John Grant Gives Us 'Pale Green Ghosts' …and So Much More

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My interview with John Grant was abruptly cut short. I’d already been yelling into the speakerphone so he could hear me in some tunnel in Norway, but when the phone line went dead, that was the end of the yelling, and the interview. It was as if we’d had a fight but one of us gave up, the room was so quiet after being so loud. That wasn’t the case, but it makes for a good story; one that I can imagine happening, but one that would be laced with a whole lot of really good lines dealt by Mr. Grant and me being rendered speechless as they sank in. The kind of words that would have me trying to think of a comeback days later.

In a much less dramatic way, that is how John Grant’s music strikes me. Line after line of brilliant thoughts are set to music; I hear them and am left reeling as I chew on them. When I first listened to his music, I laughed; thinking I was listening to something akin to “Flight of the Conchords,” which is satire. This isn’t satire. His thoughts are put to music and they’re thoughts that we all tend to have, but perhaps wouldn’t sing. When he does, I laugh in surprise at the unexpected sentiments; many could be made into an internet meme or a someecard: “I’m usually only waiting for you to stop talking / So that I can. Concerning two-way streets I have to say / That I am not a fan.” In the song “GMF,” those words are set to a lovely ballad, something of a sneak attack. And I love it.

What would I have asked him if we’d not been disconnected early on? Many things, but not necessarily questions that require answers. Sometimes the questions contain enough information in themselves. I could have asked him about being gay and what that has to do with his music, but if you listen to it, it’s in there…subtle but obvious. The fact that he moved to Iceland in his early forties is curious, and was apparently good for making music, which you can hear…including some electronic qualities that are attributed to his collaboration with Birgir Þórarinsson (a.k.a. Biggi Veira, of Iceland’s electronic pioneers Gus Gus).  How was it, collaborating with Sinead O’Connor? Probably as we’d expect it to be. Tell us all about your love life, which is rarely answered by anyone, let alone a musician being interviewed.

What was it like to start the discovery process via text message that he had contracted HIV in 2011?

Again, the question says a lot.

Yes, I’m still curious about anything he’d like to share. His music is a bit noir, but also funny and beautiful enough that we can find common threads in our lives without succumbing to the maudlin.

As for the title track to “Pale Green Ghosts,” Grant’s album after the acclaimed “Queen of Denmark,” it’s got a good beat, and you can dance to it. His voice is solid and flexible. It reminds me of Bill Withers a little, but even more versatile than that. It sings above the driving beat of “Pale Green Ghosts” so effortlessly, without droning. Other songs on the album include incongruously paired serious lyrics on top of remarkably upbeat music; “I Hate this Town” is downright jaunty. Really, my unabashed favorite is the one I quoted above, “GMF,” the chorus of which is:

But I am the greatest motherfucker
That you’re ever gonna meet
From the top of my head
Down to the tips of the toes on my feet

Listen to it yourself in the video posted below. Do like I’m doing and experience this guy who is probably close to scary-smart, with a sense of humor and voice that thrill. Then, see him Tuesday night at the Dakota in person.

Because, honestly, who wouldn’t want to see the greatest motherfucker that we’re ever gonna meet?

John Grant at the Dakota
Tuesday, June 25, 7pm
Tickets: $20
Dakota
1010 Nicollet Ave, Minneapolis
For more information or to buy tickets, visit the Dakota website.

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John Grant’s “Pale Green Ghosts”

John Grant’s “GMF”

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A State Senator Becomes a Full Citizen in His Own State: An Interview with Senator Scott Dibble

Senator Scott Dibble. Photo by Sophia Hantzes

The 2013 marriage equality legislation had to not only be introduced as bills in the Minnesota House of Representatives and Senate, but the bills also had to be taken through committee hearings and championed to be heard on the floors of those chambers. Representative Karen Clark sponsored the House File 1054 and Senator Scott Dibble sponsored the Senate File 925, both progressing and protecting the legislation every step of the way. I asked Senator Dibble to reflect on the passage of marriage equality in Minnesota. Here’s what he had to say about the recent two years of fighting the marriage amendment and working for the freedom to marry:

