Homosexuality in Native American Culture Essay Sample

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Introduction of TOPIC


Homosexuality is the sexual interaction between people of the same sex. Gay refers to a male or a female who is a homosexual. Lesbian is more gender specific as it refers to female homosexuals. (Solar Navigator, 1999). Native American culture revolves around the early inhabitants of America especially the Indians. Homosexuality has been in existence for the longest time and love affairs were usual among the cowboys. Soldiers used to kiss each other openly and there were many reported cases of intimate friendships between people of the same sex. These relationships in Native America gave birth to the term “berdache” which was used to refer to “homosexual males.” In a deeper analysis, the term berdache was used on American Indian young men who assumed a woman’s role. They would dress like women and act like them. Berdache was viewed as a rude word and “two-spirit” was used to refer to the same (Calimach, 2000).

In the ancient Native American culture, homosexuality was regarded as usual and boys with a ‘mixed’ gender identity had to be integrated into the society. Parents would observe their children and when this trait was identified, the young boy would be subjected to a ‘two-spirit’ life. This was carried out as a ritual under the name ‘papago’, which was a ceremony, aimed at deciding how the boy would be socialized in the community (Calimach, 2000). During the ritual, a basket and a bow would be placed at the middle of a circle surrounded by brush. The boy would then be commanded to enter the circle and come out with something. While inside the circle, the brush would be set on fire. Naturally, he would be expected to dash out with something in his hand. This is what determined how he would be brought up. If he came out with a bow, then he would be treated as a man and if he came out with a basket, he would be treated as a berdache. This ritual was carried out to let the child’s nature manifest itself.  The berdache boy or the two-spirit would be taught how to perform both female and male duties (Calimach, 2000).

Berdache is a word borrowed from the French language and it referred to abused young men or succubus. Berdaches seemed to be inclined to acts of sodomy. Homosexuals, locally known as ‘two-spirit’ were respected people in native American culture and this is evident from how they accepted their uniqueness and made sure that they fit in the society. They accepted the fact that they were different and accommodated them. However, with changing times, homophobia has taken ground. This has resulted into suppression of the ‘two-spirit’ practices. Native Americans are now unable to discuss these vital beings with others because they fear reprimand. They feel that they would be wrongly judged now that homosexuals are not widely accepted (Stryker 2006).

Homosexuality was first recorded in Mesopotamia in the 3000 B.C. This history was kept through the years thanks to artifacts bearing same sex couples. Some famous people in the world like Alexander the Great have been associated with homosexuality. Other people that have been in same sex relationships include Frederick the great, Edward II, Susan B. Anthony, and Getrude Stein among others (Cowboy, 2007). Homosexuality has remained controversial even in the ancient days. In 1566, a Frenchman was executed in Florida for homosexuality. This marked the first punishment ever for homosexuality in America. In 1610, a death penalty law was passed in America by the Colony of Virginia for homosexuals. This law was however amended in 1935 and punishment was changed from a death penalty to imprisonment. Homosexuality was prohibited and those accused of the crime found themselves in concentration camps. To distinguish them from the other prisoners, homosexual wore pink triangles. These pink triangles were also used to show social hierarchy in the camps (Cowboy, 2007).

Unlike many societies that rejected homosexuality, the berdaches of native America, were not judged negatively. Homosexuality was regarded as a preference of the opposite sex’s activities. Females could perform male tasks and males would do the same. This culture of berdaches has been traced to 155 tribes. The males took the name ‘berdaches’ whereas the female

s were referred to as ‘Amazons’. These females could hunt and act as chiefs and warriors. In the

native American culture, berdaches were respected and were seen as supernatural creatures. They would be severally referred to as healers and shamans as they seemed a chosen people by the gods. A transformation was registered in the 19th century where the berdaches became exposed to government officials and missionaries. They felt that the culture had to stop and ordered them to change their way of life that involved their clothing (Cowboy, 2007).

