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LGBTQ+, Two-Spirit public health student has big dreams for the rural Native community

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DURANGO, Colo. — August of 2020 was a challenging time to enter college, but it didn’t stop Misty Sandoval from making an impact at Fort Lewis College.

Sandoval, 21, is now a senior majoring in public health. She is the youngest member of the Southwest Indigenous Women’s Coalitions Native LGBTQ+/Two-Spirit Advisory Council and is also pursuing a pre-med certificate. She decided to go to Fort Lewis College because of the public health program’s strong reputation and the tuition status that Native Americans receive.

The public health program primarily focuses on the Four Corners region, a region Sandoval feels closely connected to.

“Four Corners region holds the Native people that I grew up with, like the Utes, the Navajos, Laguna Pueblos — basically all those Native Americans that are local to my own home community,” Sandoval said. 

The advisory council Sandoval sits on was created in 2015 to guide and provide leadership in developing effective and culturally sensitive responses for survivors of domestic and sexual violence in Tribal communities. The advisory council combines the members’ personal experiences and expertise to tribes to increase their capacity to address and respond to their community, according to its website.

Board member Josie Raphaelito was looking for a way to represent local youth on the board. Sandoval was selected, as she had been working with the group since 2019.

“I am very deeply honored to be a part of their organization because I get to be a part of a team that communicates greatly, who is very rooted in tradition and culture, who has a very inclusive mindset towards all communities, whether despite, you know, race, gender, sexuality or just anything like that, any intersectionality,” she said.

Sandoval came out as lesbian when she was 16 years old on the Navajo Reservation in White Horse Lake, New Mexico (Population: 406). Discrimination and hate towards the LGBTQ+ community came from close family members and the town’s residents.

“And I believe that this is because of the different generational gaps of teachings. It has been very difficult for me to [apply] myself in the public health field because based on my identity and … I feel like the population that I identify with, I feel like that is often forgotten at the tables.”

After the difficult decision and process of coming out, Sandoval became interested in public health and realized she could make it her career to serve the LGBTQ+ community. Since her involvement with SWIWC advisory council, she has reached the youth population across the country and has traveled to different organizations to learn about grassroot organizing and how the organizations implement their work in different communities. Sandoval, who cites Native American public health activist Annie Dodge Wauneka as an inspiration, has also learned different strategies for reaching various communities, specifically LGBTQ+ youth.

Sandoval, who graduates in December of 2023, helped the Association of American Indian Affairs plan and develop a youth camp for Indigenous kids across the U.S. She also worked with Tribal Youth and Policy.

“I feel that there has been different teachings amongst the Native communities to a point where we are not accepting our youth who identify in the LGBTQ+ community,” she explained, “all because of the different religious viewpoints that we encounter.” 


Bean Yazzie is a multimedia journalist with Rocky Mountain PBS and can be reached at beanyazzie@rmpbs.org

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