LGBTQ Youth Explain Why Schools Should Teach About These 17 Native Icons


During Native Heritage Month, GLSEN recognizes and celebrates the cultures, histories, contributions, issues, and heritage of Native/Indigenous peoples.

‘Indigenous’ and ‘Native’ are identity markers used interchangeably across Turtle Island and are most often capitalized as nouns. ‘Native American’ is more and more rejected in protest against the settler states of the U.S. and Canada who presume their project of settlement and colonization of this land is finished. This is still Turtle Island.

From We’wha to Candi Brings Plenty, queer and Two-Spirit Indigenous folks have been at the forefront of LGBTQ organizing and resistance movements for centuries. They have currently and throughout history been fighting against cultural genocide by the U.S. government, the breaking of treaties, and white supremacy. It is imperative that we continue to acknowledge this work, while also remaining vigilant of the intersecting levels of marginalization and oppression that queer and Two-Spirit Indigenous peoples experience. Keeping in mind the activists who continue to put their bodies and well-being on the line to fight for the care of their sacred land—most recently at Standing Rock—is a critical element of inclusive education and LGBTQ work.

Below is a compilation of these icons, composed by GLSEN’s National Student Council to share their impact, and as an encouragement for folks to look into their work. Each of these icons belong in classroom curriculum. Including them is a way for students to feel reflected, honored, and valued within both their school community and society at large. In addition to making students feel valued it is a way of keeping Native culture alive. For more ways to support LGBTQ Native students at school, see these GLSEN resources. 

 And, most importantly, feel free to refer to this decolonial map in order to remain accountable to whose land you are on across Turtle Island.


Kiley May is a Hotinonshón:ni Mohawk and Cayuga from Six Nations of the Grand River Territory who currently lives in Tkaronto or “Toronto”. May identifies as Two-Spirit, trans, queer, and genderqueer. May is an actor, model, photographer, educator, writer, and leader in the Two-Spirit community. She was most recently honored this year as the 2017 Youth Ambassador for Pride Toronto. You can find some of May's work on instagram @artstarkiley. Photo Credit: CBC News. More #LGBTQ Native icons and a timeline at

A post shared by GLSEN (@glsenofficial) on Nov 1, 2017 at 1:19pm PDT


Ty Defoe (Giizhig) is from the Oneida and Ojibwe Tribes of Wisconsin and serves the East Coast Two-Spirit Society as the lead of the Youth Council. He is a Two-Spirit/Trans activist, cultural pioneer, writer, musician, who earned a Grammy Award for his work. He is known for his cultural education, and Hoop and Eagle Dancing. You can find his work @tydefoe. Photo Credit: Fader. More #LGBTQ Native icons and a timeline at

A post shared by GLSEN (@glsenofficial) on Nov 3, 2017 at 1:56pm PDT


Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio is a queer Kanaka Maoli activist, poet, musician, educator, and a PhD candidate in English at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. Jamaica is a widely published poet and professional performer. In her free time, Jamaica facilitates poetry workshops for local and Kanaka Maoli youth in Hawaiʻi and is a board member of the award winning organization, Pacific Tongues. Visit glsen.oeg/native for more icons and a timeline! Photo Credit: UHM Mentor List.

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Ignacio G (Hutiá Xeiti) Rivera is a #queer, #trans, Yamoká-hu/Two-Spirit, Black-Boricua Taíno activist, artist, and writer. Ignacio fights for economic justice, anti-racist and anti-violence work, as well as mujerista, #LGBTQ and sex positive movements. Their work is influenced by their lived experience of homelessness, poverty and sexual trauma. Ignacio founded and directs The HEAL Project and Pure Love. Learn about more Native icons this #NativeHeritageMonth at Photo Credit: National Center for Transgender Equality

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Evan Tlesla Adams is a Coast Salish of the Tla’amin (Sliammon) First Nation in Canada, who has made history in both film and healthcare. As a First Nations gay actor, Adams has won awards for his roles in Smoke Signals and Fancydancing. More importantly, Adams has been integral to transforming healthcare for indigenous people in Canada. You can find him on Twitter @doctoreonline. Learn about more Native icons this #NativeHeritageMonth at Photo Credit: FNHA

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Chrystos is a Two-Spirit Menominee poet and activist. She is the author of several award winning collections of poetry, including Not Vanishing, Dream On, and Fire Power. She has also been featured in the anthology This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color. She works for Indigenous Rights, the prison injustice system and violence against women and lesbians through poetry, writing, workshops, and more. Learn about more Native icons this #NativeHeritageMonth at Photo Credit: Bainbridge Public Library

A post shared by GLSEN (@glsenofficial) on Nov 10, 2017 at 5:38pm PST


Hinaleimoana Kwai Kong Wong-Kalu is a native Hawaiian māhū transwoman. She is a founder of the Kulia Na Mamo transgender health project, cultural director of a Hawaiian public charter school, candidate for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, and one of the first #trans candidates for statewide political office in the United States. She also served as the Chair of the O'ahu Island Burial Council, which oversees the management of Native Hawaiian burial sites and ancestral remains. Hina was featured in the documentary film Kumu Hina. Learn about more Native icons this #NativeHeritageMonth at Photo Credit: Tedx Maui

