INDIGENOUS TRANSILIENCE | ADRIA JAWORT | TRANSGENDER, TWO-SPIRIT ACTIVIST

Ian Lundy
 | 
Alturi Contributor

Northern Cheyenne Nation fiction writer Adria Jawort is a transgender, Two-Spirit activist and journalist based in Billings, Montana. Alturi Contributor Ian Lundy recently conversed with Adria to explore the effect of Montana House Bill 359 on the transgender and Two-Spirit community. House Bill 359 aimed to restrict transgender expression. HB 359 focuses on “prohibiting minors from attending sexually oriented shows; prohibiting drag story hour in schools and libraries that receive public funding.”

The Event

I was due to give a history lecture about Indigenous LGBTQ and Two-Spirit history on June 2, 2023.

I was excited to do it, despite a lot of drama leading up to it that included neo-Nazis who later took credit for harassing the county into canceling it on the morning of June 1.

Not only that, but the Humanities Montana organization that supposedly sponsored me had a white nationalist who despises trans people on its board. I’d complained about it, but the organization dismissed my complaints. They defended the white nationalist’s “free speech” that targeted our transgender representative Zoey Zephyr, who got bashed days after he wrote a disgusting hit-piece against her. I resigned from their speaker’s bureau and turned down almost $800 in travel and speaker fees for two back-to-back lectures.

Still, I was ready to travel 450 miles on my dime and devote my time to give this lecture because people need to know trans people have existed and been widely accepted in the Americas since time immemorial without discrimination. That is until colonization targeted us for erasure and continues to do so.

The Cancelation

The town leadership in Butte caved to Nazi complaints, and the state of Montana wanted to silence all LGBTQ people and art. I don’t want to say the people who decided to cancel me are racist. Still, ignorance of Indigenous history certainly was part of the equation and all the more reason why I want to get this talk out to as many people as possible.

House Bill 359 

The bill states that a “Drag queen” means someone “who adopts a flamboyant or parodic feminine persona with glamorous or exaggerated costumes and makeup.”

I had mockingly tweeted that I was “flamboyantly dressed” and “children may be present.” I’d forgotten I’d even written it until a reporter said that was one of their reasons. This tweet spread across the county via a complaint by the fake Facebook account of a local white supremacist of all people.

Anyway, as a trans woman who’s a bit of a fashionista and prone to wearing purple or black lipstick and berets, et cetera, which stands out in Montana, I noted I was a “flamboyantly dressed trans woman” to highlight the stupidity of the bill.

And the “children may be present” comment was mocking how, in discussing Indigenous historical LGBTQ figures, I’d perhaps read a passage from a history book, which could be considered a drag queen story hour according to the State of Montana, I guess?

Children would be in school at noon, and the county knew this, but who knows if a little toddler might show up with a parent?

The Librarians

The librarians received harassing calls and deemed them threatening enough to have a police presence when I spoke. But then, on June 1, one of them emailed upset and said their Chief Executive–which is like their mayor–and County Attorney deemed it too much of a legal risk to have a trans person speaking at the library. 

After all that build-up and drama, I was incredibly disheartened on Pride Month’s first day. 

I remember I didn’t write back much other than “wild” and that “I would do what I do and write about it.”

I went to the gym, worked out hard to blow off steam, reset, and returned. My messages and phone were already starting to blow up with interview requests. I realized this was going to be a big story beyond Montana.

And even while I was exhausted and did a dozen interviews, I made a sign and did a lone protest in front of a posh theater downtown against Humanities Montana as they coincidentally had an in-person board meeting that same day.

Some found my in-the-trenches, frontline activism style amusing. I am an Indigenous trans woman activist in a red state living in a conservative majority town. Of course, I have to be scrappy.

Lobbying and Libel

Now, I’ve become sort of a de facto face for the free speech of LGBTQ people in my region, which kind of fits, seeing as I’ve always defended literature since my passion is fiction writing and art. I wrote a well-liked, 3,000-plus word nuanced essay against censorship in literature in The LA Review of Books. So, while I’m neurodivergent, at least I get asked about something where I can ‘info dump’ on the politics of targeted LGBTQ artists.

I had been a lobbyist during the 2021 legislative session and testified for and mostly against about 60 bills in a few whirlwind months. 

In 2023, I sued a popular far-right-wing Pastor and his publication for libel after they fabricated an article for his news site. The Pastor had written various false statements about my speech and behavior around GOP lawmakers. It ended up being a surreal experience as the guy toured around Montana, fundraising against me while saying more dangerous nonsense about me that put me in further danger.

Long story short, the guy filed for bankruptcy the day before a sanction hearing for his many “metaphorical” threats against me and my attorneys. 

