Minnesota Rep. Susan Allen Is Two-Spirit, a Lesbian, and She Won't Be Assimilated
When Susan Allen was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2012, she became the first openly lesbian Native American woman to win office in any state legislature. But framing that achievement as one for the lesbian community alone obscures another aspect of Allen’s identity, and one that is directly connected to her Native American ancestry: Allen also identifies as “two-spirit.” While Americans are increasingly familiar with the elements that make-up our modern LGBTQ abbreviation, other, often older queer identities like two-spirit remain unappreciated to the point of erasure. But if Allen and other two-spirit folks have their way, that’s going to change.
For Rep. Allen, coming out as lesbian wasn’t a huge struggle; her mother called her to ask if she was gay. “She said thank you for telling me, and that was the end of the phone conversation,” Allen recalled in an email. “I was relieved that she asked. I didn't ask why. I don't remember any follow-up conversation. Coming out made me feel closer to my family.” From then on, there was no real divisiveness in her family or her tribe. She even ran for office advocating for marriage equality—there’s no question that being an out and proud lesbian is important to her. But that word only describes her sexuality, and is thus only part of the story. To grasp a more complete picture of Allen’s queerness, you have to consider gender—and that’s where two-spirit comes in.