Gay American Indians To March In SF Pride Parade To Celebrate 49 Years of Indigenous Resistance

June 24, 1979; Gay American Indians banner at Civic Center during San Francisco “Gay Freedom Day Parade”. Photo by Joe Altman.

It’s official, the first and oldest Two-Spirit Society in the Nation, the Gay American Indians, will be appearing as their own contingent in the San Francisco Pride Parade to celebrate their 49th year in existence.

This year’s (2024) theme is “Visibility is Our Essence“.

When Gay American Indians (GAI) was found in 1975, the world was a very homophobic and racist place. While the Castro was supposedly the Gay Mecca of the world, it was still only accessible to White Gay Men. In a very Jim Crow kind of way: Women and People of Color were refused service and kicked out of Castro businesses.

What’s more, homophobia and learned anti-traditional behavior on reservations across Native America helped form a mass exodus of LGBTQ Native American people from their homelands, into the cities.

Because of the discrimination and ignorance both at home, and in the Castro (and other cities), LGBTQ Native American people suffered from depression, and languished from being kept out of and separated from the social support networks enjoyed by our white gay counter-parts. This situation only compounded a suicide and substance abuse epidemic–which started soon after the Relocation Act (of 1956), and still plagues our communities today.

But it was because of the tenacity and visibility of Two-Spirit Activists like GAI co-founders Barbara Cameron, and Randy Burns, that many of the services and rights for Native American People exists–not the least of which is the fight GAI and Two-Spirit People had with the American Anthropological Association to use the term “Two-Spirit” instead of the derogatory name “berdache” for LGBTQ Native American People.


Just because we were weren’t let into businesses and bars on the Castro certainly did not mean we were spared from “Gay Diseases” like, AIDS–which ravaged the Gay American Indian community. In fact, the AIDS Epidemic hollowed out the Native American LGBTQ community worldwide.

And, the ignorance and homophobia surrounding the virus created an impenetrable stigma which resulted in the unnecessary pain and suffering, and indignities seen across the Gay Community, but which profoundly Two-Spirit People in their own Native American communities–some of which would not let their own relatives be buried in their own cemeteries, on their own homelands.

HIV/AIDS testing and care services are still needed in Native America.

Roughly 20% of Native Americans living with HIV/AIDS don’t even know they are infected.

Only 21% of Urban Natives have ever received an HIV test.

And, despite the National HIV Infection Rate decreasing–the rate of new HIV/AIDS infections in Native American has increased by 16%.

This is in stark contrast to the fact that only 64 out of 100 Native People living with HIV/AIDS were “virally suppressed”–meaning: taking medicine to stop the viral replication process, to become undetectable, or “untransmissible”.

The other 36% of people who are not on medicine may not be at fault. They may be part of the 20% that doesn’t even know they’re infected; they may be unable to receive the care they need because of stigma from within their rural healthcare communities (which I have experienced first-hand) or because of the myriad barriers to gaining access to, and retaining, HIV/AIDS care and treatments.

The amount of research The lack of testing & research done on the prevalence, rates, and effects of HIV/AIDS on Native American People and Communities means that most Health & Service Agencies are blind to the true extent and impact of the epidemic on our friends and relatives. This issue became front and center when, in 1987, the late Jodi Harry became the first Native (that we know of) to be diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. [Harry would later take his own life.]

At that time the CDC did not keep track of HIV/AIDS diagnoses or deaths in the Native American Community. But that did not stop GAI from taking care of its own members. And, when male GAI members were too few or too sick, it was the sacrifice and service of our sisters, like Barbara Cameron, which helped us through one of the darkest chapters in Gay American Indians history.

GAI will never forget the brothers and sisters we lost to HIV/AIDS. And we honor them every day we continue to breathe and fight for the rights and representation of our Two-Spirits relatives everywhere.

The Term “Two-Spirit”

… Refers to Native American people who do not fit the Western/European idea of what Men and Women are, and what their roles in society should be.

[The whole premise of this first sentence is offensive to Native American people because we honestly don’t care what white people think of us. And, it’s for the very reason that all People of Color have been disregarded, or all together regarded as a monolith, that has led to countless inequities in every facet of our existence in society, from healthcare to sports. In fact, the consideration and explanation of People of Color by people who treat mayonnaise as a spice, and consider the sun an enemy has never really worked out for us, at all.]

The term “two-spirit” came about as a preferred moniker to the term “berdache“–which is a french slur meaning “boy whore”–and is widely offensive to LGBTQ Native American People from a diverse plethora of tribes, communities, and backgrounds–and especially Lesbian Women, and people Assigned Female At Birth (AFAB.)

Because of the work the Gay American Indians did in bringing forth their research, and the opinions of researchers like Will Roscoe, Paula Gunn Allen, Maurice Kenny, in the first Gay American Indians Anthology: “Living the Spirit”….

… And comments and narratives from Two-Spirit People like GAI co-founders Barbara Cameron, and Randy Burns; Erna Pahe; and people like notable activist and Tribal Law Expert Clyde Hall during the 1993 American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting….

The American Anthropological Association has all but officially abandoned the use of the offending term, in favor of “Two-Spirit”.

Today, Two-Spirit Associations can be found all over what some people refer to as “Turtle Island”.

GAI’s 50 Year Anniversary

In 2025, next year, the Gay American Indians will be celebrating their 50th Anniversary. And we are going all out. We are going to be creating story boards and presentations to honor:

  • GAI co-founder Barbara Cameron, and her legacy as an activist, SF Pride Board Member, published author, and more.
  • GAI’s ongoing legacy in SF Pride: Randy Burns, Community Pride Marshal (2005); Morningstar Vancil, Community Pride Marshal (2012); Johnson Livingston, SF Pride Board Member (2007/2008)
  • Memorial to GAI Members who Lost Their Lives to HIV/AIDS
  • Commemorating GAI Veteran and Their Service To Our Country
  • History of Gay American Indians over Five Decades, from 1975 to 2025

If you are a GAI Member, or are an archivist, photographer, or someone who has articles, photos, recordings or other things which you think will help us tell the story of the Gay American Indians’ 50 Year Legacy, please reach out to us directly so we can arrange a time to talk about your collection/item.

If you would like to show your support for Gay American Indians, and Two-Spirits everywhere, by marching with us in this, or next years’ San Francisco Pride Parade, you can reach out to us by emailing:

Check out GAI’s event Friday, June 28th:

For more info email; or call Randy Burns (650) 359-6473