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Richard LaFortune

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Richard LaFortune (also known as "Anguksuar," or "Little Man"), Native Two Spirit and GLBT organizer, was born into the Yupik (Eskimo) tribe in 1960 in a small fishing village in southwest Alaska. His mother’s family were hereditary medicine people, i.e., spiritual leaders, and the people of his village named him Anguksuar. He as raised in an open adoption with a missionary family who are prominent Moravians; thus he grew up bilingual with a foot in these two different worlds. 

Richard exhibited musical gifts (piano) as a young persons and enrolled in Moravian College (Bethlehem, Penn.) to study music. Some time after the Three Mile Island accident happened in 1979, Richard left school to engage in indigenous anti-nuclear organizing.  Over the next several years he honed his community organizing skills by networking with labor, LGBT, environmental, and economic justice campaigns.

During these young adult years, Richard also had opportunities to meet Native elders and medicine people in various communities around the continent. Time and again he observed that they would make unsolicited comments to him about the presence of third gender people in Native cultures. Richard learned that “they know who you are without being told” and that in the presence of these elders one must be ever alert because every word is intentionally spoken.

Around 1985, Richard saw an ad for the San Francisco-based Gay American Indians (GAI) in the magazine RFD.  He contacted Randy Burns, the group’s founder and leader. In 1986 he spent a couple of weeks in San Francisco meeting various members of GAI who called themselves “The Club.” A high point of the trip was dancing with them in the Gay Pride Parade. He also lived in Taipei for several months during this time, where he wandered around temples and museums exploring spiritual traditions.

In late 1987, Richard set up residence in Minneapolis and affiliated with the New Riverside Café, a cooperative business that was partly vegetarian restaurant, artists’ colony and political organizing center. He began to devote more time to networking with GLBT Natives and helped organize the first International Gathering of GLBT Natives in 1988 in Minneapolis. Within two years, this annual event came to be known as the International Two Spirit Gathering. 

Richard recalls the presence of much pain and struggle at this time because GLBT Natives had been disproportionately impacted by racial discrimination and also as survivors of missionary boarding schools where they inherited homophobia. HIV was also intersecting with their lives at this time. They called on medicine people to help heal their lives from internal and external oppression.

Since 1990, Richard has worked in the fields of philanthropy and public policy.  He was appointed director of training for the National Native American AIDS Prevention Center (Oakland, California) and also served as executive director for Honor the Earth, an environmental justice foundation. In 1991, Minnesota Governor Rudy Perpich appointed him to the Governor’s Task Force on Lesbian and Gay Minnesotans. From 1991-93 he served on the founding board of The OUT Fund for The Funding Exchange.

Currently Richard is chair of the Development Committee for the Tretter GLBT Collection of the University of Minnesota Archives, for which he is a lead donor to the International Two Spirit Collection. He is legislative chair for the statewide Dakota Ojibwe Language Revitalization Alliance. He served as Grand Marshal of the Twin Cities Pride Festival in 2005. He was recently apointed to the board of directors of the PhilanthroFund (PFund) in Minneapolis, a nationally known GLBT philanthropy.

Richard co-founded 2SPR, the Two Spirit Press Room, www.2spr.org, a GLBT Native media and cultural literacy project. 2SPR serves both to increase awareness and understanding of Two Spirit culture in the public media and increase media savvy in GLBT Native communities, as well as build community among Two Spirit peoples.

(This biographical sketch written by Mark Bowman with information from an interview with Richard LaFortune on July 8, 2006, an article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune by Susan Barbieri in June 2005, and the 2SPR Briefing Book, August 2005.)

Created: 8/16/2006 5:10:05 PM

Modified: 9/8/2006 3:40:43 PM

Biography: August, 2006