Trudie Jackson: Public Health Advocate

From struggling to survive on her own in the city, in and out of jail throughout her youth, to being a presidential candidate for the Navajo Nation and a doctoral candidate, Trudie Jackson has truly seen it all.


Now, the transgender Native American is using her life experiences to advocate for her community’s health. She’s spreading awareness about HIV/AIDS, working directly with scientists and doctors to help innovate the medical field, and leading multiple organizations supporting queer Native Americans.


Photo courtesy of ASU PRISM.

Growing Up Navajo

Growing up as a member of the Navajo Nation, Jackson attended Indian Boarding Schools and spent summers with her grandmother learning about Navajo traditions. She was always excited to experience life outside of the Navajo Nation and eventually moved to Phoenix when she was 17.


In Phoenix, Jackson was able to explore her gender identity and came out as transgender after identifying as male growing up.


“You couldn’t be open on the reservation –- everyone knows everyone,” she said in an interview with the Downtown Devil, a Phoenix newspaper, “My parents were involved in traditional Native American events, and I didn’t want to bring shame to my family.”


Life in Phoenix

For the next 15 years in Phoenix, Jackson struggled to make ends meet, finding herself in and out of jail and having to endure violence, abuse, and harassment.


She went to jail for the last time in 1999 and enrolled in college in 2003, earning her associate’s degree in 2009 from Phoenix College– the same school that she dropped out of in 1989. It was here that she saw the need to address LGBT health, especially for Native Americans. Jackson went on to receive two bachelor’s degrees from Arizona State in 2010 (one in American Indian Studies and another in Public Service Public Policy) and her Master’s in Native American Studies with a focus in Tribal Leadership and Governance.


Throughout her time in school, Jackson worked full-time in advocacy for HIV/AIDS awareness, helped Native Americans quit tobacco, and advocated for urban Native Americans and the health disparities they face.


Two Spirits

In many Native American cultures, the term Two-Spirit refers to someone who has both male and female spirits inside of them, allowing them to see things through both a masculine and feminine lens. They can be of any sexual orientation or gender.


The term was coined in 1990 by Elder Myra Laramee as a way for LGBTQ+ Natives to separate themselves from non-Native queer individuals. It’s added to the umbrella acronym as 2SLGBTQIA+.

Learn more about Two-Spirit individuals from The Indigenous Foundation, The Indian Health Service, and The National Domestic Violence Hotline.


Southwest American Indian 2SLGBTQIA+ Rainbow Gathering

In 2011, Jackson created the Southwest American Indian 2SLGBTQIA+ Rainbow Gathering. A yearly conference held at the beginning of June for Pride Month, the community comes together to share resources, open discussion, and support and elevate the Two Spirit and Indigiqueer community. They present community awards, empower one another, and address health disparities of American Indians who identify as Two-Spirit.


Breaking Barriers

In 2018, Jackson made history by becoming the first transgender woman to run for president of the Navajo Nation. Frustrated by the government’s controversial and conservative rulings, such as banning gay marriage, and how LGBTQ+ youth didn’t feel accepted on the reservation and were often choosing to leave, she ran on a platform of welcoming and inclusion.


Although she didn’t win the election, her campaign inspired queer Native Americans all over the country to pursue politics.


HIV/AIDS Awareness

Jackson has spent her entire life spreading awareness in her community about HIV and AIDS.


She currently is on the Board of Directors for the Southwest Center for HIV/AIDS, a Phoenix health center focused on supporting people of color, LGBTQIA2S+ and Queer individuals, and those affected by HIV, and is co-chair for the 2024 Aunt Rita’s Foundation’s AIDS Walk.


Native communities are disproportionately affected by HIV and AIDS, with American Indians being diagnosed more than twice the amount of white people in 2021.


Today, Jackson works closely with scientists and other STEM professionals for the research and advancement of Indigenous queer health, especially HIV/AIDS. Additionally, she educates healthcare workers, shares ways to interact with LGBTQ+ Native Americans while providing care, and often represents her community at conferences and gatherings.


“I work in public health to be the voice for the soft-spoken or unspoken individuals who may not know how to advocate for themselves,” she said to the Center for Indigenous Health, “[2SLGBTQ] Health needs to be a priority just as any cisgender person receiving services within the IHS.”


Read more about Trudie’s journey in her own words here.