When you think of Pride in ABQ, you may not have realized it, but you may have seen the start of a movement! Dine’ Pride has been around officially since 2007, but unofficially for a little over two decade as Dine’ and other Native people found a home and a voice within the Native LGBTQIA community in and around Albuquerque.
The Paper. spoke to a couple of longtime figures in the community for their perspective on Native Pride.
Alray Nelson heads up the official Dine’ Pride organization, serving as executive director of Dine’/Navajo Nation Pride and as founder and lead organizer of Dine’ Equality. The Advocate magazine selected him as a 2021 Champion of Pride, acknowledging his work as an LGBTQ+ trailblazer creating community change.
The Paper: What is Dine’ Pride? How did it start?
Alray: Dine’ Pride has been in existence since the summer 2017. I’m the founder, and I’m also the executive director, and I’ve served as executive director of the organization for the last three years now. Every year we actually select a theme, and our organization has grown to being … the largest Indigenous LGBTQ pride celebration in the country. There’s no other tribal nation out of 500-plus tribal nations in the whole United States. We’re the only ones that actually do this in our own home nation.
So, in 2017, that’s when we founded the organization. We actually hosted it in a flea market parking lot, and an estimated 200 people showed. A good amount of people, right? It took us a month to plan it. 2018 was our larger event. At that point, we took it out of the flea market area. We actually, through our organizing and working with tribal leadership on Navajo [land], we actually hosted in front of the Navajo Nation president’s office in Window Rock, Arizona. That event had around 1,500 or 2,000 people show up. Our first event in 2017, it was only, like, an hour, you know: Come eat some watermelon, and then just hear from speakers. That was the first event up. It was really humble. It was modest, just our tribal nation’s people. And the second year, we were really intentional about, like, “How do we uplift the voices of the community? Do we need to establish ourselves as an organization?” There was a lot of energy and a lot of momentum around what we were doing. And there was a lot of people that wanted to be a part of what we were. And that’s how Pride became, in 2018, a huge event. And every year following has had a message and a bigger event.
And where do we find it today?
In 2019, which was our biggest year, it grew again. Like, it tripled. Around 6,000 people showed up for that. And by that point, we actually had, like, host hotels. We actually had sponsorships from key people and organizations in the community. The first time, the Human Rights Campaign and Equality Utah and New Mexico. And these big organizations that have, you know, budgets. These nonprofit organizations reached out and wanted to support us. They loved the work that we were doing. Our plan was to host the biggest Pride event ever in Navajo in 2020. And of course the pandemic really impacted all of us, and I think it’s impacted a lot of nonprofit organizations across the country. And so Pride, right now, for Navajo is, you know, we’re barely standing up and meeting our needs, to be honest. Fundraising has been limited, and it’s also been like that for our brother and sister organizations. So, we’re all trying to support each other, to be honest with you. The Los Angeles Pride, Arizona and New Mexico Pride organizations, they’re all kind of supporting each other and sharing resources, sharing knowledge. We’re kind of uplifting each other for this year 2021. And so that’s kind of where we’re at right now.
The Paper: Alray, your closing thoughts?
I would like to acknowledge the Transgender Resource Center from Albuquerque, please, and also recognize Equality New Mexico and Albuquerque Pride, three organizations from New Mexico. You have no idea. [They] have done so much … for Navajo people and for our organization. And I’m just really proud that we have all three as our partners during this time. If it wasn’t for organizations like them that have really cared for us and have provided us the funding and the money to really uplift our programming.
The work that Dine’ Pride does is built upon that community support, the effort of members and the contributions of those that have always had a longstanding presence in the scene. Mattie Jim is an unabashed Dine’ trans woman and community hero, educating people of all backgrounds about HIV prevention and sexual health. The Paper. sat down with Mattie to talk tea.
The Paper. How did you get started in Pride?
Mattie: The way I got started and doing advocacy [was] when I got sober 26 years ago. Okay. So, when I got sober, I had time on my hands. So, what do I do? So, I started volunteering with HIV prevention work. I used to give out condoms and information to my friends at the bars and stuff. We tried to form a group way back then. We called it GALLUP [Gays and Lesbians Linking Up]. That’s how we were going to start, but there was no participation. So, it kind of fizzled and stuff. But there were things that were going on in the community. That’s the first time I heard the word “transgender,” ’cause I came out as gay first. The word transgender came up, and I identified with that. So, I identify myself as a trans person. And then in 2000, I started working for an HIV prevention agency.
I remember going to Albuquerque Pride for a number of years and not seeing Native representation. So, the year 2000 was when we changed that! Like, we’re going to have a float, a Native pride float. So from 2000 onward, there’s been representation in Albuquerque parades.
The Paper: Closing thoughts, Mattie?
I think [about] my Pride: like getting involved in different things, the history of the elders or teaching the things that we are, Native LGBTQ people, getting involved in much of the things that are going on—not just with Pride, but the community. I always know that we have that, we have our own people. Like, even though we go to outside Pride [events] and stuff, some may not have that pride. It is about representing yourself in a positive way for your community to see you as you are. But a lot of it is in our hearts and in our minds and around our little tiny gay community. We need all people to come together in support.