Category: native american lesbians

JANUARY 31: Patricia Velásquez (1971-)

Happy birthday
to actress and supermodel, Patricia Velásquez! You might recognize Patricia
from her starring turn in The Mummy,
but today she is most well-known for being a lesbian icon as well as one of the
very first Native American supermodels.

Patricia has over 20 film and TV credits to her filmography, including lesbian classics The L-Word and Liz in September (x).

Patricia Carola
Velásquez Semprún was born on January 31, 1971 in Maracaibo, Venezuela. She was
the fifth out of six children born to her mestizo father and Wayúu mother, a
member of the indigenous Wayúu people of Venezuela. Both of her parents were teachers and due to the fact that her father worked for the United Nations
Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), parts of Patricia’s
childhood were also spent in Mexico and France.

After
graduating high school in 1987, she made it to the Miss Venezuela pageant
in 1989 where she represented the state of Guárico. Although she only placed as
second runner-up, the pageant still served as the catalyst for Patricia’s
modeling career. After finishing three years of college, she moved to Milan and
began to pursue modeling and acting full time. She modeled for designers such
as Chanel and Dolce & Gabbana throughout the 90s, but didn’t reach
mainstream fame until the 1999 film The
Mummy
where she played the role of Anck-Su-Namun.

Patricia would
reprise her famous role in The Mummy Returns in 2001, as well as be featured in
episodes of Arrested Development and The L-Word. In 2002, the founded the Wayúu
Tayá Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to assisting the Wayúu, a
Venezuelan indigenous group of which her family belongs. After disappearing from the spotlight for a while,
Patricia resurfaced in 2015 with the publication of her memoir Straight Walk. In the book, she comes
out as a lesbian and opens up about her relationship with the actress Sandra
Bernhard. In addition to frequently being dubbed the world’s first Native American
supermodel, many also consider Patricia to be the world’s first openly lesbian
supermodel!

-LC

SEPTEMBER 17: Edmonia Lewis (1844-1907)

On this day in 1907, the very
first black Native-American woman to break into the world of the fine arts
passed away. Edmonia Lewis was a sculptor and an artist who reached
international fame and mastered the Neoclassical style.

Edmonia surprised many of her colleagues by refusing to take on assistants and completing all of the physically demanding acts of sculpting herself, despite being only four feet tall (x).

Mary Edmonia Lewis was born on
July 4, 1844 in the town of Greenbush, New York. Her father was Afro-Haitian
and her mother was of Mississauga Ojibwe and African-American descent. Together, the family made up part of the small population of freed black families living in America at that time. Her mother was known to be an excellent weaver and artist
in her own right, while her father worked as a servant. Sadly, both of Edmonia’s
parents had passed away by the time she was 9-years-old and both she and her
half-brother went to live with their aunts near Niagara Falls. She eventually enrolled
at New-York Central College, McGrawville in 1856, but left after three years
and ended up studying art at Oberlin College.

After college, Edmonia moved to
Boston and decided to specialize in sculpting after being struck by the beauty of a public statue of Benjamin Franklin. Finding a mentor was difficult at first
because many of the premier sculptors in Boston were not welcoming to a black Native-American
woman entering their field, but once Edward Augustus Brackett agreed to take
Edmonia on as an apprentice, she began working for some of the most famous
abolitionist of the day, such as William Lloyd Garrison and Charles Sumner. In
1866, she made the move to Rome, Italy and opened up her own studio. It was in
Rome where Edmonia’s career was able to flourish; by 1873, she was being paid
up to $50,000 for commissions and was even invited to present at the 1876 Centennial
Exposition in Philadelphia.

Death of Cleopatra, which Edmonia presented at the 1876 Centennial Exposition, caught both the public’s eye and their attention; while Cleopatra had been the subject of many other (white male) sculptors’ works, it was shocking to see a black woman take on the task of depicting one of the most famous black women in history (x).

In Rome, Edmonia was a member of a
circle of fellow expatriate artists, more specifically, of Charlotte Cushman’s
circle of women artists. The majority of the women in Edmonia’s circle were
lesbians, with Charlotte and her partner Emma Stebbins as the head of the pack,
and for this reason, most historians have concluded that Edmonia herself must
have been a woman who loved other women. Her proclivity for “men’s clothing” and
dressing against 19th century gender mores is just further proof that
Edmonia was most likely involved in a LGBT culture of some form or another.
Tragically, after finding a lump in her breast, Edmonia was forced to leave her
friends and what little hub of community she had found in Rome and move to England for medical treatment. She passed away from
Bright’s disease September 17, 1907 and was buried at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic
Cemetery in London.

-LC

SEPTEMBER 11: Jewelle Gomez (1948-)

Happy 69th birthday to Jewelle Gomez!! The lesbian
poet, literary critic, and playwright was born on this day in 1948.

In a 2012 interview with Curve Magazine, Jewelle said, “

Everything I write, and my activism as well, centers around creating community, the responsible use of power, and the feminist understanding that we’re all connected, and that includes our oppressions” (x).

Born in Boston, Massachusetts on September 11, 1948, Jewelle
Gomez was the daughter of a nurse and a bartender, but she ended up being
raised by her great grandmother. Her great grandmother, Grace, was born to a
black mother and an Iowan father, and so Jewelle’s childhood was imbued with
both black and Native American culture. In high school, she was heavily
involved in the world of black activism and the Civil Rights Movement. After
she graduated, she moved to New York City and began working as a stage
manager in off-Broadway theater production. During this time in New York, she
also began to develop her lesbian identity and became involved in LGBT
activism. Some of her very first writings began to appear in Conditions, a popular lesbian-feminist magazine
of the 1960s.

To date, Jewelle is the author of seven books, most
notably the novel The Gilda Stories,
which became a two-time Lambda Literary Award winner in 1991. She created the very
first anthology of black speculative fiction in 2001 titled Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative
Fiction from the African Diaspora
and has worked extensively in television
and theater in addition to her work in the literary world; Jewelle was on the founding board
of GLAAD back in 1984 and also worked on the staff of the very first weekly
black television show, Say Brother,
in 1968. Her latest work was a play about
the life of James Baldwin, Waiting for
Giovanni
, which premiered at the New Conservatory Theater in 2010. Today,
Jewelle serves as the Director of Grants and Community Initiatives for Horizons
Foundation, which is one of the oldest LGBT foundations in America.

-LC