LGBTQ American Indians Report High Levels of Depression and Abuse, Study Finds

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Alaskan Native American Indian lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (AIAN) adults have higher levels of mental health issues, physical abuse and economic instability than their non-LGBTQ peers, according to a new report.

The study, released last month by UCLA Law School’s Williams Institute ahead of Native American Heritage Month in November, found that 42% of LGBTQ AIAN adults were diagnosed with depression, compared with fewer a quarter of non-LGBTQ people. people and only 6.7 percent of the general population of the United States.

LGBTQ adults in AIAN, especially women, are also more likely to engage in high-health risk behaviors, including heavy drinking, according to the results.

Three-quarters of those polled said they had not had enough money to make ends meet in the past year, compared with less than half of non-LGBTQ AIAN people. And nearly half reported a major financial crisis in the past year, compared to just 11% of heterosexual cisgender aboriginals.

“The complex picture of the health and economic vulnerabilities of AIAN LGBT people is likely the product of factors shared with all indigenous peoples, such as the impact of historical trauma, and those shared among LGBT people, such as anti-stigma. LGBT, ”the official said. Author Bianca DM Wilson, senior public policy specialist at the Williams Institute and lead author of the report, told NBC News.

In the report, Wilson said, “It is essential that policies and service interventions take into account the LGBT status and multiracial identities of AIAN adults.

“Pushed to the Margins”

Somáh Haaland, who is queer and non-binary and uses gender neutral pronouns, is the media coordinator for the Pueblo Action Alliance. Haaland also lives with clinical depression.

“The unique intersection of being indigenous and queer can seem incredibly isolating, both in a displaced urban setting and in our own communities,” they told NBC News.

Haaland said queer Indigenous friends told them about feeling “like they have to choose one marginalized identity over another because of existing because both simultaneously feel like it’s not physically safe or feasible for their mental health ”.

“In queer white spaces, they experience racism and disconnection, while at home or on their reservation, they may feel that their outing could exclude them from cultural activities or simply be in community with their people.” said Haaland, whose mother is Home Secretary. Deb Haaland.

“Being queer and being indigenous are two beautiful identities to wear that are sacred when they intersect… But we often have to fight twice as hard just to show that we are worthy to live and prosper.”

Somáh Haaland, Pueblo Action Alliance

The Williams Institute study found that violence targeting LGBTQ American Indians and Indigenous Alaskans was widespread: more than half of all respondents said they had been physically or sexually assaulted at some point, and 81% said they were physically or sexually assaulted. reported verbal abuse.

Pamela Jumper-Thurman is a retired researcher in the Department of Ethnic Studies at Colorado State University and has researched HIV / AIDS, addiction, and mental health education in Native American communities for three decades. Jumper-Thurman said she was not surprised by the results.

“In the cities, they can have access to a sense of community, but in the reserves and the surrounding rural areas, they can be ostracized, mocked and pushed to the margins,” she said of Indian Indians. LGBTQ America. “They have to be very careful who they are talking to.”

Tribes are sovereign nations with their own laws and regulations, she added. “If LGBTQ people are assaulted or beaten as part of a hate crime on tribal lands, they are often not prosecuted.

Data on LGBTQ American Indians is extremely limited, but a 2010 survey for the New York State Department of Health found that nearly one in three (29.4%) said they had been the victim of hate violence – the highest rate of any LGBTQ demographic in the report.

State initiatives, such as anti-discrimination and hate crime laws and inclusive education programs, often do not apply on reservations. Even same-sex marriage is not uniformly recognized.

A 2015 report from the National Congress of American Indian found that 54% of gay and lesbian students at AIAN reported experiencing physical violence because of their sexual orientation, and more than one in 3 said skipping class at least once in the past month out of fear. being bullied or harassed.

“LGBTQ kids don’t have a place to go,” Jumper-Thurman said. “They are not accepted by the family and they may not even have a group of friends that they feel comfortable with.”

Haaland shared a similar sentiment.

“Being queer and being indigenous are two beautiful identities to wear that are sacred when they intersect,” they said. “But we often have to fight twice as hard just to show that we are worthy to live and prosper.”

Work towards solutions

Jumper-Thurman recently worked with the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University on a series of posters targeting Native American families and communities to help support LGBTQ and Two-Spirit youth. (The term “Two-Spirit” began as an umbrella term in the 1990s for the understanding of gender beyond male and female that many tribes historically adopted before colonization, but which has come to embrace gender. encompass a diversity of sexual orientations and gender identities.)

