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Listening session centers on Navajo LGBTQ issues

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
Members and supporters of the LGBTQ community attended the Diné Pride symposium on Friday at the Navajo Division of Transportation in Tsé Bonito.

TSÉ BONITO — Members and supporters of the LGBTQ community shared comments about treatment and perception utilized on the Navajo Nation during a listening session here Friday.

The listening session was part of Diné Pride, a two-day event to celebrate Navajo LGBTQ. The session's purpose was to provide the community and their allies and advocates an opportunity to share experiences, observations and recommendations.

Comments were recorded by Navajo Nation Women's Commission members Charlotte Begaye, Ramona Begay and Vivian Arviso along with Jennifer Denetdale, chairwoman of the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission.

The testimony will be used to produce a report and list of recommendations for Navajo leaders, Denetdale said.

"It's way past time for our leaders to begin to understand and appreciate and to include our gender diverse community. We're here to push the envelope and to continue to advocate for our gender diverse community," she said.

Moroni Benally, moderator for the Diné Pride symposium, talks about the results of a 2015 survey that examined issues the LGBTQ community face on the Navajo Nation.

Jerry Archuleta moved to the area from Taos Pueblo in 1994.

It was difficult to come out as gay while growing up, and he did not identify as gay until he was in his 40s, Archuleta said during his testimony.

He added when he first moved here, he lived on the Navajo Nation and faced discrimination because of his sexual orientation and for being a non-Navajo.

His residence was repeatedly burglarized and vandalized and, despite reporting the incidents to the Navajo police, he was told nothing would be done because he was not a tribal member, he said.

"All this just because of what we are, who we are," Archuleta said, adding the treatment caused him and his partner to move to Gallup.

Stickers from the organization, Diné Equality, were available to participants during Diné Pride on Friday at the Division of Navajo Transportation in Tsé Bonito.

The treatment of transgender Navajos weighed heavily in comments by Trudie Jackson.

Jackson is transgender and said the non-acceptance of transgenders often extends beyond families and into services provided by tribal government entities.

In her comment, she shared the story of a transgender female who lost her tribal identification number because her identity was not legally recognized.

"To hear a story like that is very heartbreaking," Jackson said adding this type of response causes many transgender Navajos to move to urban areas.

In 2009, Jackson used the tribal court system to legally change her name and used that documentation to change her name on her Certificate of Indian Blood.

Navajo Nation Women's Commission member Vivian Arviso, third from left, listens to testimony during the LGBTQ Community Listening Session at the Diné Pride symposium on Friday at the Navajo Division of Transportation in Tsé Bonito.

"Which, to me, was a new beginning because I was able to be who I was and able to be called by the name that I want to be called," she said.

Jackson added she hopes the stories she shared are taken into consideration by tribal leaders.

Kim Wahpepah attended the listening session as part of her advocacy work for the LGBTQ community.

"I walk around spreading awareness for those who don't have a voice," Wahpepah said.

Tyson King, center, provided his comments during the LGBTQ Community Listening Session at the Diné Pride symposium on Friday at the Navajo Division of Transportation in Tsé Bonito.

Not all comments focused on the challenges LGBTQ members face on the reservation. Tyson King shared his definition of pride.

"Let us remember to be nice to each other. …Remember pride is not just for the weekend, it should be done all year long," King said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

Dianna Mares talks about being a member of the LGBTQ community while attending high school in the Four Corners area during the LGBTQ Community Listening Session at the Diné Pride symposium on Friday in Tsé Bonito.