By The Open Center

This month-long celebration honors its origins of protest, when the 1969 Stonewall Riots in NYC helped spark the Gay Rights Movement and acknowledges the courage and self-pride it takes to live openly and authentically.

“Pride is both a jubilant communal celebration of visibility and a personal celebration of self-worth and dignity. This Pride Month, we recognize the valuable contributions of LGBTQ+ individuals across America, and we reaffirm our commitment to standing in solidarity with LGBTQ+ Americans in their ongoing struggle against discrimination and injustice.”
– President Joe Biden

In this spirit, we reflect on the resilience of the first Indigenous American LGBTQ+ community while raising awareness about the marginalization, discrimination, violence and inequities many have encountered and continue to face today.

“Prior to European contact, many North American Indigenous cultures viewed gender and sexuality as fluid and beyond the strict male/female gender binary we know today. Two-Spirit or gender fluid members of the community were often revered, respected and held important positions of influence.” They were the community healers, spiritual leaders, caretakers and interpreters. (indigenouscultures.org)

There are many definitions of Two-Spirit, and each is nation specific. The term, introduced in 1990, reflects the long history of sexual, gender and non-binary diversity in Indigenous cultures and is an umbrella term used to describe LGTBQ+ and third gendered Native and Indigenous people who identify as having both masculine and feminine spirits/energies.

During the period of European colonization, there was an attempt to erase Two-Spirit people and many were killed or forced into assimilation and hiding. In the decades that followed, reclaiming the traditional roles and values placed on Two-Spirit people has been part of a larger healing process taking place within Indigenous communities. (phsa.ca/transcarebc)

Learn More about the history of the term Two-Spirit here:


We’wha: 1849 – 1896
We’wha was a Zuni Two-Spirit, pottery and textile artist and Zuni cultural ambassador. Born a male-bodied person who lived in part as a woman, We’wha served as a cultural ambassador for her people and in 1886, traveled to Washington DC to document Zuni culture and meet with President Grover Cleveland. Everyone assumed that the 6-foot-tall “Indian princess” was female.

Osh-Tisch: 1854 – 1929
Osh-Tisch was a male-assigned-at-birth Two-Spirit who lived as a woman. She was an artist, medicine woman, shaman and warrior. She was esteemed not only for the amazing sewing skills that earned her the right to make the Crow Chief Iron Bull’s a buffalo skin lodge, but she was also known for her ferocity in battle. Her strength as a warrior is what earned her the name Osh-Tisch, which translates to “finds them and kills them.”

In the late 1890s, Osh-Tisch and other Two-Spirits were imprisoned by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, forced to cut their hair and wear men’s clothing. This persecution and oppression led to a shift away from Two-Spirit acceptance among the Crow and many Two Spirits assimilated to society and dressed like their assigned gender. When Osh-Tisch died in 1929, she was one of the last of her kind.


Here are some resources to stay informed and active beyond the month of June and all year long:

THE NATIONAL CENTER FOR TRANSGENDER EQUALITY (NTCE): NCTE advocates to change policies and society to increase understanding and acceptance of transgender people.

THE CENTER: Is the heart and home of NYC’s LGBTQ community, providing programs for health, wellness and community connection. The Center celebrates our diversity and advocates for justice and opportunity.

THE TREVOR PROJECT: Is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning youth.

IDENTITY HOUSE: Is a non-profit, all-volunteer organization that provides peer counseling, group support & therapy referrals to members of the LGBTQ community who are struggling with issues of sexuality, gender identity, alienation, relationships & family.

THE DOOR: Since 1972, The Door’s mission has been to empower young people from all over NYC to reach their potential by providing comprehensive youth development services in a diverse and caring environment. All for free, completely confidentially and under one roof.

HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN: HRC is the nation’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization that envisions a world where LGBTQ people have the freedom to live their truth without fear, and with equality under the law.

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