Through it all, I had this sense of history. I haven’t been around forever, but I’ve been around for a long time. I’ve been in the trenches for over 20 years, so I had the benefit of personally knowing and being mentored by some of those early pioneers–like Allan Spear and Brian Coyle–all of these amazing people who had really kind of thrown down significant professional and personal risk to themselves and were amazing forerunners. It felt like they were with us, even though so many of them have gone on. I felt that it was important to maintain the strong memories, the echoes of the fights that had gone on before, because we learn a lot from that kind of courage, what I call “radical dignity.”

How do you think they would react to marriage equality in Minnesota?

They would be bewildered and thrilled and proud.

It is a major achievement that this movement has been striving for for all these decades. It’s not just about marriage, it’s about taking our proper place in a society where we fully belong as complete and total human beings. To have the ability to grow up, fall in love, get married, start your family, start your life…as if it were the most natural thing in the world. It eliminates so much from the path that had been put in front of us. It’s going to take a while. We have a black president, but we still have struggles with racial inequality and class. But the election of Barack Obama as president is having a transformative effect that we are only beginning to understand. The establishment of marriage in our community clears the path on so many fronts in a way that we’re only beginning to understand.

Also, this is something to think about as well, the way we won this fight and what it represents in terms of advancing the larger purpose of democracy in freedom and full equality is good for our entire society. We did it in a way that was life-affirming that was full of grace and love and patience for those who were opposed to us. And, even patience for those who were for us but were uncomfortable or confused. It’s a new model of how to create social change, because it was built so profoundly on personal conversations. It was about interpersonal connections in the face of tremendous hostility, reaching toward common ground and shared values. Being able to lay ourselves bare and expose ourselves, that takes strength. It’s not about being weak and vulnerable, it’s about being as tough as nails. It’s about not backing down and not apologizing, really forcing people to confront what they try to resist.

What do you think the future is for the GLBT-specific politics? Do you think it will become more general than specific?

In a sense, yes. This is what we’re striving for and that’s a good thing. Part of me regrets it a little bit of course because we lose some of the flavor of our subculture, we become less and less of a subculture. When you’ve been a subculture because you’re marginalized and you’re set apart, you have to find your own ways of being together and forming community and identity. I don’t think that’ll ever go away–we are gay and we do see the world in a different way because of that. You’re forced to figure out you’re gay in the face of monolithic heterosexual assumptions everywhere, and I don’t think that’s going to go away any time super-soon. There’s still plenty, plenty, plenty to be done; there’s still hostility and violence and discrimination, so we have a long ways to go.

That being said, imagine what life will be like one, two, three generations from now. It will be completely different. We’ll always have unique perspectives, unique needs and we’ll always need to be sure that we have a seat at the table to articulate our needs. We bring a voice and a perspective that is important to have. Whether it’s about history or senior issues or public health research, there’s still a huge gap that requires our perspective.

With this rapid movement in marriage equality, do you also see the ability to move more quickly in other areas?

Yes, the whole subject is becoming so much less taboo and more natural so it’s not like an electric fence whenever it comes up. We’ll be able to identify problems and figure out solutions and rally political will to enact legislation to solve the problems…and it’ll become so much less of a wrangle as time goes on.

What are you expecting come August 1 in Minnesota?

It’ll be crazy. I’m already getting invitations to weddings. Just think, forever we haven’t been able to get married. There have been individuals who are long-term, committed partners–married in every respect–so there is a pent-up demand. It’s going to be huge. It’s wonderful. A fantastic era of celebration. You know what’s going to happen is that Minnesotans are going to see all that joy, all that love, families coming together in celebration, all the tears of happiness…and then people are going to move on and settle down, as many of us already are, and start getting on with life. Almost nothing’s going to be different in Minnesota.

Through both the campaigns against the amendment and for marriage equality, you made the strong point that though you and your husband, Richard, are legally married in California, you’ve been legal strangers in Minnesota. When the clock strikes 12:01 on August 1, that will change in the matter of a moment. How do you think that will feel?

