Homelessness Among Two Spirits & The LGBTQ
A Conversation with Papi Churro
As we approach Pride month, there is a quiet epidemic that not all are aware of. Research has shown that nearly half of Homeless youth in the United States are LGBTQ2S. We live in a country that has a tendency to hide behind it’s moral compass when discussing human rights. However, religious zealots fail to mention how often they weaponize their religion to justify the mistreatment of the LGBTQ2S and other marginalized groups. Pride month honors the great work of the Trans POC Women at Stonewall, as well as that LGBTQ community that found the strength to rise as well. Where would modern day American politics be without Marsha P. Johnson? Trans, Two Spirits & LGBTQ+ acceptance didn’t start there though. The existence and celebration of LGBTQ2S predates the birth of America. It has been a part of most tribal cultures throughout the “ Americas “ since the beginning of time.
Papi Churro has become a very familiar name within Drag Culture and especially in Two Spirit communities. They are of the Nahuatl an Coahuilitecan peoples. Indigenous people are stronger together and so we should build bridges with other Indigenous people of other tribes whenever possible. Papi explained that at some point, Coahuiltecan tribe was accepting other Natives from different tribes that were not slaughtered or sold into sex slavery. In asking Papi how colonization has effected their life, they had quite a bit to share. “ In every possible way. It’s the reason why my family doesn’t talk to me because they’re too colonized. It’s the reason why I’ve had every struggle in my life. Even inside of my marriages, I was very fetishized “ said Papi. “ My mother was extremely homophobic because my family are devout Catholics. “ Their disagreement was over the Catholicisim forced on many Native people from colonization. Papi was very vocal as a child and even tried to be gender conforming to maintain some kind of relationship with their mother. Often times they were kicked out because she didn’t want Papi to be a part of family gatherings or family portraits. At the age of 13, Papi found themselves house hopping between cousin’s homes, their Grandmother’s house and other family members. When they were younger, they just couldn’t find themselves celebrating the ways and beliefs that were forced on Indigenous people. Colonization and being queer is something that Papi continued to fight with their family about. Papi said at one point, they would sleep in the garage of friends because their parents didn’t know that they were sleeping over. It was not out of the ordinary for them to sleep in cars or even in squat houses. Their relationship with their father wasn’t one of safety as Papi’s father struggled with addiction. There was no safe place for them to just grow up and focus on just getting through life as an adolescent.
One of the failures of Pride month is the focus on festivals and parties. Countless organizations focus on throwing parties but sometimes that celebrating accounts for some issues being put off longer than they should. It is healthy for the youth to see that we are normal, that diversity is normal. Knowing that other people like us exist out in this world is a strong form of suicide prevention. There needs to be a bigger focus on finding the balance between celebrating our existence and the long road we have ahead of us to protect our human rights. There has been a slew of Anti-Trans bills and the “ Don’t Say Gay “ bills that will only put LGBTQ2S further in danger. It is necessary to have organizations within school districts as a safe space for the LGBTQ2S youth. These bills only justify any ill actions taken against the LGBTQ2S and even give silent permission for faculty members to mistreat these students. “ Out here in the Bay Area, there is a lot of community and Two Spirits. A lot of people are in tune with things that need to be done. At the same time, corporations try to push the party aspect. I wish a lot of this energy was put into programs to address the housing insecurity for LGBTQ2S youth “ they said. Papi has found the perfect balance of sharing who they are as a Two Spirit and also their vision of what the world can be. They have made it a point to make their Drag King performances political and they have never failed to discuss the horrors of colonization. Papi said their experience with most homeless shelters has been the emphasis on staying there with the condition that you start to partake in prayer and religious conversion. I had asked them how they feel about certain homeless shelters/organizations turning away the LGBTQ2S. They shared about a place known as Covenant House that has particularly cared for and welcomes queer youth.
Housing Insecurity is a big issue for the LGBTQ2S, particularly people of color. Indigequeer, Trans and Two Spirits have been known to leave their reservation lifestyles because of the lack of acceptance in tribal communities. It is heartbreaking that our own people have to break from our culture to find a safe place to exist. Many Indigenous people have become so colonized, they were conditioned to forget about the sacred roles Two Spirits played in most Tribal Communities as Medicine People. As Two Spirits, Trans and Indigequeer people, we have another struggle outside of our colonized communities: White LGBTQ Culture. Many American LGBTQ organizations have had much inner work the last decade because of how exclusionary it can be sometimes. Activism, organizations and advocacy groups are no stranger to the gatekeeper hierarchical structures that some thrive to be. There is a whole other conversation there about the way they sometimes operate as a pyramid rather than a circle. In my experience, years ago I was addressing the issue of how Trans people are mistreated and discriminated against in the borderland. I had reached out to Brenda Risch who runs the Borderland Rainbow Center, on many occasions she told me that she wouldn’t help me. Ironically enough, the people I had issues with were allegedly helping the center she runs in one way or another (i.e. donations or sending volunteers). When I tried to discuss with her the many extra layers of struggle us Indigenous LGBTQ2S experience, Brenda said “ look, colonization happened a long time ago. “ She basically suggested that us Native People need to get over colonization already. The last few months the BRC have held a local venue accountable for bringing down a Transphobic entertainer. I have brought this issue to the awareness of the BRC as well as sister programs of the BRC. Brenda Risch has yet to make a public apology to me and the Native American Two Spirit Communities that she thinks should get over colonization already. Indigenous LGBTQ2S are expected to be a silent people in and outside our tribal communities. In the borderland, us Indigenous LGBTQ2S don’t have much of a voice. Speaking up about Indigenous LGBTQ2S issues has cost me art gigs and even other LGBTQ2S advocates in the area have made it very obvious they don’t want to center me or Indigenous LGBTQ2S issues time and time again. That is not to say that many of these White LGBTQ organizations have not done good things but have they done right by the first people of this land? What efforts are they making to unlearn colonial mindsets? What efforts are they making to apologize and correct their behavior? An apology always goes a long way. White people have no issue expecting an apology. Why should Indigenous people always be expected to never be apologized to?
America has never been safe for Indigenous People. “ Especially in the Indigenous communities, where you have the Murdered Missing And Indigenous Women as well as Murdered Missing And Indigenous People movements. We pose that much more of a risk in the Native Community if we don’t have that kind of acceptance in our own community when you have Indigenous youth out there that are homeless. “ Papi spoke of how about half of the homeless people they encountered were LBTQ2S. The very thought of that is heartbreaking. With these Anti-Gay and Anti-Trans bills being pushed, how many LGBTQ2S youth will end up homeless? How is that going to effect the Two Spirit Indigenous Youth when they already struggle so much? I asked Papi what advice they would have for the Indigenous Queer Youth. “ Band together. Seek out and educate yourselves on the things that effect us as Queer Indigenous People. The more that we are aware, the more educated we are, the less likely we are to succumb to horrible situations “ said Papi. I had asked Papi about the importance of chosen family. They said “ chosen family is the family that you strive for, the one that you want and sometimes you can’t get biologically. You end up having to find a chosen family of strays. Especially in our culture, it’s not something that is too far fetched. For so many of us that grow up queer and not accepted. We could grow up having that family and community. It is something you have seen thoughout queer and drag communities in history. It saves lives “ they said.
Papi will be performing at Oaklash at the end of May. It will be a big performance festival and they’re always accepting donations. Please support Covenant Housing and other organizations that help homeless LGBTQ2S youth. Papi Churro can be found in the Bay Area or you can follow them on instagram
by Marcy Angeles: Artist, Writer, Musician, Journalist & Public Speaker