U.S. Navajos Protest Use of Their Name for UK Gay Rights Project

Navajo leaders dispute contention their ancestors honoured homosexual members


By Meg Jalsevac

  WYRE BOROUGH, England, January 8, 2007 ( – Residents and officials of the large Navajo reservation in the southern US are protesting the use of their Navajo name in a campaign for “gay-friendliness” in Britain. 

  The campaign, entitled the ‘Navajo Charter Mark’ was established in 1999 by the health council of North West Lancashire as part of an awareness campaign and county-wide effort to give assistance to gays, lesbians and bisexuals.  Organizations are awarded the mark after exhibiting sufficient effort in aiding the homosexual community. 

  Numerous city councils, police forces, and health departments have adopted the ‘Navajo Charter’ mission as a symbol of their “gay-friendly” identity.  Over 100 organizations have been awarded the ‘Navajo Charter Mark’ for gay-friendly policies and functions.

  The Navajos in North America are upset over the use of their name for such a project which they say does not uphold Navajo beliefs or law.  The attorney-general of the reservation, Louis Denetsosie, has written a letter to the British newspaper, The Sunday Telegraph, expressing “great concern” over the issue.  

  The large Navajo reservation in north-eastern Arizona, Utah and New Mexico houses over 300,000 Navajo and is largely self-governed with very little interruption from Washington.  The majority of laws in the reservation are made and passed within their own governmental frame-work and in 2005, they overwhelmingly passed a law forbidding same-sex “marriage”.

  Supporters of the ‘Navajo Charter Mark’ project insist that the name is appropriate since they say that historically, the Navajo respected homosexuality, and even honored homosexual members of their community as privileged for having two spirits – one of a man, and one of a woman. 

  Some anthropologists do claim that the Navajo did honor homosexuality but that the practice ceased when Christianity was introduced over 100 years ago. Leaders in the Navajo community, both political officials and traditional medicine men, deny the theory.

  Wyre Borough council is one such council that proudly displays the ‘Navajo’ mark after voting for an agenda that included homosexual “marriage”, staff “diversity training” and “gay-friendly” images in council publications. 

  A Wyre council spokesman said: “The Navajo project takes its name from a tribe of native North Americans who recognized sexual diversity in their community. Wyre has an equality strategy and Navajo links with that because it recognizes diverse groups in the community.

  All has not gone smoothly for the ‘Navajo Charter Mark’ project.

  After county residents and retirees, Joe and Helen Roberts requested permission in late 2006 to display Christian pamphlets next to the pro-homosexual ones approved by the Wyre council, they were interrogated for over 80 hours by the borough police for their “potentially homophobic attitudes”.  Police told the 75 year old Roberts that they “were walking on eggshells.”

  Denetsosie also wrote to the Roberts saying, “The Navajo nation is greatly concerned regarding the use of the word Navajo in any context, but even more so when it is used to express a view or policy that is contrary to Navajo law.”

  The Roberts sued the council and the police department for breach of their right to freedom of expression and religion and were awarded £70,000 by the courts.

  Tom Ellis, an attorney for the Roberts, criticized the Wyre council and similar “Navajo Project” participants saying, “At a time when gay activists are pressing for laws that will give them a right not to be offended, it appears that some groups, including many funded by the taxpayer, are prepared to offend a whole nation.”

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