It’s hard to predict. Part of it is an abstraction, just a transition from one state of being to another and there’s nothing tangible. On the other hand, I had the experience when we were married in California in 2008. We had already married each other privately, just the two of us, exchanged rings and began to call each other husband a few years prior to that. And, of course, our families knew that and were loving and supportive in every way. But we had that wedding and the ceremony–ritual, vows, exchanging of rings–and then the officiant, a very good friend of ours, declared, “By the power vested in me by the laws of the State of California, I declare Richard and Scott to be married.” There was a transformation that occurred in ourselves and in our family that was totally unexpected. Suddenly, it was like we walked through this gauzy veil and we entered into this sense of community. Our families had an understanding of us and an access to our relationship that wasn’t there before. I was thunderstruck by that experience. I don’t know if that is going to happen on August 1 in Minnesota, but I do know that I’m going to feel like I am a full citizen in my own state.

How Change Happens with OutFront Minnesota

Monica Meyer. Photo by Sophia Hantzes
Monica Meyer. Photo by Sophia Hantzes

The second-floor office in the Sabathani Community Center in Minneapolis is an unassuming space for such a bustling organization as OutFront Minnesota. In its 26th year of existence, the mission of OutFront is to move Minnesota toward the elimination of homophobia and transphobia and toward full equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. Most recently, OutFront has been at the fore with Minnesotans United for All Families and Project 515 as part of a triumvirate of sorts, working to defeat the marriage amendment last fall and then lobbying for marriage equality these past months. It is with gratitude and curiosity that I went to OutFront to talk to Executive Director Monica Meyer about the victory and the future of OutFront and the LGBT community in Minnesota.

As explained by Meyer:

It’s about how change happens. We envision that Minnesota is a better place when Minnesotans understand LGBT issues. They understand LGBT issues, they’re not afraid of LGBT people, they’re working on perhaps any stigma that they have about what they perceive LGBT people to be like, and that they’re working on societal homophobia and transphobia that might be there–that’s the Minnesota that we want to live in, right? We want a Minnesota where a majority of Minnesotans are thinking, “You know, I know somebody who is LGBT and I don’t see any reason why they can’t have the same freedoms I have.” They know how to face any discrimination or adversity and they do it because they think it’s a good way to be. So, OutFront exists for that purpose. We don’t have one policy that we work on. We don’t have one issue that we can say, “Well cool, when we have that we can close our doors.”

So, we know that we can’t close our doors yet. We know that because there are still hate crimes out there, that we get bias incidence reports across the state, we still know that there’s discrimination in employment, that–despite having laws–it’s still difficult for LGBT people to be active participants in society. We can tell stories about kids being bullied in school because of their perceived sexual orientation or their gender identities. So, we know we’ve got work to do. For us, we know that OutFront will never be big enough to be in every single community and have staff there to say, “Stop that.” And we believe that society will be a better place if there are more people who are actively working on LGBT equality. They’re active. They’re vocal. At OutFront, we know we need to support those people and we need to connect them so they’re not the lone unicorns out there. We need to network these champions of equality.

What was awesome about the amendment was that people stepped up. It was such a prevalent story in the campaign when people would say, “I never thought I was political, but this issue means a lot to me, it means a lot to our state, and we need to defeat that amendment.” It lit a fire across our state. For OutFront, we were investing in building a lasting infrastructure of leaders across our state. That’s what we really wanted.

When we knew that the constitutional amendment was on the ballot, that was the piece that OutFront was instantly interested in: we cared about feet on the ground. We wanted a campaign that would be transformative for our state, and it was. It was the only reason why were were able to pass marriage; we were able to go back out across the state and say, “We defeated the amendment and now we’re going to finish the deal.” And people did. Volunteer leaders were back to phone banking and saying, “I didn’t think we’d have to phone bank again, but let’s do it.”

And now we have to go back across the state and tell them what’s next. People are engaged because they want to do good work and they like the community that is built around it, so we want to keep that community stocked up, full of leaders.

