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Lawmakers Celebrate LGBTQ Pride Week On Navajo Nation, Where Same Sex Marriage Is Not Legal

Four people stand in front of a sign that says Diné Pride.
Screengrab via 24th Navajo Nation Council Facebook
Alray Nelson, far left, delivers a speech in front of the Navajo Nation Council Chambers before the signing of a proclamation by Speaker Seth Damon, far right, designating June 22-28, 2020, as Diné Pride Week."

Same sex marriage is not recognized as legal on the Navajo — or Diné — Nation, nor are LGBTQ people protected from gender-based discrimination by law.

But the Nation’s legislative council passed a proclamation Monday creating Diné Pride Week, and marking a historic shift in the council’s position on LGBTQ rights. 

Council Speaker Seth Damon teared up as he signed the proclamation in front of the Council’s chambers in Window Rock, kicking off the first official Diné Pride Week. 

“Today is a day that brings light and hope to every portion of our four sacred mountains,” he said. “Whether you’re an individual going to middle school right now in Page, AZ, or you’re having a hard time at Chief Manuelito Middle School, trying to understand who you are in this unpleasant world that we live in right now.”

Alray Nelson, executive director of an LGBTQ advocacy organization called Diné Pride, said the legislation was historic. 

“The Navajo Nation Council, for the first time, recognized that this week is Diné Pride in front of the same building where they legislated who can love who on Navajo,” he said. 

The Navajo Nation Council passed a law in 2005 called the Diné Marriage Act that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Because of that, Nelson and his partner of 10 years have decided not to get married in New Mexico, where they live off the reservation. 

“He and I can be legally married,” Nelson said. “We can go down to the county courthouse and we could do it in an hour. But my partner made a commitment that he would not get legally married until it is recognized by the Navajo Nation. That’s what we are committed to.” 

And this could be the year that happens, Nelson said.

He and his partner Brennen Yonnie have lobbied the Navajo Nation Council to make identity-based discrimination illegal on the Navajo Nation since 2011, so that LGBTQ tribal members will have protection under the law and so they can bring a same-sex marriage case to the Navajo Nation courts. 

“We are on the precipice,” Nelson said. “I do see that laws will be passed this year by the Navajo Nation that will finally acknowledge and respect and protect the LGBTQ community, and that will send a message all across Indian Country that the largest sovereign nation in the United States does in fact extend a hand of inclusiveness to our LGBTQ relatives.” 

Nelson and Yonnie started Diné Pride Week in 2017 to raise awareness for the cause and to provide support for LGBTQ tribal members. It’s a weeklong event in Window Rock, Ariz., the capital of the Navajo Nation, and the Navajo Nation Council partnered with them last year to host it, signalling support for their cause. 

This year, Diné Pride Week will be held online because of COVID-19. The theme is Indigenous LGBTQ Youth, and events will include a panel with Indigenous LGBTQ youth, a tribal leaders summit on LGBTQ policy, a panel with Indigenous trans women and a drag show, among other events.

Kate Groetzinger is a Report for America corps member who reports from KUER's Southeast Bureau in San Juan County. Follow Kate on Twitter @kgroetzi

Kate joined KUER from Austin, Texas. She has a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin’s Moody School of Communication. She has been an intern, fellow and reporter at Texas Monthly, the Texas Observer, Quartz, the Texas Standard and Voces, an oral history project. Kate began her public radio career at Austin’s NPR station, KUT, as a part-time reporter. She served as a corps member of Report For America, a public service program that partners with local newsrooms to bring reporters to undercovered areas across the country.
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