I want to strengthen our communities by learning how to support Two-Spirit/LGBTQ Youth and restore how our societies knew how to keep our relationships in balance. Our future generations depend on the wellness of our young people. It is time to take action for our youth.
My name is Michelle Sue Sherman, I am Diné-Navajo born for the Water Edge people and the Water Flow together people. I was raised in my community in Upper Fruitland, New Mexico on the Navajo Nation. My culture, family and where I come from is everything to me, and I am committed to staying rooted in my rural community for life.
My grandmother is my superhero; she instills in me everyday that everything is from the Creator and to be grateful for all the blessings in life. My nephew Elyas Begay teaches me that falling down is ok, as long as you get back and try again.
My passion in my leadership is to create communities where everyone’s unique gifts can be shared fully and be valued equally. To achieve this vision for vibrant communities, I am beginning with making a difference for our LGBTQ/Two Spirit youth.I believe the Creator has plans for everyone, and I am grateful that these plans include being a part of the NYLA family. I began my NYLA Fellowship in 2011, and am very proud of my leadership growth over these past two years.
I work with LGBTQ/Two Spirit youth to build their self-awareness and self-confidence, to be true to themselves and to recognize their inner beauty and the special gifts they have to share!
This is important to me because this is exactly the support I needed when I was growing up. My coming out story isn’t a pretty picture. I have been through a lot with myself, learning who I am, and taking charge of my own life. There were a few times where I wanted to kill myself because I lost my family at one point, because they didn’t approve I was gay.
I felt lost and defeated, and had to leave my reservation to be able to get the support and acceptance I needed as I was coming into my identity. There are 6 gender identities in my Dine’ tradition, and I identify as Delbaa (warrior girl or masculine female). When I lived outside of my community in urban environments, there were organizations to support me and other LGBTQ people.
We need these supports at home in our rural communities so our youth don’t have to go through the same challenges that I did. To meet this huge need, I founded a community organization called “Celebrate LIFE: Make a Difference” to celebrate the unique gifts of all Tribal members, to promote equality and to spread a positive ripple effect across the Navajo Nation and beyond. Our Dine’ communities are stronger when all our voices are shared and come together as one people. Our Two-Spirit/LGBTQ Youth are struggling to have safe spaces where they have mentors who help them see how special they are. I want to strengthen our communities by learning how to support Two-Spirit/LGBTQ Youth and restore how our societies knew how to keep our relationships in balance. Our future generations depend on the wellness of our young people. It is time to take action for our youth.
Celebrate LIFE provides trainings, skill-building, mentorship and technical support to ensure Native communities support equality and spaces to thrive for all young people. These specialized trainings include Gender and Sexuality in the Native Cultures, Understanding Sexuality and Gender Identity, Promoting Positive Relationships for Bully-free Communities, Youth Sparking Community Change (How to Celebrate Life and Make a Difference) and How to Share Your Story. In my local community in Upper Fruitland, New Mexico, Celebrate LIFE is also planning and raising resources for a skatepark for youth.
Celebrate LIFE also hopes to host a ‘train the trainers’ program educate and support more LGBTQ Native leaders to create this change in their communities.
If you would like to learn more about promoting equality and celebrating the gifts of all Native youth, please contact us at Celebrate LIFE through our Facebook page (linked here). We would love to work with you!
*Profile picture: Michelle with Erica Woodward of the Brown Boi Project at the Grassroots Institute for Fundraising Training Conference 2012!
Celebrate Life at the 2016 Youth Summit with the Coalition to STOP Violence Against NATIVE WOMEN
Michelle is featured in this trailer that is an introduction to a photoessay about the unique struggles and joys the Navajo LGBTQ community faces on the reservation. To view this photoessay, please click the link: reservationisolation.org
Click these links to Learn More about Celebrate LIFE Initiatives and Trainings:
Six-day, 474 mile skate and ride across the Navajo Nation to spread awareness on Suicide prevention, LGBTQ/Two-Spirit Equality, and to Aedvocate for a Skate/BMX park in Shiprock, New Mexico. The ride benefits the youth to promote celebrating life, community building, leadership, and spreading a positive message across the Navajo Nation.
Youth Gender and Sexuality Workshops made a difference with the youth of the Norther Ute Tribe on the Unitah and Ouray Reservation in Fort Duchesne, Utah at Youth Leadership Conference.
Facilitated workshop at the Navajo Nation first LGBTQ Symposium- we facilitated to 30+ people who want to hear our stories on growing up LGBTQ on the Navajo Nation.
Presented on my life story, the power of my culture and the unique needs of LGBTQ/Two Spirit Tribal members in rural communities.
Celebrate LIFE + Teach for America: Teacher Sensitivity Training
Educated new teachers for Teach for America about the Navajo Nation and on the experiences and challenges LGBTQ/Two Spirit youth face in schools and communities.
Michelle Sherman shared her story and vision for her community to Wayward Nation, a collective of filmmakers going across america and documenting young leadership from our generation to make a change.