Two-spirit individuals recognized during Pride Month

In honor of Pride Month in June, the Behavioral Health Administration recognized Two-Spirit people. Two-Spirit is a term used by Native Americans and spans across western categorizations of gender, sex and sexuality, holding diverse cultural and individual meanings. Two-Spirit is also an umbrella term under lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer, or LGBTQ+, that commonly refers to an individual who is Native American, regardless of gender, who combined activities of both men and women with traits unique to their status as Two-Spirit in their tribe.

Two-thirds of the 200 Native American languages spoken in North America are said to have words for individuals who were neither male nor female (Two-Spirit). Many of these are difficult to translate because they describe identities that are about one’s role in a spiritual and cultural system as well an expression of gender, identity and sexuality.

Two-Spirit people were considered gifted because they carry two spirits, that of a female and male, and were highly respected as fundamental components of Native American culture and society. Two-Spirit people had various roles in Native American communities such a visionaries, healers, medicine people and matchmakers. Many Two-Spirit traditions and practices went underground or disappeared in many tribes. Disruptions by colonization, diseases and Christian religion as well as displacement from their land resulted in the loss of acknowledgement of Two-Spirit people in Native American communities. As a result, some Two-Spirit individuals have experienced pain in facing discrimination within their families and westernized Native cultures, while for others the experience of living as Two-Spirit is met with healthy acceptance.

This prejudice can come from others outside of their communities as well. Fred Martinez, Jr. was a 16-year-old Two-Spirit from the Navajo Tribe who faced discrimination and bullying as well as hostility in high school from students and adults. Martinez was attacked and beaten to death by a fellow teenager in 2001. Martinez was one of the youngest hate crime victims in modern history when he was killed at 16. However, his murder was not charged as a hate crime because the legal definition of hate crimes did not at that time apply to crimes based on the victim’s gender identity or gender expression.

While this was an extreme form of intolerance, we should be aware of the biases that patients, residents and clients who identify as Two-Spirit may encounter. These days there is also a movement for a positive reclaiming of the identity of Two-Spirit.