One thing we know is that we need to be building support in the districts around marriage, so that we make sure that we get the people who voted for marriage reelected. We know that it’s early to start on reelections, but we also know from the amendment campaign that we had the luxury of having 18 months to work on defeating the amendment and that was great because we truly are building this infrastructure. We’re deliberate. We have the time and space and can raise the funds to do it. Across the state, we’ll be working to protect those legislators; not just talking about the legislators, but how we can make this state be the Minnesota we want it to be.

We’re really proud of Minnesota. We’re really proud of advocates for LGBT equality. People stepped up and gave their all. They gave their time, their money, and their blood, sweat, and tears to defeat the amendment and pass marriage. And, we know there’s a lot of interest in staying engaged and connected, so that’s what we’re going to do. We know that one of the main issues will be Safe Schools and we’ll doing some support of these legislators who voted for marriage. Then, we’ll be talking to communities within communities about what’s important and making sure that we’re advancing equality and continuing to provide the support that is needed to actually undo homophobia and transphobia.  What kind of education is needed? How are we reaching people who are barriers to people who want to be who they are and love who they love?

What we did in the campaign against the amendment was antithetical to most voter campaigns. We were asking people to have 15-20 minute conversations at doors with strangers and ask, “What does marriage mean to you? Are you married? Do you know anyone who’s in a same-sex relationship?” Through these really long, personal conversations, we put a face on it. We humanized the issue. And, that’s what we need to continue to do–we need to continue to humanize LGBT people.

Meyer’s ability to weave political and organizational theory from her time at the Humphrey School of Public Policy & Affairs into conversation is valuable as a grassroots organizer. She is credible and knowledgeable while also approachable as a leader. As she told me about the “feet on the ground” philosophy that’s been at the heart of the grassroots organizing with OutFront for years, it’s easy to see its crucial role in the recent fight against the amendment and for marriage equality. By enabling and empowering people to tell their stories and turning them into citizen lobbyists and volunteer leaders, the feet on the ground marched to victory. And, OutFront will continue to empower Minnesotans to move toward full equality together.

For more information about donating, volunteering, or seeking assistance from OutFront Minnesota, please visit  www.outfront.org.

Gophers, Lynx, and Game of Thrones: An Interview with Janel McCarville

Janel McCarville. Photo by Sophia Hantzes
Janel McCarville. Photo by Sophia Hantzes

Janel McCarville is back in Minnesota playing Center for the Minnesota Lynx. As part of the Golden Gophers, she and fellow Lynx Lindsay Whalen took the team to the Final Four in 2004 and have now been reunited in the WNBA. Catching her after a morning practice in Minneapolis, Janel gave me some fun answers to some random questions.

How long have you been back in Minnesota?

I originally was traded for on March 1. Between March 1 and May 5, I was here week-on/weekends-off to get acclimated to the new situation. [Lindsay] Whalen was here, coaching staff…so I got some interactions with them. Putting in early play calls so I was ahead of the curve in a way. Since May 5, I’ve been here nonstop.

Where are you living in the Cities?

St. Louis Park, over by the theaters…I’ve got the food there close by. It’s a nice little situation.

What’s your favorite part about being back in Minnesota?

I’m close to home. There’s the familiar fan base. The great fans that I had through college still follow to this point and I’ve got friends in the area, too, for life outside of basketball.

How do you spend a day off?

Days off? You know, get some food…catch some movies. We don’t really get much downtime. We’re always on the move with appearances, games, practices, things like that…so when we get a day off, I really like to put the feet up and relax.

Okay, so what’s your ideal veg-out scenario at home?

Feet up, watching Game of Thrones.

NICE. Who’s your favorite Game of Thrones character?

I don’t know! I really like Khaleesi [Daenerys Targaryen] but I didn’t like the whole situation, how it started, that was messed up. But then she whupped some ass and dominated. But the thing about that show is that everybody betrays everybody. They’re all going to die at some point.

Okay, so your feet are up, you’re watching Game of Thrones, what are you ordering in for food?

