Workshop addresses Native homosexuality, violence

Workshop addresses Native homosexuality, violence

‘TWO-SPIRIT’: Victims of gay-bashing seek solutions at HIV/AIDS conference.

Source: The Associated Press

Elton Naswood opened the workshop on being both gay and an American Indian with a statement that resonated through the room.

“I myself am a survivor of a hate crime,” he said, before sharing his story of being attacked by four Latinos outside a gay bar in Phoenix in 1992. They tripped him, kicked him and pounded his head with a big rock, he said.

Naswood didn’t go to the hospital or seek help from police, he said.

“I didn’t want to report it. I felt shame,” Naswood said.

Naswood, a Navajo who grew up in Window Rock, Ariz., told his story in Anchorage on Friday to a standing-room-only crowd gathered for the workshop on being Native and a gay, bisexual or transgendered individual.

The workshop was one of dozens offered as part of the first national conference on HIV/AIDS for Natives in North America. The conference attracted nearly 1,000 participants and runs from Monday to today.

Conference participants included American Indians and Alaska Natives from more than 600 sovereign nations, as well as physicians, nurses, pharmacists, researchers, elders and spiritual leaders from more than 40 states, Canada and New Zealand.

Ashliana Hawelu, a transgendered Native Hawaiian from Honolulu, said that because she was born a man but looks like a woman, she’s been raped four times, thrown out of a car and beaten with a crowbar. When she went to the hospital and the doctors found out she was a man, they retreated to the hallway to talk about how much she looked like a woman.

“My head was bleeding and they didn’t want to touch me,” she said.

Naswood, Hawelu and other workshop presenters said Native communities can call upon the tradition of the “two-spirit” person to foster understanding and prevent gay-bashing. The two-spirit person is one who has both male and female identities. In many American Indian tribes, the two-spirit person was revered, Naswood said.

“I think going back to those traditional understandings would empower the Native gay community,” he said.

Hawelu said the two-spirit person lives within her. Growing up, she said, she did the cooking but also trimmed the tree branches because her brothers didn’t like to do it.

“It is that dual spirit that I have,” she said. “They love me for it.”

Naswood, with the AIDS Project Los Angeles, said violence against homosexuals in Native communities is a problem.

“I have the scars to prove it on the back of my head,” he told workshop participants.

Their stories gave Jheri Davis, a Navajo from Chinle, Ariz., the power to stand up and tell his story of being attacked in 2004 by three young Native males who offered him a ride.

“I wasn’t thinking anything and the next thing a baseball bat hits me in the back,” Davis said. One of the young men wielded a baseball bat in one hand and a homemade machete in the other, he said.

“They called me a queer, a faggot,” Davis said. “They said I should die.”

Davis’ wrist was broken, his knee cap smashed and the back of his head split open. He spent two days in a trauma center in Maricopa County, Ariz. When he got out, he looked up the local prosecutor. The perpetrators, ages 16-21, received between one and five years in prison.

Davis said the workshop helped give him the courage to tell his story.

“I always wanted to share this information,” he said. “Now, I know I’m not the only one that has been victimized by a hate crime,” he said.


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Article title: Workshop addresses Native homosexuality, violence
Source: The Associated Press and The Anchorage Daily News
Published: May 6, 2006

Website about the Fred Martinez Project, a documentary film on the Navajo Two-Spirit that was brutally murdered in an anti-transgender hate crime in Cortez, Colorado on June 16, 2001:

Elton Naswood’s contact info:

Elton Naswood, Project Coordinator
Red Circle Project
AIDS Project Los Angeles
3550 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. # 300
Los Angeles, CA  90010

Ashliana Hawelu’s contact info:
Executive Director
Kulia Na Mamo