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Navajo on the war path over gay rights charter

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Navajo on the war path over gay rights charter

By David Harrison, Sunday Telegraph

Last Updated: 1:04am GMT 07/01/2007

Source: The Telegraph

The days of smoke signals and beating drums may be long gone, but the ancient Navajo nation is incensed with a collection of bureaucrats 5,000 miles away in Britain.

Councils, police, health trusts and the probation service are all using the tribe's name to promote the "well-being" of gay men, lesbians and bisexuals.

More than 100 organisations have obtained the Navajo charter mark under a scheme set up to ensure that they are "gay-friendly".

The project's supporters say the name was chosen because the Navajo traditionally believed that homosexuals had "special spiritual powers", and afforded them a "unique" status in society, where they were "admired and honoured for their sexuality".

The native Americans, however, are furious. Their attorney-general has written a letter, passed to The Sunday Telegraph, expressing "great concern".

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The 300,000 Navajo live on a huge reservation in north-eastern Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, and enjoy considerable independence from Washington. They make many of their own laws, including one passed overwhelmingly in 2005, banning homosexual marriages.

The "Navajo" charter mark, was launched by North West Lancashire's health promotion unit in 1999. Organisations holding it include Blackpool City Council, Wyre Borough Council, Chorley and South Ribble NHS Trust, and the regional probation service.

Wyre council voted for an action plan including homosexual marriages, staff "diversity training" and "gay-friendly" images in council publications, to attain the charter mark.

Just before Christmas, the same council, with Lancashire Police, paid Joe and Helen Roberts, both 75, from Fleetwood, £5,000 compensation each, plus £60,000 costs, for harassing them after they tried to place Christian leaflets next to council leaflets promoting homosexuality. Police interrogated the couple for 80 minutes about their alleged "hate-crime". The Roberts sued for breaches of their rights to freedom of expression and religion.

Louis Denetsosie, the Navajo attorney-general, says in a letter to the Roberts: "The Navajo nation is greatly concerned regarding the use of the word Navajo in any context, but even more so when it is used to express a view or policy that is contrary to Navajo law."

Last night, one of the lawyers who acted for the Roberts, Tom Ellis, of the Manchester firm Aughton Ainsworth, said: "At a time when gay activists are pressing for laws that will give them a right not to be offended, it appears that some groups, including many funded by the taxpayer, are prepared to offend a whole nation."

David Green, the director of the think-tank Civitas, accused the Navajo project of an obsession with victim status.

He said: "It's got Wyre council and the whole Navajo project into an embarrassing mess, distorting facts to promote their agenda."

A Wyre council spokesman said: "The Navajo project takes its name from a tribe of native North Americans who recognised sexual diversity in their community. Wyre has an equality strategy and Navajo links with that because it recognises diverse groups in the community."

Some native American anthropologists claim that primitive Navajos used to honour men known as the "nadleeh" – said to have "two spirits", one masculine, one feminine – who were allowed to dress like women, and to perform their duties.

They say the tradition died out more than 100 years ago under the influence of Christian missionaries. But most Navajo politicians and medicine men dispute the claim.

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