So, coming out of that, I was battle-hardened. 

Organizing 

While I’ve always felt the need for an Indigenous-based organization to help lead the way in defending LGBTQ people targeted in this region, I had been waiting for the final steps to complete the Indigenous Transilience non-profit status paperwork, which finally came in later this summer. 

While Indigenous Transilience is all over the board in what we aim to do as a startup organization, what this did was cement the idea that what they canceled, this knowledge that entire societies were embracing and accepting of trans people that they already nearly erased with colonization and how we could learn from that as opposed to siding with bigotry, must be taught to as many people as possible. I even went to Florida recently to speak on behalf of trans youth.

Also, while I do a lot of work writing about and documenting literal Nazis and hate groups, which even includes having personally interviewed a former white nationalist, the greatest weapon I have against their ignorance is education.

Coalitions

I am a plaintiff represented by the Upper Seven Law firm, which also represented me in that libel case. I work with my drag queen and king homies of the Imperial Sovereign Court of the State of Montana, a teacher who reads in costumes, and a bookstore hosting drag queen story hours. There’s also a theater group as well. Many people contributed to combat these stupidly written, anti-drag laws. 

The Lawsuit

Right now, the bill is on hold and unenforceable. While there are no guarantees, as I write this, I expect this bill to fail any day now.

Desired Outcomes

The goal of my lawsuit is to show people that these laws are discriminatory regardless of whether you like trans people or not.

So many people need to be made aware of or are indifferent to what these laws entail. 

In Florida, Tool’s lead singer, James Maynard, did a rock concert in drag days after DeSantis signed the anti-drag bill. Do you think they targeted him or his venue? No. They could have targeted him, but they only go after LGBTQ people or school teachers.

Like, every time my picture appears on a news site, I get called a “pedophile” by people on the same side as the Nazis who bragged about getting my lecture canceled. When you’re on the same side of Nazis as you repeat their stupid buzzwords, maybe you should rethink your politics.

Yet, we have people running for the US Senate in Montana who still act like drag shows, and silencing people like me needs to be a top priority. They don’t want democracy; they want a theocracy.

However, who cares if I was doing a drag queen story hour that day?

The only ones sexualizing someone wearing a fun, colorful costume who reads a kid’s book are meme-brained conservatives. 

Connections?

While I said the bill could target trans people in testimony and then mocked it in the lead-up to the event, I was honestly shocked I was the person they applied it to.

What made it particularly shocking is Butte is historically a blue-collar, unionized town known for sticking up for the little person. 

LGBTQIA Unity in Montana

A lot of us are very scrappy.

There’s work to do with this; you’re still an outsider if you’re Indigenous. There’s an underlying attitude that if you speak out, you ‘don’t ‘know your place,’ but since then, we’ve rallied together and grown stronger and way more united in the face of this onslaught. I am forever grateful and proud to be a part of and witness that beauty. 

Media Coverage 

Trans people and drag queens are often misidentified. But at the same time, your average conservative boomer doesn’t know the difference anyway, as everything gets dumbed down to buzzwords to them. 

Resources

Eventually, after I finish my current novel, I’d like to write my book on the matter. While there are many books, they jump around so much that it takes a lot of work for the average reader to get a linear narrative that I present in my lecture. 

Support

My startup nonprofit is www.indigenoustransilience.org.

I plan to have a team of Indigiqueer folks working with me eventually. Book me for speaking engagements. I promise it’s entertaining and exciting.

Share this:

Latest Global News

Added on: 06/19/2024
06/19/2024
In a momentous occasion for LGBTQ+ rights in Asia, the senate in Thailand senate has overwhelmingly approved same-sex marriage legislation. The vote, passing 130 …
Added on: 06/19/2024
06/19/2024
An alleged gay, identified as “Junior”, has been mercilessly beaten for allegedly attempting to have a sexual affair with a young man in Assin …
Added on: 06/19/2024
06/19/2024
Dayling Ramírez says that each day that passes is a challenge to overcome because, despite having survived the persecution of the Mara Salvatrucha gang …

Explore LGBTQ+ Issues

Other Voices from ,

Added on: 01/02/2024
Minneapolis mourns artist Robert Skafte, a gay, queer dancer whose light shines no longer. On Friday, December 8, 2023, a suspect senselessly and lethally …
Added on: 06/01/2023
Ash is an unstoppable force in activism without ever trying to be. Her fearless, relatable, and hilarious approach has made her a sought-after speaker, …
Added on: 10/19/2022
Can you tell me a bit about yourself and what led you to establish the Queer Armenian Library? I’m Armenian-American and grew up in …