Gengle's "GAI wants to get other groups started," 1975-76
"We do want to get other groups started"
A brief news story reports the formation in July 1975, in San Francisco, of the first Gay American Indian liberation organization. While Native Americans are organizing to reclaim their culture, gay Indians are organizing, too.
Barbara Cameron and Randy Burns are co-leaders of the newly-formed Gay American Indians group in San Francisco. Barbara works at the American Indian Center in the city. Randy is a student at San Francisco State and a member of the Student Council of American Natives. Together, they are attempting to return to the bases of Gay Indian pride. "When I first came to San Francisco, I didn't know anyone, gay, Indian, or anything," Randy said. "I remember reading an article in Fag Rag about the place gay people had in the Indian culture before the invasion of the white man's values and education. "I was like a lot of Indian people who came to the city. During the '40s and '50s, the Bureau of Indian Affairs relocated many Indians to the cities. A lot of them were gay Indians who had 'lost' the respect of their tribes. They came to the cities and turned suicidal, alcoholic and stereotypically cross-dressed."
"My grandparents were forced to attend an eastern boarding school and had Christianity beat into them," Barbara added. "I thought, you know, that I was the only lesbian Indian in the world. Then I met my lover. I was really alienated. I felt trapped between my Indian culture and the society. That's the position of most gay Indians because it's the position of Indians as a whole. I really align myself with Indians first and gay people second."
"So in July of '75, Barbara and I and some others-about 10 of us-decided to start GAl," Randy said.
They had little trouble organizing, but there were some objections to their distributing fliers, announcing the group's formation, at the American Indian Center. "The former director of the center asked me if I wasn't worried about offending some people when I put up our fliers," Randy said. "I ignored the question, and went ahead with putting them up." From that beginning in July, the group has grown to about 30 members. "We were first and foremost a group for each other," Barbara said. "Bringing together gay Indians is our most important current task. We have no grandiose plans beyond that."
"It has really brought together old and young Indians in a new way," Randy said. "We are really trying to break down stereotypes in both directions. In the Indian community, we are trying to realign ourselves with the trampled traditions of our people- Gay people were respected parts of the tribes. Some were artists and medicine people. So we supply speakers from the group to appear at Indian gatherings. Sometimes we are booed or jeered, but it doesn't last long.
"In the gay community, we're trying to break down the image of the Indian as a macho militant that gay white people have."
"We also participate in demonstrations and political action for Indian concerns," Barbara adds. "We cooperate with third world groups. We also have a weekly radio show on KPOO here in the city." Randy is Piute. Barbara is Lakota (Sioux). There are about 20 tribes represented in the group. It is predominantly male, but that imbalance is offset by having dual male/female leadership.
"The heavy male trip does bother me somewhat," Barbara admitted. "But we do what we can to consciously combat sexism in the group. We are trying to reach more lesbian Indians. It will take a long time. For now, it's important that Indians know that there are gay Indians, both sexes."
How do they feel about the Bicentennial?
"Angry," Barbara stated flatly, "It's ridiculous. What should Indians celebrate? Two hundred years of broken promises, land theft, genocide and rape? It is one thing to talk about 'celebration' and another to look at the little Vietnam the government has going in South Dakota. We're going to be demonstrating in Philadelphia in '76. There are plans for demonstrations at Mount Rushmore. Gay Indians will be there."
How does it stand, historically and personally, between gay people and Indians?
Barbara summarizes: ... Probably the most together tribe in the country, the ones who have best retained the old ways and traditions, are the Pueblos. Gay people are still accorded positions of respect in the tribe. Some are healers, medicine people...
What are the plans for the immediate future?
"Like we said, we don't have any grand plans," Randy said. "We do want to get other groups started. We'll likely begin in New York City then try to branch out to New Mexico, Minneapolis, places where some of us have personal contacts. "We hope to get a forum going in Akwesasne Notes, the national newspaper of the American Indian Movement. We need to get our own newsletter going, too.
Mostly, though; our work will continue to be among ourselves: mutual support, socializing, and help." Their optimism is refreshing. It is new, born of a growing awareness that America isn't what it could be. They are using "white man's medicine": the media, communications, and politics. If they do succeed in reasserting the wisdom of native American tribes concerning gay people, all of us will benefit.
Jonathan Ned Katz, Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A. (NY: Crowell, 1976) pg. 332-334.
- Dean Gengle, "Reclaiming the Old New World. Gay was Good with Native Americans," The Advocate (San Mateo, Cal.) Jan. 28, 1976, p. 40-41. Maurice Kenny, a Gay male Mohawk from northern New York has written "Tinselled Bucks; An Historical Study in Indian Homosexuality," Gay Sunshine, nos. 26-27 (Winter 1975-1976), p. 15-17. Kenny is a poet who has also written a number of verses on Gay themes, among them "Winkte" (to appear in Manroot, 1976); "Apache" (Mouth of the Dragon, vol. 5 [June 1975]); "United" (Gay Sunshine, above issue, p. 17).