LGBT rights in the Navajo Nation
Navajo Nation (within the U.S.)
StatusLegal since 2001
Gender identityNo recognition
Discrimination protectionsNo
Family rights
Recognition of relationshipsNo recognition of same-sex relationships
RestrictionsSame-sex marriage banned since 2005
AdoptionSame-sex couples banned

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in the Navajo Nation, the largest indigenous sovereign state in the United States, face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents. Same-sex sexual activity is legal, but same-sex unions are not recognized, and marriage has been banned by the tribal constitution since 2005. In 2022, a bill was introduced to repeal the ban and recognize same-sex marriage,[1] but has faced challenges on the reservation.[2][3]

Traditional Navajo belief

As with many Native American nations, traditional Navajo belief includes a two-spirit conception of gender-variant individuals and accepts two-spirited individuals as valid members of the community. Nádleehi (Navajo: naadleeh or nádleehé; literally one who constantly transforms) refers to individuals who are a "male-bodied person with a feminine nature". Historically, the Navajo recognized four gender roles: asdzáán (feminine female), hastíín (masculine male), dilbaa (masculine female), and nádleehi (feminine male). The nádleehi identity is fluid, and such individuals may display both male and female characteristics. Due to the perceived "balance" between both sexes, they were typically chosen for certain societal and communal roles, such as spiritual healers. They would traditionally wear female clothes and do female work, and some would have sexual relations with men which was accepted by the tribe.[4]

Introduction of opposition to homosexuality and gender-fluidity

Opposition to homosexuality and gender-fluidity was introduced by Christian missionaries and the US federal government, specifically through the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Currently, the suicide attempt rate for Navajo LGBT youths is three times that of white LGBT youths. Because of the generational change in attitudes, Navajo LGBT youths may face opposition from their parents' generation but find acceptance from their grandparents.[5]

Navajo Nation law

Same-sex marriage is not valid under Navajo law, even if performed in a jurisdiction such as Arizona where it is legal.[6] Because of this, same-sex couples do not have the rights accorded by the tribal government to opposite-sex married couples.[7] Same-sex marriage is explicitly prohibited by the Diné Marriage Act (see external links), an amendment to the tribal code enacted on April 22, 2005.[8] The act was vetoed by then–Navajo President Joe Shirley, Jr.,[9] but the veto was overridden by the Navajo Nation Council.[10] In the run-up to the 2018 elections, both Shirley and his opponent, Jonathan Nez, said they strongly supported a repeal of the act, and Shirley said they had 14 of the 16 votes needed on the council for repeal but after few months he explained that the council will not support legal same-sex marriage.[11]

Endorsement of the Equality Act as federal legislation

On August 12, 2019, the Law and Order Committee of the Navajo Nation Council approved a resolution by Delegate Nathaniel Brown to endorse the Equality Act in Congress as federal legislation in a 2–1 vote. Alray Nelson, the founder of Diné Equality praised the legislation, calling it "a major step forward." "This is the first time the Navajo government and its leaders had a deeper conversation about protecting our LGBTQ, two-spirit relatives," Nelson said. "Today was a major step forward because it sends an inclusive message to our community members that Navajo Nation is ready to have this conversation." The resolution will next go to the Health, Education, and Human Services Committee and then the Naa'bik’iyati’ committee.[12][13][14]

On August 27, 2019, the legislation passed the Health, Education, and Human Services Committee, sending it to the Naabik'íyáti' Committee for approval by the Navajo Nation Council.[15]

On September 5, 2019, the Navajo Nation, through official action of the Naabik'íyáti' Committee, approved support for the Equality Act with 16 votes in favor and 0 opposed. The passage of the legislation authorizes the Speaker of the Council, President of the Navajo Nation, and the Navajo Nation Washington Office and its designees to advocate support for the Equality Act to the United States Congress. Alray Nelson, Diné Pride Executive Director said in a statement "The Navajo Nation should be proud today for this historic action taken by our tribal lawmakers. It sends an inclusive message to our LGBTQ+ youth that their Nation is inclusive and they should be proud to be who they are. It is now time that we repeal the discriminatory Diné Marriage Act and treat our LGBTQ+ family members with respect and compassion. They are our relatives & Navajo law should reflect it." Kayenta Council Delegate Nathaniel Brown, sponsor of the legislation (0195-19) said, "When speaking of kinship & relationship to each other, Navajo speaks of compassion & respect. The Equality Act is a giant step in allowing LGBTQ+ communities to be free from discrimination, to be protected from injurious practices & to achieve the full pursuit of happiness as citizens of our Sovereign Nation."[16][17][14]

Summary table

Same-sex sexual activity legal
Equal age of consent
Anti-discrimination laws in employment
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas
Same-sex marriages
(Explicitly banned since 2005)
Recognition of same-sex couples
Stepchild adoption by same-sex couples
Joint adoption by same-sex couples
Access to IVF for lesbians
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples
Conversion therapy banned on minors
MSMs allowed to donate blood

See also


  1. ^ "New bill seeks to legalize same-sex marriage on the Navajo Nation".
  2. ^ "Bill legalizing same-sex marriage on Navajo Nation voted down by first committee".
  3. ^ "Navajo Nation Council delegate removes support for same-sex marriage bill".
  4. ^ A Glimpse Into The Diné Gender System And Two Spirit People
  5. ^ "LGBT Navajos Discover Unexpected Champions: Their Grandparents". National Public Radio (US). 2019-12-26. Retrieved February 23, 2019.
  6. ^ "States May Recognize Same-Sex Marriages, but Navajo Nation Won't". NPR. 9 January 2014.
  7. ^ "Oregon tribe to allow same-sex marriages". NBC News. 2008-08-22. Retrieved 2009-12-31.
  8. ^ Dempsey, Pamela (2005-04-23). "Navajo Nation officially bans same-sex marriage". The Independent. Gallup, NM. Diné Bureau. Archived from the original on February 2, 2010. Retrieved January 1, 2010. Same-sex unions are now officially banned on the Navajo Nation. The Navajo Nation Council passed the Diné Marriage Act of 2005 with a 67–0–0 vote on Friday.
  9. ^ Norrell, Brenda (2005-05-05). "Navajo president vetoes gay marriage ban". Indian Country Today. Retrieved January 1, 2010.
  10. ^ "Tribal challenge to same-sex marriage dismissed". Indianz.Com. 2005-08-04. Archived from the original on May 30, 2011. Retrieved January 1, 2010.
  11. ^ "Gay couples from largest Native American tribe call for marriage equality". SBS News. 2018-10-29. Retrieved February 23, 2019.
  12. ^ Becenti, Arlyssa; Denetclaw, Pauly (August 15, 2019). "Committee OK’s 'Equality Act'". Navajo Times.
  13. ^ Winslow, Ben (August 14, 2019). "LGBTQ Rights Activitsts Push the Navajo Nation to Repeal Its Same-sex Marriage Ban". KRQE.
  14. ^ a b "An Action Relating To Law And Order, And Health, Education & Human Services Committee, And The NAABIK’IYATI Committee; Supporting United States Senate Bill No. 788 – 'Equality Act' Which Will Expand And Clarify The Protections And Remedies Against Discrimination on the Basis Of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, And Sex In The Areas Of Employment, Housing, Public Accommodations, Public Education, Federal Funding, And The Jury System". The Navajo Nation Legislative Branch. July 10, 2019.
  15. ^[dead link]
  16. ^[dead link]
  17. ^ "Council Votes to Support US Senate Bill 788 'Equality Act'". The 24th Navajo Nation Council Office of the Speaker. September 5, 2019.