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Leader hopes bias crime training helped alter attitudes

Apr 1, 2012 - By Martin Reed, Staff Writer

With the Northern Arapaho Tribe and other American Indian groups, they carry the name "two-spirited."

They are the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual community, or the LGBT. Some say they have two hearts or two spirits within them.

"They were born a man but are a woman in their hearts or felt they are a woman," said Mary Tafoya, Northern Arapaho tribal public relations coordinator. "That's why we call them two-spirited people."

Whether on an American Indian reservation or elsewhere throughout the country, Tafoya and others know the discrimination the LGBT community faces and endures. She wants to see the perception change.

Tafoya, with the help of Rosa Salamanca of the Department of Justice's Community Relations Service Office, organized the Law Enforcement Bias Crimes Training at Central Wyoming College on Thursday, March 29, at the college's Rural Justice Training Center.

The training concluded with a community dialogue about reporting hate crimes from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

"What I would like to do is to start a dialogue and to train our people that provide services to our tribal members," Tafoya said.

Tafoya said the program can help address issues faced by the lesbian and gay community.

"Traditionally, natives have always revered the two-spirited people in their tribes. A lot of them, they were the decision-makers, they were the medicine people," she said.

But the perception has changed over time.

"As we become assimilated in the white culture, we slowly adapted to their attitude that people hate them, they're shunned in the community," she said. "They're made fun of. They're bullied. People ridiculed them.

"Traditionally, that's not the way we treated our two-spirited people. That was not our Indian way," she said.

She recalled the harsh treatment a friend of hers received after he was raped. She pointed to the Matthew Shepard case in Laramie as an example of a hate crime.

The training provided education to help participants learn about issues involving hate crimes.

"This is a subject that nobody wants to talk about it," Tafoya said. "I was able to request this training for law enforcement and for Shoshone and Arapaho tribal programs and for the community. This will be the first of hopefully several different projects that we do in coalition with Rosa (Salamanca)."

Tafoya hopes perceptions and treatment will change for the better in the area toward the LGBT community and others who face discrimination.

"These people are part of our community. As the Arapaho way, one of the main things as Arapaho we believe in is love one another, accept one another, be good to one another," she said.

"I have had people come up to me and say thank you for doing this," she said about some who have been mistreated.

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