Today – Monday, May 22 – the search engine Google displayed an illustrated doodle commemorating the birthday of Barbara May Cameron, a lesbian Native American artist and activist celebrated for her anti-racist and HIV activism.
Born in 1954 within Fort Yates, North Dakota, Cameron was a member of the Lakota tribe’s Hunkpapa group and was raised by her grandparents on the Standing Rock Reservation, the same place where, 62 years later, Native Americans successfully led a six-year-long protest against an oil pipeline.
Cameron studied photography and film at the American Indian Art Institute in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She then moved to San Francisco in 1973 after coming out as a lesbian. There, she and Native American activist Randy Burns founded the Gay American Indians, the first-known indigenous queer activist group.
In San Francisco, Cameron helped organize the Lesbian Gay Freedom Day Parade and Celebration for five years. She also worked as the executive director of Community United Against Violence, an organization that addressed hate crimes and domestic violence in the LGBTQ+ community through education campaigns and victim advocacy.
In 1988, San Francisco’s then-Mayor Arthur Agnos appointed her to the Citizens Committee on Community Development and the city’s Human Rights Commission. In 1988, the following mayor, Frank Jordan, appointed her to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. She also worked with the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, the American Indian AIDS Institute, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Her preserved speeches and essays continually address racism among white gay men and lesbians as well as homophobia within Native American groups.
In her essay, “Gee, You Don’t Seem Like An Indian From the Reservation,” she discusses how media and familial prejudices contribute to racism and criticizes white queer people who blasted her views on race as “racist” and “anti-lesbian.” In her speech on HIV and AIDS in Native American Communities, she discussed how homophobia had worsened the epidemic among indigenous men who sleep with men.
She died on February 12, 2002 at the age of 47. Today would have been her 69th birthday. Her partner Linda Boyd-Durkee remembered Cameron as a warm-hearted animal lover, an excellent bridge player, and a great cook.
“She cared about others, and always worked to serve, manifesting the virtues of the warrior, thus being a good representative of her Hunkpapa people,” Boyd-Durkee wrote. “Our hope for her legacy is that those who were so moved will honor her by standing up for the lives to which she dedicated hers.”
Google commissioned queer Mexican and Chitimachan artist Sienna Gonzales to illustrate its doodle of Cameron.
“As a queer woman of color, this project served as a powerful reminder that intersectional activism has a rich history that predates my personal awareness,” Gonzales wrote. “It was both surprising and noteworthy to discover that individuals like Barbara have been courageously raising their voices and effecting change for much longer than I had realized. Their ongoing commitment inspires me in my own journey.”