I would order in pizza.

Thin crust or thick crust?

It depends. There is a time and a place for everything. If it’s thin crust, it’s not about a place as much as it has to be cheese, sausage, mushroom, and onion–maybe some pepperoni. If it’s deep dish or thicker, probably Pizza Hut Stuffed Crust–and it’d be pepperoni.

You were recently playing in Turkey. What was the biggest difference between there and here?

All seafood still has the heads on. It’s not that big a deal, but you catch it in the river and it’s still got its head on. After you pan-sear it and the eyeballs are popping out and still looking at you, it’s a little bit of a change. That’s one thing.

Now that you’re back in Minnesota, are there any familiar faces you’re looking forward to seeing or playing against?

There are a couple of people throughout the league who I haven’t seen for a while because I haven’t played for a while, so I’m looking forward to seeing them. But at the same time, that’s going to be after the game. Leading up to the game, it’s all about focus for the game. Until the horn blows and the game’s over, we’re kind of enemies in my eyes.

What do you think is going to happen this season?

What I hope will happen is that we bring a Championship back to Minnesota. It’s hard to say, though. There are a lot of great teams in the league, great players…and obviously each team sets out to win the Championship, so you’ve got your work cut out for you night in, night out.

Last question: Are you seeing someone?

I’m seeing someone.

So you’re off the market.

I’m off the market. [Laughs.] She’ll be happy to hear that.

An Interview with David W. Cook: Artist, Flower Bomber, Inspiration

Flower Bomber David Cook. Photo by Hubert Bonnet
Flower Bomber David Cook. Photo by Hubert Bonnet

A bright flower suddenly appeared on my Facebook wall. I’d been virtually flower bombed. A new friend with David Cook, I’d only heard that he’s an artist who has taken to flower bombing the Twin Cities with large, theatrical flower sculptures…portable enough to be “planted” wherever he felt the landscape could use more brightness and beauty. With such a late spring this year, he had plenty of blank canvasses to choose from, including scrapyards, the Minneapolis lakes, boulevards in Edina, various churches, and the river.

David grew up in Minnetonka, but draws inspiration from having lived in various locales such as Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, and South Dakota. Now back in Minnesota, he co-authored a book (which is being made into a musical) with Janet Letnes Martin called Lemonade for the Lawnboy: The Executives’ Wives’ Cookbook Committee which is loaded with humor, recipes, paintings, and drawings of his memories of 16 fabulous upper-crust ladies in Minnetonka. Upon looking at the book full of art and humor, it’s easy to see how David would become someone who’d decide to beautify his surroundings by way of flower bombing.

Where are you going with the flower bombing?

Where am I going with these?  Honestly, I didn’t even know where I was going when I started.

When did you start?

Last fall. I started doing it around Hastings, where I live, in a scrapyard.

Why flowers?

I walked the El Camino de Santiago in Spain. I walked 500 miles across Spain. Almost the whole way, there were all these sunflowers. They faced the sun and they were like humans.  They had these haunting, sad-sweet personalities like humans. The Camino colors in Spain are very much the colors of my flowers. Yellows, blues, reds, greens…that’s when I started it.  I was inspired by the Camino. How could I not be inspired walking a road that is 500 miles and 2000 years old? They came to life then in my head, but I didn’t know that until I suddenly did a whole body of work of flowers. I stayed up all night for four days in a row, painting flowers manically, because I had to. Flowers were just pouring out of me. I couldn’t stop.

Then, I started building them, the flowers. And then I wanted to put them outside. The contrast is so cool. So, I started experimenting. I put them next to the river, I took pictures of them in different environments. I put the photos on Facebook and people just loved them. Then, I started putting them in more public areas…which was fun.  I plant them, the flowers, and then I’d sit in my car and watch people with the flowers. I was sitting there thinking, “My God! People are really responding to this.”  And the beauty of it is, of all the work I’ve done in my life as an artist, I don’t have to explain this–it’s so simple. I don’t have to stand there and explain the flowers. Flowers make people smile, that’s it.