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Osh-Tisch, also known as “Finds Them and Kills Them” was a badé from the Crow Nation of the 19th century. She was a war hero and leader in their community. In a battle with the Lakota, Osh-Tisch saved a fellow tribesperson in the Battle of the Rosebud. When white agents attacked her community, she was jailed, her hair was forcibly cut, and she was forced to wear masculine clothing. She is one of the last known badés of the Crow Nation. Learn about more Native icons for #NativeHistoryMonth at Photo Credit: Female Soldier

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In 2012, Susan Allen became the first #lesbian and Two-Spirit Native American elected to the Minnesota state legislature. She has openly called out and rebuked assimilation. As Native American, Two-Spirit, and #LGBTQ, Allen has resisted the concept of needing to be accepted by the mainstream. Allen was an attorney before becoming a state legislator, representing tribes in negotiations with state and federal governments. Learn about more Native icons for #NativeHeritageMonth at Photo Credit: Indian Country Media Network

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La Malinche was a Nahua woman from the Mexican Gulf Coast who is understood in various and often conflicting aspects through her role during colonization, behavior, and race binaries. Malinche queered gender binaries by demonstrating qualities generally tied to masculinity. Malinche’s linguistic resistance revealed her inner strength. She also bent traditional gender role binaries and the patriarchal hierarchy. Learn about more Native icons this #NativeHistoryMonth at

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Raykeea Angel Wilson aka Angel Haze was born in Detroit and raised by their Cherokee mother. They identify as pansexual, agender, and multiracial (Cherokee and Black). Angel Haze is a talented rapper who uses their voice to speak out on issues involving the queer community and culture appropriation. In addition to their musical talent, they are also a self taught speaker of Tsalagi (language of the Cherokee people). Learn about more Native icons this #NativeHistoryMonth at Photo Credit: Consequence of Sound

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Qwo-Li Driskill is a Cherokee author and professor. Qwo-Li’s poetry engages themes of healing and inheritance through personal experience with #queer, Two-Spirit, and mixed-race identities. Driskill has been featured co-edited a zine called Scars Tell Stories: A Queer and Trans Dis(ability Zine. Qwu-Li’s book Asegi Stories: Cherokee Queer and Two-Spirit Stories was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award in 2017.  Learn about more Native icons this #NativeHistoryMonth at Photo Credit: Oregon State University

A post shared by GLSEN (@glsenofficial) on Nov 19, 2017 at 5:12pm PST


Ephthalia Michael-Schwarzzinger is a #bisexual Native American activist who is from the Navajo tribe. She has fundraised for Navajo reservations along with protesting at Standing Rock. She is working on a documentary about Standing Rock called Understanding "Mni Wiconi" and hopes to release the documentary to the world one day. She is currently going to Dartmouth College and is majoring in neuroscience.  Learn about more Native icons this #NativeHistoryMonth at

A post shared by GLSEN (@glsenofficial) on Nov 23, 2017 at 3:08pm PST


Webber is the multiracial Aleut, black and Choctaw founder and artistic director of Voices Rising. She has published a poetry collection called “Blues Divine.” She has also appeared in documentaries including Venus Boyz and Living Two Spirit. She is an interdisciplinary artist, a performance poet who has appeared in international spoken word tours, and a teacher. Learn more info about Native icons this #NativeHeritageMonth at Photo Credit: 4 Culture

A post shared by GLSEN (@glsenofficial) on Nov 25, 2017 at 10:27am PST


Jewelle Gomez is a Black and Wampanoag novelist and the author of The Gilda Stories and seven other books. She has worked in public television, theatre and philanthropy. She was on the founding board of GLAAD and early boards of the Astrea Lesbian Foundation and the Open Meadows Foundation. Gomez and her partner Diane Sabin were those among suing California for the right to marry, and she continues writing about gay rights and working as Director of Grants and Community Initiatives for the Horizons Foundation. Learn about more Native icons this #NativeHeritageMonth at Photo Credit: SF Weekly

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The National Indigenous Young Women's Council (NIYWC) is a self-governed council of Indigenous young women under 30 years of age. It includes those who identify as #trans, Two-Spirit, and/or gender non-conforming. The Council works to provide leadership opportunities, community actions and mobilization, and skills-training and capacity building. With the support of the Native Youth Sexual Health Network (NYSHN) the Council also develops spaces for celebration, reclamation and cultural resurgence with a vision for future generations. Learn about more Native icons this #NativeHeritageMonth at Photo Credit: NIYWC Facebook

A post shared by GLSEN (@glsenofficial) on Nov 27, 2017 at 5:28pm PST


Candi Brings Plenty is a two-spirit Oglala Lakota Sioux and founder of the “Two-Spirit” camp at Standing Rock; one of three resistance camps of water protectors. Candi is now empowering other two-spirit folks providing a homecoming of sorts through a lens of traditional Native American ideals. She has formed both a statewide non-profit, Oregon Two-Spirit Society, as well as the first Pacific Northwest Native American PFLAG chapter. Learn about more icons at Photo Credit: GLAPN Northwest LGBTQ History

A post shared by GLSEN (@glsenofficial) on Nov 29, 2017 at 9:47am PST

Did we miss your icon? Post your favorite Native LGBTQ icon on Instagram with a bio using #NativeHeritageMonth. Then, see more Native icons and a timeline that you can use in your classroom all year long!