A traditional Navajo

A traditional Navajo

By Sherrick Roanhorse
Published in The Advocate, September 27, 2005

Last year, while interning in the U.S. Senate, I heard testimony on a proposed federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. As I stood among other interns, some who were wearing yellow “One Man, One Woman” buttons, I thought to myself, This irritating debate would never take place in the Navajo Nation. The Navajo people, or Diné, had something better than Western society: a culture and belief system inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. But I was naive.

A short time later the Navajo Nation Council introduced its own ban on same-sex marriage: the Diné Marriage Act. I felt alienated. My tribal legislature chose to discriminate against me and all other LGBT Navajos. So I tried to make sense of what it means to be a gay Navajo.

The Navajo people have a history of accepting LGBT individuals into traditional society. Our culture is based on oral tradition—human and natural creation stories passed on from generation to generation. These stories include nádleeh, a male-bodied woman or a manly female. In the Navajo creation story, when men and women separated because of a domestic dispute, nádleeh served as caregivers to the men. Today, LGBT Navajos still serve similar functions in their families.

But some leaders within my tribe reject this tradition. They are influenced by Western values and conservative Christian beliefs. And their actions motivated me to fight. As a member of the New Mexico Log Cabin Republicans, I got about 150 members to send e-mails urging Navajo Nation president Joe Shirley Jr. to veto the DMA. And he did. He said the ban was discriminatory and unnecessary because tribal law already defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end. In May the council threatened to override the veto. I met with other LGBT Navajos and we founded the Diné Coalition for Cultural Preservation to fight them. We created a Web site (Dinecoalition.com) and collected over 1,100 online signatures, but we were unsuccessful. The council voted in June to override the president’s veto.

Now our fight has really begun. In August our coalition met with and recruited new members at a Navajo LGBT event. During the upcoming 2006 tribal election we will hold a campaign drive with other grassroots organizations to elect pro-gay members. Nationally, we are working with other LGBT Native American organizations to establish a national advocacy organization. And we are advocating for new domestic violence legislation in the Navajo Nation that could challenge the DMA by defining same-sex couples as a protected group.

I believe every LGBT Navajo individual and couple deserve to live a long life of happiness. To protect this right, the Navajo LGBT community must be vocal and insist on being treated with dignity.

Source: The Advocate, September 27, 2005
By: Sherrick Roanhorse (reprinted with Sherrick’s permission)
Diné Coalition for Cultural Preservation