The simplicity and how fresh they are–I’ve been running around everywhere, flowerbombing. I just did the river and sat in the car for about eight hours. I just make the flowers. They’re there, they have their life, I just created them. For the first time as an artist, it’s not about me, it’s about the medium. I don’t need to stand there, it’s about the flowers.

I don’t mean for this to sound dramatic, but it is. These flowers have saved me. I’ve suffered from depression. I’ve been sober for six years. I struggle. Ever since I started doing this, I’ve noticed that the one or two down days are gone. It’s the flowers. Which is pretty cool.  I have a purpose as an artist. I feel like I’ve got more of a purpose than before.

I want other people to know that there’s hope. That’s what the musical is about–so’s the book. It starts out when I’m really screwed up and tortured and messed up and at the end, I’m cured of all the crazy shit in my head and I’m six years sober. I know in our community, guys–men–it’s really [prevalent] and I have six years now and there’s no damn reason I should be alive today…but I am.  Almost seven years in July. My life is great. Inspiring. I’m making people happy. I’m FLOWER BOMBING. What gay guy do you know who’s doing that?

Yeah. You’re it.

Keep an eye out for David’s flowers around the metro area, the state, and the world. Be sure to buy his book on Amazon, available here.

Chris Kluwe: Goodbye to the Empathetic Punter

Chris Kluwe. Photo by Sophia Hantzes
Chris Kluwe. Photo by Sophia Hantzes

The morning of Monday, May 6, those of us who were following the news knew that Vikings punter, Chris Kluwe, had a meeting with management. The Vikings had used their fifth round draft pick for Jeff Locke, a fresh punter from UCLA, which started the speculations that Kluwe would be cut, potentially because of his vocal advocacy for GLBT equality. The bad news was delivered by way of Twitter in true Kluwe style, with “So long Minnesota, and thanks for all the fish!” I shared the news on Lavender’s Facebook wall, took a while to think about it, and then sent him an email asking for an interview, but feeling like an ambulance-chaser. What did I want? Not a scoop; I was certain that there’d be nothing to say about whether or not his departure was due to standing up for the community. No, I wanted more from him. I wanted to eke out more word morsels, more thoughts, more philosophies. I wanted more of our Empathetic Punter.

Just before midnight that same day, I got the response from him giving me a time to call the next day–and an apology for not getting back to me earlier, he’d been “kind of swamped” that day. That guy. Always a class act, whether spewing a verbal barrage toward an intolerant legislator or delivering an impassioned speech as to why the anti-marriage amendment needed to be defeated last November.

Now, as the state’s legislature is voting on the freedom to marry, the irony is that we’re losing our most visible and potent champion. So, we send him off with great thanks, hopefully with one last win for Minnesota.

How do you feel your performance has been for the Vikings?

I think it’s been really good. I’m the top ranked punter in Vikings history. I have pretty much every team record, I’ve been very consistent, and very good at what I’ve done over the years.

What would have happened after this last year of your contract? Would you have been looking to stay with the Vikings or go elsewhere?

Yes, I would have been looking to negotiate a contract extension so I could continue on with the team if they wanted to keep me. If they didn’t want to keep me, I would become a free agent–free to work with any other team–but I would’ve preferred to stay with Minnesota. I’ve gotten to know a lot of people in the state, made friends.

I was reading that you thought you have another four to five years left on your punting leg.

Yes, at least.

What went through your mind when you heard that the Vikings drafted Jeff Locke?

Well, I thought, “There goes my job.” It’s a pretty clear sign when a team drafts a punter in the fifth round that that’s who they’re going to go with in the next year. At that point it was, “Okay, I need to be ready to play for another team. It’s clear I’m not going to be with the Vikings any longer.”

Right away I saw a petition and people starting Facebook campaigns to Keep Kluwe. Do you think that would’ve had any effect on the Vikings? What do you think about that?

[Laughs.] Uh…probably not, unless the state went into armed revolt. The coaches and managers are generally not known for caving in to fan demands. They’re running a business and if they feel they want to go in a different direction, that’s what they’re going to do.

