for Liberation (SOL)

Survivors Organizing for Liberation (SOL) and Buried Seedz of Resistance envisions a Colorado where Transgender, Gender non-conforming, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Two Spirit and Queer people have the power to determine the conditions of their lives, are valued for who they are, take responsibility for each other’s safety, and live their lives free from violence.

Survivors Organizing for Liberation (SOL) and Buried Seedz of Resistance envisions a Colorado where Transgender, Gender non-conforming, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Two Spirit and Queer people have the power to determine the conditions of their lives, are valued for who they are, take responsibility for each other’s safety, and live their lives free from violence. SOL|BSeedz operates a 24-hour statewide hotline for community members who have experienced or witnessed violence as a strategy to empower callers to join the “healing collective” and become active members of bringing safety and wellness into our communities. SOL|BSeedz has been actively responding to the murder of Jessie Hernandez, a young queer Latina murdered by the Denver Police Department, and works with community members to respond to ongoing police violence.