So Mr. VanWanseele moved to New York City, a place where American Indians are virtually invisible and where the teeming streets and the forests of buildings could not be more different from the expansive vistas of his reservation.
But New York is a place where he could be who he truly was: a proud Indian and a proud gay man. His story parallels the stories of other gay American Indians who have moved to New York. Coming from different tribes with different traditions and histories, they have forged a small community and started a branch of a growing national organization built on shared experiences.
The group has only about 15 members, but it works to raise enough money to pay for community outreach projects and cultural offerings, like classes focusing on traditional American Indian dance. The group also maintains a Web site, ne2ss.typepad.com, that has recorded more than 60,000 hits since 2005, Mr. VanWanseele said.
There are similar Two-Spirit groups with larger memberships in San Francisco, Denver, Phoenix and Tulsa, Okla.
Historically, in many tribes, individuals who entered into same-sex relationships were considered holy and treated with utmost respect and acceptance, said Dr. Gilley. “Prior to European contact, sexuality was not a determining factor in someone’s identity,” he said. “It was the role in the community. Gender was tied to that role. Who you had sex with was not a concern. The Europeans come, Native American societies are thrust in rapid change, and some societies incorporate European ideals quickly.”
And because the European settlers, influenced in part by their religious beliefs, were largely intolerant of homosexuality, they helped reshape long-held practices among many Indians, Dr. Gilley said.