To live in America in the 19th century, they had to conform to what was regarded as normal. This was not taken kindly by the berdaches and most of them opted to take their lives than conform. Native American culture took a historical turn between 1920 and 1930 in matters of homosexuality. A movement by the name ‘Harlem Renaissance’ was launched and it was geared towards redeeming homosexual rights (Cowboy, 2007). It initiated a forum, which focused on self-awareness among the gay communities. An African American by the name Bruce Nugent wrote a homosexual love story titled ‘Smoke, Lilies, and Jade’. This story was published in 1926 in the FIRE magazine. In 1924, Henry Gerber founded the Society of Human Rights, an advocacy group that defended the homosexuals’ rights. Gerber and his members were jailed barely a year into the movement and it died. In 1935, Sigmund Freud, a renown doctor shed more light into homosexuality. He defied findings that it was a mental disorder (Cowboy, 2007).He wrote,

“Homosexuality is assuredly no advantage, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation, it cannot be classified as an illness, we consider it to be a variation of the sexual development. Many highly respected individuals of ancient and modern times have been homosexuals, several of the greatest men among them (Plato, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, etc.). It is a great injustice to persecute homosexuality as a crime, and cruel too.”

(Cowboy, 2007).

In 1950, a book with an explicit lesbian theme called ‘The Well of Loneliness’ was published in America. The author was a Radclyffe Hall and it sold more than 20,000 copies (Cowboy, 2007).

In November 1950, a political organization known as the Mattachine Society was formed in Los Angeles. Its leader was Harry Hay, a musicologist and a member of the Communist Party. Around this time, many homosexuals had been persecuted by the police who brutalized them. Homosexuals who made their status public lost their jobs and faced rejection by their communities and families as well. In 1952, Dale Jennings, one of the Mattachine Society founders was arrested. While in court, Jennings went ahead to make his homosexual status public and pleaded innocent to his charges. This boosted the movement when all his charges were dropped. No media house accepted to publish this story and the members took to the street to declare their win in the case. This incident made the movement more popular and more people joined it and kept drumming for its support (Save Zone, 2010).

 In 1953, President Eis’hower passed an executive order that authorized the firing of homosexuals from their jobs. In 1954, the Mattachine Society was neutralized and people were urged to see it not as a threat to their values but as a group of people with a sexual preference. In 1955, a lesbian movement named Daughters of Bilitis was launched in San Francisco. Many homosexual organizations came up and by 1969 they had gone up to 50. in 1968, Reverend Troy Perry founded the Metropolitan Community Church to accommodate the homosexuals who could not attend other churches. Between 1950 and 1960, homosexuals both male and female were subject to brutality from the police. They were raped, beaten, and sexually assaulted. These gays and lesbians could not take this police harassment anymore (Save zone, 2010). In 1969, they held a major stand off with the police when they carried out one of their usual raids at the Stonewall Inn in New York. The police knew well that this was a meeting point for gays and lesbians and hoped to terrorize them as usual. The patrons went ahead to hold the police hostage. A three-day riot was held in New York and the homophile organizations became militant. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association was forced by pressure groups to remove among its list of mental illnesses homosexuality. This marked a new era in the gays and lesbians lives as they could now get jobs. The courts also eased up and homosexual parents began being granted custody (Save zone, 2010).

In 1977, California elected Harvey Milk, a confessed gay as a supervisor for thee city of Sanfransisco. In the same year, a confessed lesbian, Anita Bryant embarked on her anti-gay campaign in Florida. In 1978, John Briggs, a Californian senator pushed for the stoppage of homosexuals from teaching in public schools. This motion was defeated with the intervention of Harvey Milk. However, Harvey and George Mascone, a pro-gay activist were assassinated three weeks later by Dan White who was a former supervisor. This led to more riots by the gay community. In 1987, a civil rights demonstration took place in Washington that attracted more than 650,000 people. From then to date, gay wars have not stopped and they keep pushing for their rights (Save Zone 2010).


Homosexuality is clearly not new to the world and it is fascinating how the Native American Culture embraced it. To them, homosexuality was a ‘special’ trait that warranted special treatment. The ‘two-spirit’ individuals were regarded with respect as they were viewed as supernatural. They were believed to have special powers to heal. They were accepted the way they were and allowed to live in their preferred sex environment. Homosexuality has undergone a revolution over the years as evidenced by the case study. It has developed from a capital offence to a lifestyle. Many people are still opposed to it but the gay organizations have come out strongly asking for their freedom. They feel that they are being sidelined in a modern America that advocates for respect of equality and civil rights.


Calimach, A. (2000). World history of male love, “Homosexuals Traditions”, The two-spirit

            tradition. Retrieved from


Cowboy. (2007). Coming out in America; a historical perspective. Retrieved from


Safe zone. A brief history of homosexuality in America. Retrieved from


Solar Navigator. (2007). Homosexuality. Retrieved from


Stryker, S. (2002 – 2006). Berdache. Retrieved from


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