Break the silence.
That's what organizers of a summit on Native American sexual assault say needs to happen for the cycle of abuse to
To lead by example, Our Sister's Keeper, the domestic violence organization hosting the event, will take on one of
the most uncomfortable topics in native cultures: violence against "two spirit" individuals, as those who are gay, lesbian, transgender or bisexual have been described.
"On native lands, trying to get the secret out sometimes is almost taboo," said Diane Millich, founding executive
director of Our Sister's Keeper.
It's a subject with unique relevance to this area.
In 2001, Fred Martinez, a transgender youth from Cortez, was beaten to death on a dark, dirt road in a hate-motivated
Martinez's story was the focus of a 2009 documentary, called "Two Spirits: Sexuality, Gender and the Murder of Fred
Martinez." The film will be screened as part of the free one-day event at Sun Ute Community Center in Ignacio.
Millich said that people of "two spirits" were once venerated among native cultures.
"It was holy. It was almost like a spiritual thing. You had both the feminine and masculine in one body. Somewhere
along the years it turned into a phobia," Millich said.
The term used in the film is nÃ¡dleehÃ, someone who possesses a balance of masculine and feminine traits.
Though Martinez' death was horrific, the case is not without peers.
In 2008, Angie Zapata, an 18-year-old from Greeley, was fatally battered with a fire extinguisher after a partner
learned Zapata's gender.
And, in 2002 in California, a transgender youth, Gwen Araujo, born Eddie Araujo Jr., was savagely beaten and
strangled by three men.
The murder was the basis for a Lifetime television program, "A Girl Like Me: The Gwen Araujo Story." Araujo's mother, Sylvia Guerrero, will speak at the summit.
Cambria Bizardi, victim advocate coordinator for Our Sister's Keeper, said Guerrero will cover how communities can
reconcile their prejudices and support people like Araujo.
"Her presentation is going to be really powerful," she said.
Millich said the summit, which is open to the public and will take place from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, is funded by a
grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Millich said it follows lasts year's summit, which also focused on preventing sexual assault and "exploring the
scared family in Native communities."
This year's summit has the same theme but examines a different dimension.
"Native family no longer means heterosexual mom and dad," she said.
In addition to the film screening and talk by Guerrero, the summit will include a panel discussion and various
breakout forums on subjects such as stopping abuse on native lands, preventing suicide after sexual assault, and
raising two spirit children.
Millich said that, in 2003, there was around 6,500 reported incidents of domestic violence involving lesbian, bisexual, gay or transgender people.
Six of those incidents resulted in murder, she said.
"If we all come together as community talking about this and we break the silence maybe at that point that's where
we're going to break some of these statistics," she said.