SIX NATIONS – Being accepted and loved for who we are is fundamentally important to all people.
For many lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, two-spirited and intersex (LGBTQ2SI) people, finding a safe space for acceptance and support can be difficult enough, but finding those spaces in First Nations communities comes with challenges of its own.
Last summer, Six Nations made a monumental move to acknowledge and celebrate the LGBTQ2SI community by hosting the first ever Pride parade on a reserve. The event successfully brought out many LGBTQ2SI community members and their loved ones.
Now, a group of young Six Nations LGBTQ2SI youth have started up a new monthly drop-in program for all LGBTQ2SI people and supporters, beginning in April. On Saturday, March 26 at Social Services from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m., there will be an LGBTQ Extravaganza event to launch the drop-in program.
Supported by the Native Youth Sexual Health Network (NYSHN), the event will include ice breakers, arts activities throughout the day, panel and group discussions on coming out, workshops on sexual health education and how to create community, and an open-mic for anyone to take the opportunity to express their art.
Kahsenniyo Tahnee Williams initiated the group for LGBTQ2SI youth to discuss what was needed to create a safe space and build up the queer community in Six Nations.
“I think that coming out is really scary for folks,” said Kahsenniyo. “You don’t really know if you are going to be completely ostracized, or just half-accepted and tolerated for your gayness.”
The drop-in will offer those who have concealed their sexual/gender identity a support system while they go through the process of understanding who they are and subsequently sharing that with the people in their lives.
Although homophobia and transphobia is a prominent issue for many LGBTQ2SI people, Kahsenniyo feels that things are starting to look up for the next generation.
“I feel like this younger generation has much more of a culture of acceptance around it. There’s a lot more young people that view their sexuality as a process and a journey,” said Kahsenniyo.
Kiley May, a transgendered Six Nations community member who is now based in Toronto and works with the Native Youth Sexual Health Network, shares Kahsenniyo’s sentiment about the progressive next generation.
“I think the youth now have it a bit better than I did 10 to 15 years ago. It seems the culture and attitudes are shifting and that’s making it safer and more welcoming for youth to step into the light and live their truth,” said Kiley. “This is a very good thing. I hope it just continues getting better for the future LGBTQ2SI generations.”
Kiley and Kahsenniyo credit the Internet, pop culture and the media representations of LGBTQ2SI people for why people are becoming more open to understanding one another.
“You can turn on the TV any day of the week and have shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Orange is the New Black and Modern Family, and it wouldn’t be completely out of the ordinary to see two boys or two girls kissing,” says Kahsenniyo. “There are more resources now. There’s a lot more support for people in terms of working through it and figuring it out.”
One of the youth organizers explains that religion often prevents people from being open to the LGBTQ2SI community. “The cultural and religious side of it, how strong it is on the reserve makes it very closed-minded here. It’s not something they’re used to. Not a lot of people come out, so they think there’s only a few gay people on the reserve but there’s so many.”
“The reason it’s important to come out and support our youth and support the event is because you probably know someone who is LGBTQ2SI and if you don’t yet, you will,” said Kiley. “What would you do if your child came to you one day and told you they were trans? How do you respond? Coming to an event like this is a wonderful way to show support, allyship, equality and love. It’s also a great way to learn and hear our stories. Coming to support sends a message to the community that you are against rejections and discrimination of our LGBTQ2SI youth, and that instead you stand up for equality and love. And that’s a beautiful thing.”
For more information on the launch, visit the Facebook event page called LGBTQ EXTRAVAGANZA and if you wish to get involved, you can contact Kahsenniyo Tahnee Williams at 519-802-1304.