Navajo Nation: LGBT Navajos Discover Unexpected Champions—Their Grandparents

Nationwide, the share of white LGBT teens who attempt suicide is high — 23 percent. For Navajo LGBT youth, the rate is three times as high, according to the Navajo Nation's Diné Policy Institute.

"When I came out to my family, my mother of course took it the hardest. But my grandparents didn't," says Alray Nelson, a Navajo LGBT rights activist.

"We are seeing clearly the aftereffects of what colonialism can look like and how it really shifted our values as Navajo people," Nelson says. "Whereas at the time, if you were LGBTQ and growing up in Navajo traditional families, families celebrated that fact. They said that we were sacred. They said that we had sacred roles."

But returning to understandings that predate colonialism has helped the families of LGBT Navajos. Traditionalists believe that the "two spirited," as they're sometimes called, are powerful and that not all humans can be classified as male or female.

Navajo historian Jennifer Denetdale says the Diné creation story includes a nádleehí.

"Today we take the nádleehí as a being who was what we would call an intersex person today, meaning that this is a person who has sexual organs of the male and the female and is considered to be a third gender in Navajo society," Denetdale says.

When the first man and the first woman weren't getting along, it was the nádleehí who intervened. Read more and listen via NPR