Layha Spoonhunter (Eastern Shoshone, Northern Arapaho, Oglala Lakota) is a youth consultant, motivational speaker, student, Two Spirit Native youth, and vocal advocate for Two Spirit people and priorities. Layha describes Two Spirit as “a person who has both masculine and feminine identities.” He says it is a spiritual term that encompasses Native culture, language, and history.
June is LGBTQ Pride Month, and this year brought an especially busy Pride season for Layha. On June 9, Layha met President Obama for the second time as an invited guest at the White House LGTBQ Pride Reception. There, Layha thanked the President for his work in Indian Country, and for his support of the LGBTQ community. Before departing from Washington, DC, Layha met with the Center for Native American Youth to explore collaborative opportunities to strategically engage and support Two Spirit and LGBTQ Native youth. Next month, Layha will join CNAY at the United National Indian Tribal Youth (UNITY) conference in Oklahoma City to co-facilitate a workshop on Two Spirit history and advocacy. He says he’s looking forward to identifying new allies, supporting Two Spirit and Native LGBTQ youth with their journeys, and hearing how young people want to shape their own advocacy efforts during the July gathering.
Layha has been active in sharing his perspective with Indian Country Today Media Network and Native Trailblazers regarding the Orlando tragedy and the work of his fellow advocates, past and present. He also recorded a NED Talk (Native Empowerment Dialogue) on Two Spirit youth at the Administration for Children and Families‘ recent meeting in Marksville, Louisiana.
Layha’s advocacy simply began with an idea for a school project. As he dug deeper into his research, he realized that Two Spirit identity was yet another part of Native history that “hadn’t been brought to mainstream consciousness.” He says, “It was a story that wasn’t being told.” Soon, word of Layha’s research and activism spread, and he started being asked to share his perspective with organizations such as UNITY and the Human Rights Campaign. The first time he spoke about Two Spirit issues was in 2013 at Idaho State University, where he later influenced the school’s Native American club to include male and two spirit contestants in their royalty pageant.
A focus on youth.
Layha has engaged in countless conversations with Two Spirit and Native LGBTQ youth. He says that the number one issue that’s risen up out of those dialogues is the need to raise more awareness in both tribal and non-Native communities about the role that Two Spirit people once played in our societies.
He also emphasized the importance of highlighting the role that Native youth are playing to change the narrative about Two Spirits right now. “A lot of times, we get so wrapped up in the larger LGTBQ movement that we don’t get to really tell our own story,” says Layha. “We need to change the narrative, and that’s exactly what young people are doing by speaking up about stereotypes and changing the way people view us in the larger society. It’s great, the work we’re seeing among our youth. This is a time to shape who we are in the 21st century.”
Layha draws support from family, friends, and other advocates and activists, past and present. He acknowledged allies and supporters like Vincent and Laura Schilling, UNITY, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), CNAY, and Native America Calling, who have provided avenues and platforms to develop his work and share his perspective. Layha’s next big project is creating a website that will compile information and resources for and about Two Spirits from his extensive research.