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Local Native two-spirit advocates speak at HRC youth conference

Native American two-spirit couple Adrian “AD” Stevens and Sean Snyder of Salt Lake City spoke at the annual LGBTQ Time to Thrive Youth Conference held by the Human Rights Campaign and National Education Association last weekend.

The couple competed in a Sweetheart Dance at a national Pow Wow in California, but were disqualified since they are not a male-female couple. Earlier in February, the couple competed in a national Pow Wow in Seminole, Florida, and took second place in the Sweetheart Dance after introducing themselves to the crowd and judges as fiancés.

They have taken up the cause of same-sex marriage and equal treatment within the sovereign nations.

Stevens asked Snyder to marry him on a trip to Paris, France.

“Since our engagement, we are currently advocates for marriage equality within the boundaries of our sovereign nations,” Snyder told the crowd. “As our marriage would not be recognized today, our fight for marriage equality is not over.”

“Where we come from, we identify as two-spirit. Two-spirit means we embody both spirits — male and female,” Stevens said. “Long ago our people believed that the two-spirited were gifts from the Creator. We held high roles within our community with being able to walk the lines between male and female spaces. This meant men could assist in ceremonies that only women could participate in, and vice-versa.”

“However, even though two-spirit people were prevalent within the Indian communities across the U.S. and Canada, the respect once given to us has been lost,” Snyder said. “And the more our people were colonized, the less respect identities like ours were given, even in our own communities.”

The couple was positive about their California experience, saying it would “stick with them forever” because of the support they received from family and friends.

“After the first round was over, we didn’t hear our numbers called,” Snyder said, “It was disappointing, but we kept our heads up. We had just competed in a contest that had only ever been graced by straight couples. We felt so accomplished, breaking into that space where most would have feared.”

“Then the media began covering our experience, and we found out we were disqualified for being a same-sex couple,” Stevens said. “This broke our hearts.”

“We quickly realized that there were serious misconceptions about what two-spirit is,” Stevens continued. “There’s still a lot of work to do.”

The crowd cheered when they announced that they took second place the week before in Seminole.

Stevens said, “We hope that we can make a difference in communities to show people that we don’t have to be afraid of what makes them different…”

“But to honor those differences and build strength and self-confidence,” Snyder interjected.

“We hope that one day that the respect that was given to the two-spirited people returns to the brothers and sisters across all 562 federally recognized tribes,” Stevens said.

“We, as two-spirit people, don’t have representation,” Snyder said. “Our role models are not always given the same platforms to tell their stories, which is why we’re so grateful for the opportunity to talk about our love for one another, and just our triumphs entering traditional spaces to dance together.”

“Sean and I come from well-respected families within the Indian country,” Stevens said. “This gave us the courage to break through those barriers and share our story.”

“But not everyone is so fortunate,” he continued. “We want everyone within our LGBTIA2+ brothers and sisters to have more examples of confidence and courage.”

“And we’d like for all young people in the U.S. to see more real,k authentic Native stories from Native people just like us,” Snyder said.

They asked for those in the audience to help them share and spread their story.

Stevens ended with, “And if you know of any young Native two-spirit kids, tell them we said be true, be proud and keep dancing.”

Video of the couple’s speech:

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About the author

Michael Aaron

Michael Aaron is the editor and publisher of QSaltLake. He has been active in Utah's gay and lesbian community since the early 80s and published two publications then and in the 90s.

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