Celebrating Tulalip’s LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit community

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

It was blue skies and good vibes on the afternoon of August 13, as dozens of Tulalip citizens joined together to celebrate the local LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit community. 

While DJ Monie performed a set of all the feel-good summertime anthems, the people couldn’t help but groove to the beat. As they sang along and hit their best moves, infectious smiles and contagious energy spread, lifting everybody’s spirit at the annual Pride Everyday BBQ. 

The vibrant colors of the rainbow flag and the transgender flag were the official colors of the event, and they could be seen everywhere – from face paintings to tie-dye shirts, as well as on balloons, cupcakes and cookies. The beautiful gathering took place at the area between the skate park and baseball diamond of the teen center campus. The dance floor was under the shade of the concession stand’s canopy, where several generation-based dance-offs transpired throughout the three-hour event. 

In addition to the epic dance battles, a number of fun competitions were held, including two runway showdowns for the titles of best ribbon skirt and best ribbon shirt. And a crowd favorite, the cutest baby contest, in which all participants crawled away with a blue ribbon pinned to their onesies.

Randy Vendiola served as the MC of the event and ensured everything ran smoothly and according to schedule. Tapping into the teachings he picked up as an MC on the powwow trail, Randy had the people engaged and hyped from start to finish. Sage Vendiola was named Grand Marshal and exhibited some impressive hosting skills while assisting Randy throughout the day. 

When asked about the significance of holding an annual Pride event at Tulalip, Sage shared, “I think it’s really important to showcase that we’re individuals as well. We have feelings and should be treated like everyone else. Two Spirit individuals make up such a small percentage of the population, and yet we face tons of discrimination. With all the transphobic laws being passed, and the fearfulness in general, we really have to stay strong and stay together. Anybody who feels worthless, you’re not. I understand and know exactly what you’re going through.”

Throughout time, many tribal nations have held space for their Two Spirit membership, and after years of trauma and forced assimilation, those individuals have felt left out of their respective communities thanks to the structure and mindset of our modern and colonized world. 

The Pride Everyday celebrations help establish a foundation for the Tulalip Two Spirit and LGBTQ+ community members, and lets those individuals know that it’s more than okay to be who they truly are and to freely express themselves however they choose. Pride focused events, on reservations throughout the country, help reclaim the narrative, the true lifeways of our ancestors, and the space our Two Spirit loved ones rightfully deserve in our tribal societies.

Music therapist and Tulalip community member Vee Gilman stated, “It’s so good to see the different generations of people coming here together in support of queer and Two Spirit people. I’m white, I’m a settler, so I have a different perspective and I’ve had my own experiences on what it’s like being queer in the world in that way. But I do think that there’s a specific intersection, where sometimes queer and Two Spirit people are viewed as less authentic or are not brought into certain experiences and roles because colonization enforced gender, binary, nuclear family and all of these things. Having these events are so important because our communities are really bound up together. Deliberation for any of us must include all of us. When we have space to celebrate Two Spirit people, it builds up all of our queer community and all of our Native communities together.”

The Pride Everyday BBQ is sponsored by the Tulalip Problem Gambling Program and was originally slated to begin in 2020, but to many people’s disappointment, the event was postponed indefinitely due to the pandemic. Although starting two years later than originally intended, the 2022 inaugural Pride Everyday BBQ was a smash, and there was high demand for its return in 2023. 

“This event is important because we want to promote, highlight, and put a spotlight on the LGBTQ+/Two Spirit community and all of the inclusivity that the Tulalip Tribes embodies,” said Problem Gambling Coordinator, Sarah Sense Wilson. “We wanted this also to be a multi-generational family friendly event that really honors and celebrates the area Two Spirit community members who contribute to the broader community. Today is all about celebrating, having fun, coming together, enjoying food, enjoying treats, and lifting each other up.”

A handful of local LGBTQ+ members and allies were honored for their advocacy work at Tulalip and in Native societies throughout the region. Amongst the honorees were Tulalip artist Edmond Anderson who designed the logo for the Pride Everyday flyers and banners, Tulalip and Quileute Artist Marysa Joy Sylvester who created the ‘Safe Space’ signs seen throughout the reservation, Cree member and Tulalip community member Phoenix Two Spirit who helped organize the BBQ, as well as activist and Indigenous DJ, Monie Ordonia.

After accepting her award, DJ Monie took a moment to share, “This is our second year of the Pride Everyday BBQ, and this event is important because it allows our children to be who they are – not being afraid to dance because they love it, not being afraid to love who they love regardless of sexual orientation. Thank you all for being here today and making this another successful Tulalip Pride Everyday celebration.”

Phoenix added, “It’s a blessing to see the allies of the community coming together to support the LQBTQ+ and the Two Spirits on the rez, it’s very heartwarming. It’s such a relief, especially for the young people that are coming out to the community. And seeing them come out, dancing and enjoying a good time here, I think that’s the best part, seeing them comfortable in their own skin.”

The event’s aim is to unite, uplift, show support, recognize, and honor those within our tribal community who identify as Two Spirit, lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, questioning, queer, intersex, or asexual. And for two straight years, the Pride Everyday BBQ has been successful on achieving each of the aforementioned goals in a good way. 

Said Sarah, “My hope for the community is that we continue to shine a light on all of the beautiful people contributing to making this community so much more enriched, colorful, and vibrant. We really do need to take the time to lift them up and recognize them.”