Michaela Jae Rodriguez
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Gay Indigenous Lawmaker Joins Biden's Transportation Department

Arlando Teller

President Joe Biden’s administration keeps getting more diverse — new Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg has selected a gay Indigenous man to serve as deputy assistant secretary for tribal affairs.

Arlando Teller resigned his seat in the Arizona House of Representatives last week to take the post at the Department of Transportation, The Arizona Republic reports. A member of the Navajo Nation, he was elected to the House in 2018, representing a district encompassing the northern and eastern portions of the state.

“Elevating Indigenous nations by the Biden administration only invigorates and encourages me to do more,” Teller told the Los Angeles Blade. “Representation matters.”

In his letter resigning from the legislature, Teller said he was “honored and humbled to have been selected by President Biden to work for his administration.”

Teller was involved in Biden’s campaign; among other things, he introduced Cher at a fundraising concert for the future president in October. “I opened for Cher,” Teller joked to the Washington Blade in a December interview. When Biden’s staff asked him to perform the task, he recalled, “I was actually trying to be calm. Inside I was a screaming queen, just giddy as all get about.”

At the event, he also talked about his Navajo identity; he is 100 percent Navajo. His paternal grandfather was one of the famous code talkers, Indigenous Americans who facilitated secret communications for the U.S. armed forces in World War II.

He is the second Navajo to be named to a position in a Cabinet department under Biden. The other is Wahleah Johns, who took the job as director of the Office of Indian Energy in the U.S. Department of Energy.

“Words cannot express how proud we are of these two young Navajo professionals, who have dedicated themselves to serving our Navajo people and are now moving on to the federal level to help empower all tribal nations,” Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in a press release, according to Navajo Times.

In the Arizona legislature, Teller was a member of the LGBTQ Caucus, the Indigenous Peoples Caucus, the transportation committee, and the land, agriculture, and rural affairs committee. Before being elected to the House, Teller was deputy director of the Navajo Division of Transportation. He previously worked for the California Department of Transportation and for two airports.

He is recovering from COVID-19, for which he was hospitalized last year. The disease has hit Indigenous peoples particularly hard. His mother, social worker Clara Tah-Nunn, died of the disease on December 7. Teller will be working remotely for a time due to the continuing pandemic. Also, a member of Buttigieg’s security detail tested positive for COVID today, and the secretary, who has tested negative so far, will quarantine for two weeks because of the exposure.

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