Be Proud to be OUT: An Interview with Two of the Volunteers of NativeOUT

BY COLLESTIPHER D. CHATTO

NativeOUT, a website for the gay community,  is coordinated by IAIA students, Terra Mathews-Hartwell (Tsimshian/Carrier) and Louva Hartwell (Diné). Louva is the website’s director and her wife, Terra, is the communications director. They have been actively involved in the online organization for lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual, and queer people since 2005.

From left to right, Louva and Terra, in their tribe's traditional garb. Photo courtesy of Terra Matthews-Hartwell
From left to right, Louva and Terra, in their tribe’s traditional garb. Photo courtesy of Terra Matthews-Hartwell

Terra, an indigenous studies major and studio arts minor, has been the communications director since 2007.

NativeOUT  began as a small group founded in 2004 by The Phoenix Two-Spirit Society and eventually evolved into a national nonprofit volunteer organization.

Empower and Connect

Their mission as stated on the website is “to empower Indigenous lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/Two-Spirit people across North America to work for social justice in their communities.”  It also seeks to connect the indigenous LGBTQ/Two-Spirit people with the international community in order to increase visibility of LGBTQ/Two-Spirit people and their allies, for outreach and support, and education.

Part of the organization’s mission is to address discrimination and bullying against LGBTQ people.

Terra grew up in Prince Rupert, BC, Canada where she experienced homophobia primarily from her family members, friends, and ex-husband after she “came out of the closet.”

But the homophobic experiences were just a few. She’s lost and gained relationships because of who she is, she said.

She hasn’t experienced much discrimination here in Santa Fe and on-campus, probably, because her sexual orientation isn’t so obvious, she said, noting that effeminate men and masculine women experience the most discrimination. IAIA also has an anti-discrimination policy protecting people of a different sexual orientation and gender identity.

In Tsimshian culture, the term for a homosexual male is “nook.” Due to colonization and Western influence, she does not know much about the cultural roles of homosexuals and transgendered people in her tribes. She also comes from a Christian family, she said.

Legally Married

Louva and Terra. Photo courtesy of Terra Matthews-Hartwell.
Louva and Terra. Photo courtesy of Terra Matthews-Hartwell.

Canada legalized same-sex marriage in 2004. Louva and Terra have been married since April 2008, Terra said. They had their marriage ceremony  in Terra’s hometown of Prince Rupert, B.C., and they have a son, Lukas, 11, and a daughter, Shandiin, 14. Although, their marriage isn’t recognized in New Mexico.

They were extremely happy and grateful that the U.S. Supreme Court, on June 26, 2013, sided with marriage equality and struck down a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that was signed into law by former President Bill Clinton in 1996.

Louva,  a junior majoring in new media arts  and minoring in  photography, said that marriage between two same-sexed people should be for the courts to decide and not voted on by the people, because it is human rights.

Never a Secret

She’s been a part of NativeOUT since 2005 in its early days and, at that time, she was co-director. She grew up in various communities throughout the Navajo Nation. In 1997, she “came out” to her brother as bisexual and he was “okay with it”, she said. Her father took it easier than her mother who’s more conservative and rooted to her Nazarene beliefs.

“I never tried to make it a secret,” Louva said, “but be it.” Today, she identifies herself as lesbian.

In Diné (Navajo) culture, an effeminate man is called “nadlééh” which means “one who changes” and a masculine female is “dilbaa’,” Louva said.  She explained that the Nadlééh people appear in the Diné creation story when men and women quarreled and separated. The nadlééh left with the men because of their domestic skills. Some have said that the nadlééh reunited men and women, but Louva said she is not sure about that. Nadlééh applies more to male-to-female transgendered individuals, or Two-Spirit, than to a homosexual male.

“Maybe, it has nothing to do with sexual orientation but to personality,” said Louva.

Documentary in Production

Louva currently has a documentary in production about Native women who were involved in the LGBTQ movement of the 1970s and 1980s ”“ women who identified themselves as lesbians and two-spirits.

She will be travelling the country conducting interviews and filming in places such as Montana, Seattle, and recently, San Francisco. Altogether she’ll interview  ten people.

After December, she expects her documentary to be in post-production, which she considers her contribution to the indigenous LGBTQ movement.

In addition to the news, PSAs, videos, and photos on the NativeOUT website, they also feature creative writing and visual art. Those interested are encouraged by NativeOUT to submit their work to the website by emailing Terra at  [email protected]. They said they always enjoy art that addresses LGBTQ issues and expresses the artist’s identity.

They also encourage scholars and professors to use the website as a resource in their projects and curriculums. The website contains an array of information about sexual orientation and gender identity in Native cultures.

Louva and Terra hope to have their organization incorporated, because then they can be able to do more things for indigenous LGBTQ rights. The organization relies on fundraisers and donations. Donations are always welcome through their  CaféPress store.

Copyright © IAIA Chronicle  2013

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