The Intersection of Colonialism and Trans Oppression

By Tatiana Villegas

4 min read.

On February 7, 2024, Nex Benedict—a transgender, nonbinary Indigenous 16-year-old—passed away a day after being attacked in their school bathroom. Nex had discussed how they were bullied often due to “the way we dress” and their queer identity. Nex was taken too soon from this world. This tragedy took place in the state of Oklahoma: a state that has some of the most anti-trans laws on the books, a state that has the most anti-trans bills under consideration by the legislature, and a state that ranks 47 in LGBTQ+ safety according to

On this Trans Day of Visibility, it’s important to recognize how anti-trans bills are connected to the legacy of colonialism and to understand how these bills continue the oppression of historically marginalized groups.

Much of the anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and policies we see today stem from Western colonization. Western colonization is a global phenomenon with many of the same nations sharing similar histories of white supremacy, violence, erasure, and exploitation. Western countries imposed their rigid ideas of gender and sexuality on Indigenous peoples, ideas that were often in conflict with the existing cultural norms.

This applies to Western colonization in the United States. It has been documented that around 150 pre-colonial Native American tribes acknowledged third-gender people. European colonizers condemned same-sex relationships and third-gendered people calling it sinful. During this period there was also an abundance of dehumanizing rhetoric around Indigenous people and their culture, including transphobic and homophobic language. The enforcement of binary gender and gender roles by Western colonization disrupted longstanding cultural traditions and attempted to eradicate Indigenous beliefs as a whole. The ongoing violence against Queer Indigenous people, like Nex, is a legacy of this colonial violence.

The effects of colonization linger today with direct impacts on people’s lives systematically, socially, and economically. Many of the current bills, acts, and policies demonstrate parallels to historical policies through institutional forces that worked to destroy Indigenous culture. For example, the tactics of removal and forced assimilation that have been used to minimize Indigenous sovereignty and identity are the same tactics being used to attack Transgender people today.

This year, Wyoming House Bill 156 stated that gender-affirming care was “not in the best interest” for trans youth. The bill would have meant that a transgender child could be removed from a loving safe home that supported gender-affirming care. While this legislation failed to pass the Wyoming House, similar policies have been proposed by Texas Governor Greg Abbott.

Attempts to remove young people from affirming households are not new. Recently, the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), an Act that bolstered Indigenous sovereignty was put into question for being racially discriminatory to non-Native people. Overturning ICWA would have subjected Indigenous youth to being physically away from their tribal lands, separated from other Indigenous people, and disconnected from their culture. Even though ICWA was upheld in this case, the challenge to ICWA is a reminder that Indigenous sovereignty continues to be attacked under a colonialist state.

In both cases, policymakers have long understood that displacing people in non-affirming places pushes toward assimilation and erasure of their identity. Attempted erasure of identities belonging to marginalized communities is not a new tactic. During times of forced assimilation and racist rhetoric around Native people, it benefited Indigenous people to assimilate and distance themselves from their culture and people. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, when there was an increase of Indigenous resistance and sovereignty, there was a spike in people identifying with being Native American on the U.S Census. There weren’t more Indigenous children being born necessarily, but rather, more Native people were reclaiming their identity. Similarly, despite the rhetoric of many on the right, Trans and Queer people have always existed. However, their visibility depends on the safety of being “out.”

When historically oppressed groups are granted more rights and social rhetoric changes to be more positive, there is an increase in their pride, self-acceptance, and sheer presence in society. Trans existence, Black and brown joy, and the independence of all people combat the erasure that is essential to the colonial project.

Trans Day of Visibility should be about honoring and acknowledging Trans and Queer histories and about celebrating Trans and Queer people in all of their identities. Despite the political violence and physical violence Trans people are being subjected to, the Transgender and Queer community show resilience through organizing, celebrating, and educating others about what it means to be a part of the LGBTQ+ community. Embracing cultures and identities like that of Indigenous and Transgender backgrounds collectively strengthens all communities through the rejection of colonial norms.

Trans and Queer people deserve to be protected, loved, and live long fulfilling lives. Honor Nex Benedict by speaking out against hateful rhetoric, educating others about the beauties of the LGBTQ+ community, and pushing for political rights for Trans and Queer people. In solidarity and unity, we can work toward a future of love, acceptance, and freedom for all people.