In terms of the Vikings and whether or not this was a good move for them both sports- and PR-wise, how would you assess this situation if you were an outsider looking in?

That’s a tough one. I would look at my stats and how I punted over the years, I’d look at what I’ve been able to accomplish from a football perspective and I’d ask myself if that was a guy I would’ve wanted to remain on my team. And, you know, that’s something that each person is going to answer differently.

You were an outspoken advocate for the GLBT community this past year and there’s plenty of talk as to whether or not cutting you from the Vikings was a punitive or preventative move. Do you have an opinion as to the role your advocacy played?

I’m not sure. I don’t know because I’m not in the meetings with the coaches and management when they’re making those decisions. I don’t know what’s said, I don’t know what rationale is used, the only thing I can do is go out and keep punting well and hopefully trust that my body of work will let other teams know what I’m capable of.

In thinking about your body of work and the personality that you’ve become in both Minnesota and the nation, do you think that had a more positive or negative impact on the Vikings?

I’d like to think it had a positive impact on the Vikings. Society, as a whole, is moving more toward equality and I’ve gotten messages from people who’ve told me that they’re Vikings fans because of what I said or what I’ve done. So, I think I’ve been a net positive.

The community clearly attributes a leadership role to you in the fight for equality–do you see and acknowledge that you, personally, affected change?

I hope I did–I felt that that was the right thing to do. I’m glad that we were able to defeat the amendment and I hope that we’re able to pass the same-sex marriage bills, too. That’s something that I hope Minnesota, as a state, realizes–that people should be free to live their own lives, you shouldn’t have to live in fear of oppression by someone else.

I was thinking about the 29 states that don’t have employment laws protecting GLBT people against discrimination as I was thinking of your situation. I’m not saying that you were cut because of your advocacy for the GLBT community or that it was a discriminatory act by the Vikings, but the notion isn’t so far-fetched considering that it would actually be legal to do so in 29 other states if you were gay. What are your thoughts about this?

That’s something I’ve brought up at quite a few of the schools that I’ve spoken at–that the mere fact of who you are should not be grounds for you being terminated from your job. That’s just wrong no matter which way you look at it. And I think that it’s something, as a society, we need to address. It’s telling someone that no matter how good you are at your job–how much time you put in, how beneficial you are–if you are a member of the LGBTQ community, then we will get rid of you simply because we don’t like you, and that is discrimination.

We know you’re scheduled to be in town for the OUT Twin Cities Film Festival and as Grand Marshal of the Twin Cities Pride Parade. We’d love to see you and express our appreciation. Can we expect to see you even with the all the changes coming up for you?

Yes, they’re definitely still in my plans. That’s one of the things I’m going to tell whichever team I end up with, that I have prior commitments in Minnesota that I’m going to keep because they’re important.

Speaking of Pride, that’s about when your new book is coming out–it’s coming out June 25th, right before Pride, right?

[Laughs.] Yes, which was completely coincidental! When I was asked to be Grand Marshal, I was like, “Wait a minute…I know I have something going on…oh, that’s right.”

So, tell us about Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies. I love the rest of the title: On Myths, Morons, Free Speech, Football, and Assorted Absurdities.

Essentially, the book is an assortment of short stories and essays and it deals with the idea of rational empathy, the idea that societies that do not practice empathy–that do not promote equality–end up collapsing, either from conflicts that they provoke from within or conflicts that they seek out. You can look at the historical timeline and every single civilization has failed the test of time. There has been no civilization that has lasted more than a couple thousand years. If we want to survive as a human species, then we have to realize that if we don’t work together, instead of against each other, there will come a point when we will hit another ice age, we will hit another meteor event and it will be lights out. It’s a certainty that that will happen and so we need to be working with each other instead of trying to splinter each other apart.