Courtesy Family Acceptance Project

The posters show how negative reactions to a child’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression can negatively impact their well-being.

“You are part of a group already facing racism and historical trauma and within that group – if you are gay – you can be alienated from your community and even from your family,” said Sharon Day, member of the Ojibwe nation. and executive director of the Indigenous Peoples Task Force in Minneapolis. “For people living on reserves, it is small rural communities that are slower to change.”

Day was one of two children to hang out with his family. In 1987, she helped organize Basket and the Bow, the first national gathering of gay and lesbian Native Americans, held at the Minneapolis American Indian Center. (The annual event was later renamed the Two-Spirit International Gathering.)

Today, the Indigenous Peoples Task Force offers a variety of programs, but works extensively in education and HIV testing, harm reduction and suicide prevention among Indigenous youth.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among native youth aged 10 to 24, according to the National Indian Council on Aging. A study last year by The Trevor Project found that LGBTQ AIAN youth were two and a half times more likely to report a suicide attempt in the past year than their non-Indigenous peers (33% to 14%) .

Sharon Day. Courtesy of Sharon Day

Day and Jumper-Thurman claim that acceptance of LGBTQ members varies greatly from tribe to tribe and often depends on religion.

“The communities that have been heavily Christianized are those where there is a lot of inequality and discrimination,” Day said. “In the history of Ojibwa creation, men and women came into the world simultaneously. We are not from Adam’s rib. It came with the settlers.

In the South, in particular, Christianity is an integral part of Native American life, according to Jumper-Thurman.

“There are just a lot of religious overtones that have crept in and changed the culture so much that being LGBT is seen as bad for them,” she said.

The Williams Institute survey found that over 60% of LGBTQ AIAN adults reside in the western and southern United States.

“In the south, the Church of Christ and the Southern Baptist Church are quite widespread,” Jumper-Thurman said. “They are not gay-friendly churches, and they are the ones who have a lot of influence in these areas. In the neighborhood where I lived, there were more churches in town than anything else. They may be preaching in the native tongue, but they still preach the dogma of white, homophobic Christianity. “

Day founded the Indigenous Peoples Task Force after his brother, Michael, tested positive for HIV in 1987 and they discovered an almost complete lack of HIV education and prevention programs aimed at the Native American community.

“We aim to be a safe space and LGBT people are included in everything we do,” Day said.

“We have always been here”

Using data from the Gallup Daily Tracker Survey from 2012 to 2017, the Williams Institute estimates that 285,000 AIAN adults identify as LGBTQ. That’s about 6 percent of the total Indigenous population – and slightly more than the 5.6 percent of the general population who identify as LGBTQ, according to a Gallup poll in February.

AIAN people who identify as part of the LGBTQ community tend to be younger, according to the report, with 33% between 18 and 24 years old, compared to just 15% of non-LGBTQ AIAN people in this age group. .

“Social media has given young people greater acceptance and more power to express who they are,” Day said. “Because they can belong to an online community, which they maybe cannot in the real world. They can talk to other people.

For many years, identifying as gay meant leaving the reservation, Day said, for the same reasons white people walked out of small towns – isolation, alienation and discrimination.

“In the last two decades, there have been more homosexuals [Native] people who stay in their home community, ”she said. “Part of it has to do with the change in attitude. I think we are seeing more and more people coming back to the cultural value system from our past, and those values ​​are to be kind and loving, to be brave and honest, to be respectful, to seek wisdom and to d ‘to be generous.

“When we follow this original system,” added Day, “it’s really hard not to accept others.”

Indigenous LGBTQ people, she said, “are starting to look at our history and say, ‘We’ve always been here. We are part of the circle.

Haaland called the genre binary a “colonial construction based on European values”.

“Before the contact, the indigenous people we now refer to as queer and trans were often revered and had sacred roles in their communities,” they said. “It was only with colonialism that the European perspective of gender and sexuality was forced on our people as part of a greater effort to control us and assimilate us to whiteness.”

Day said she was trying to remind fellow Native Americans and Alaska Natives that “these are the values ​​that have been with us since the dawn of time.”

“These are the original instructions,” she said, “and if we follow them it’s really hard to hate anyone.”

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