Documentary addresses issues of sexuality in Native American culture


Hands covered mouths and tears ran down faces as the documentary “Two Spirits” hit its climactic moment, explaining how the death of 16-year-old Fred Martinez has left an impact on today’s society. 

“Two Spirits” was shown Wednesday in the Beach Museum of Art, and was sponsored by the LGBT Resource Center in collaboration with the Student Governing Association and the Union Program Council as a part of K-State’s Community Cultural Harmony Week. 

Brandon Haddock, coordinator for the LGBT Resource Center and graduate student in geography, said the movie was about the lives of Native Americans, specifically, in the instance of Martinez, the Navajo tribe, and how gender interacts with sexual orientation.

“This helps explain the oral history, both in the Native community and in the LGBT community, who have lost their lives because of who they knew they were,” Haddock said.

The event opened with an introduction from Haddock, as well as from Lisa Tatonetti, associate professor of English. Tatonetti gave a brief history of the Navajo who were affected by the events and issues in the documentary, as well as how the term “two spirits” came to be. 

She explained that “two spirits” came out of activism and the wish of Native people — the Navajo tribe as well as others — to take back their voice about their views on gender and sexual orientation. Those like Martinez who identify as two-spirit individuals are male-bodied persons with feminine natures, and are often considered to have a special gift. 

“What can we take away of value from this?” Tatonetti asked the audience to ponder.

“The point of the film that I took away from was when he was murdered just for being gay,” said Hannah McDowell, freshman in social work. “I believe that we shouldn’t judge people. It is not our place to tell people who they can and can not be.”

Martinez was murdered in the hills of the Yute Mountian range by a man named Shaun Murphy, who beat Martinez to death with various stones and rocks, even when Martinez was trying to climb away. 

Martinez was forced to run into the hills, an area he was familiar with. It took authorities five days to find his body.

Murphy pleaded guilty to second-degree murder charges and was sentenced to 40 years in prison.

Some instructors and professors required their classes to attend this event, including Mariya Vaughan, instructor of English and women’s studies. Vaughan said she had been talking a lot about gender and sexual orientation in class and she wanted her students to be able to see another perspective on culture.

“I want students to have the realization that there are different cultural expectations for gender and gender performance,” Vaughan said.

Audience members expressed their strong reactions to the film during a discussion with Tatonetti. One audience member said that she felt connected with Martinez, even though she did not know him personally. Tatonetti expressed similar sympathies.

The film addressed the intersectionality of gender, sexual orientation, race and religious beliefs. During the film, it was said that “when people are at two crossroads of discrimination, it can be a dangerous place to live.” 

This is a reality for Native people who are facing issues related to gender and sexual orientation.

“It is important that individuals are allow to see another side of life,” Haddock said. “It isn’t just about transgender individuals, but this film is also about Native American issues as well, and hopefully people took that away from this event.”