Note: This article was published in April 2002 after Raymond “Amy” Soos (Salt River Pima) and Alejandro Lucero (Hopi) were murdered in what were apparently hate crimes, but the police refuse to investigate them as such. This article is being reprinted in the memory of both Amy and Alejandro.
by Ashlea Deahl, published on Thursday, April 4, 2002 in Arizona State University’s student paper The State Press
Displaced. That’s what recent murder victims Raymond Soos and Alejandro Lucero were. But they, and others like them, didn’t have to be.
The two gay transgender Native Americans, who both lived their lives as women, found prejudice not only from those who oppose the gay lifestyle but from those who live it as well, proving that while gay and lesbians are “coming out” in droves, they still have some opening up to do.
The murders, Soos’ in February and Lucero’s in March, both apparently unrelated (see: the police refuse to investigate them as hate crimes), have one thing in common: there was nothing to prevent them. No support system to protect the victims from dangerous situations. No one to defend their lifestyle. No one to rally behind them when people cried “fag” or “freak,” even when those people were gay themselves.
In essence, Native American gay and transgenders, with a spiritual history rich in transgender legend and an already tumultuous everyday life, full of political and social prejudice and plagued by alcoholism and poverty on the reservations, are lost.
Already struggling with the dilemma of which gender to portray themselves as, Native American transgenders are largely neither supported by their tribe or, seemingly, the gay community. They have no haven, and thus, no protection.
Local Hispanic gay drag queen Fernando Trinidad, a.k.a. “Phaedra,” admitted that there exists a division between Native American transgenders and most other gays.
“There are a few people in the community who support [the transgendered],” Phaedra told our own SPM writer Josef Watson, “but most of us just don’t agree with what they’re doing, living their lives as women.”
So, basically, if you’re gay and Native American, it’s a double whammy of weird, deserving of a sneer and snicker from the rest of the “mainstream” gay and lesbian population.
But the division goes both ways. Phaedra explained that most Native American transgenders do not respect drag queens who simply cake themselves in make-up and slide on the stockings for a performance, only to take it all off afterward, whereas Native American tansgenders live the female life full time.
Phaedra continued, “I think it’s something that most in the gay community just don’t get and choose not to learn any more about the subject.”
If these notions hold true, it seems that the gay community isn’t as opened minded as some would like to believe. Some tout that the walk out of the closet is inherently the road to a free mind as well. That the path to acceptance of yourself leads to acceptance of all others. You can’t be gay and prejudiced, right?
Ah, America, the apex of assumptions. The truth is, had the gay community been more accepting of Raymond and Alejandro, and the many others like them, they may still be alive today.
Instead, according to many in and outside of the Native American community, gays are divided by race just as much as straight people are. It seems the rainbow is separated by its colors after all.
Of course, this could be an assumption in itself, and this is not to say that the gay community is segregating itself by skin color like a gay KKK group. But the tales of Soos and Lucero (which are delved into on p. 10) are more than telling of what still needs to be overcome beyond the prejudices of straight people.
Actually, segregation, although by choice, seems to run rampant among our own local gay community, as Native American homosexuals and transgenders can be seen together on certain nights of the week at certain popular gay hangouts. Many have said that they do not feel welcome among other transgenders and prefer to stick with those who understand them better.
Perhaps this is the fault of those who fail to welcome them into their own world, just as whites were slow to welcome black people into their establishments. But this is not to say that the Native American community itself isn’t part of the shadow that still veils most gay and transgender Native Americans and keeps them from coming out.
Specifically, HIV/AIDS education used to be a taboo subject on the reservations, disallowing gay and transgender Native Americans from gaining the proper guidance on health and safety. Things have improved, as groups like the Two Spirit Shields Project have increased awareness and education about the rapidly rising rate of HIV and AIDS among the Native American gay community.
But there is still a long way to go for both the Native American community and the gay community as a whole. Whereas many Native American tribes’ folklore supports “two-spirited” people, or those who live as both a man and a woman, those legends have since transitioned into silence from the tribes, most of which do not support their gay and transgender people.
The lives of Soos and Alejandro were complicated, as is the world of gay, lesbian and transgendered individuals. The division between and among these people is not something that can be explained or criticized in merely 800 words of a college entertainment magazine.
However, it is never a mistake to point out something that’s unjust, something that needs to be changed. Never too late to say sorry to those who needed something more. Raymond and Alejandro definitely needed something more than what they got prior to their murders…which was nothing.