Throughout my time here and being alive, society seems to go through these cycles; they gradually start becoming more insular and start looking at other countries and nations as the “other” and they provoke conflict or discord. Or, sometimes they’re splintering from within because they view people in their own society as the “other.” We’re seeing that now with the problems that we have with LGBTQ rights in this country–as well as racism, there’s still plenty of racism. The fact that there’s still plenty of conflict in the world between countries because of religious beliefs or political beliefs, it’s something that we have to address.

Do you think that there’s any coming back from this or do you think we’ll be falling off the cliff together?

Unless we learn how to practice empathy as a majority of a society, then we will go off the cliff. There is no other outcome. Historically, there has been no other outcome. It’s something that unless you can understand why an action should not be taken by putting yourself in the other person’s shoes, then inevitably someone is going to take that action. And that will trigger a whole series of other actions that end with people standing around, staring at the rubble, wondering “What happened?”

How do people become more empathetic?

Whenever you do something, put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Abide by the Golden Rule: treat others how you would like to be treated. If you can’t put yourself in someone else’s shoes, you need to learn how to do that because any equation that involves the other person not liking what would happen is not equality, is not tolerant.

If you have an empathic society, it realizes that equality is necessary for everyone.

For my final question, is there anything you’d like to say to the Lavender community?

Thank you. Thank you for the support. Thank you for the kind words. Treat others how you would like to be treated and that goes for everyone. Have empathy for other people, no matter who they are.

Thank you, Chris. You will be sorely missed.

______________

We asked our Facebook followers if they had anything they wanted to say to Chris Kluwe, here are some of the responses:

Goodbye Chris Kluwe, you were the first Viking I could name and will also be the last. –Laurel Richmond

I love when people stand up for what they believe in. Its been so refreshing to see a person in sports support equal rights. We need more people like him, he’s certainly fearless & will always be admired in my book. Good luck Chris! You’re doing a great thing. Remember that. –Melissa A Kugler

Thank you for using your “veteran power” to speak out on head injuries in the NFL and marriage equity. Last season wasn’t your best on the field, so I’ll assume this move was, as it should be, purely based on the needs of the team on the field. The proof of the reason will be in whether the Viking’s front office encourages other current players to speak out. –Diane Raff

Thank you for your time with the Vikings, we wouldn’t be where we are without your solid record but most importantly, thank you for being a stand up guy. You will be missed! –Tina Coreen

Good luck with your new team you will be missed by me…keep up the good fight for human rights!!! –Tina ‘Green’ LaCasse

Putting the “Aych” in Art-A-Whirl

Photo by Anna Rajdl Photography
Photo by Anna Rajdl Photography

The 18th Annual NEMAA Art-A-Whirl is taking over Northeast Minneapolis May 17-19 when studios and galleries open their doors and sell their artistic wares to the public. Various artists in the GLBT community take part in Art-A-Whirl each year, this year I caught up with Heather “Aych” Wayne who will be displaying her work outside the Q.arma building on Quincy. For more information about Art-A-Whirl, visit www.nemaa.org/art-a-whirl.

How long have you been an artist?
I’ve enjoyed drawing ever since I was little. I loved drawing as a kid and when I was in high school I started doing cartoon-type drawing. I took a break for about ten years and picked it back up three or four years ago. I started drawing and making t-shirts for friends and have been really happy that I jumped back into it.

I see some of your work makes Minnesota and North Dakota pretty friendly with each other. What’s the connection?

My friend, Carrie (in the picture), and other friends lived in North Dakota for a few years and I’d drawn them a picture on a cocktail napkin of Minnesota and North Dakota and they wanted a t-shirt of it. So, I made a t-shirt of it and since then I’ve been selling them in I Like You in Northeast Minneapolis. It just grew from a t-shirt for friends but is a message of friendship–two things getting along.

When I realized that there was more interest in just a couple shirts was when I decided to do more designs and start a business. And it’s grown by people seeing my friends wear the shirts. I’ve tailored a Minnesota and Wisconsin one for someone’s wedding and I get requests for designs and try to do as many as I can.

Photo by Anna Rajdl Photography
Photo by Anna Rajdl Photography

 

How did you come up with the Minnesota design with the rainbow and equality sign?

I did a really similar design for the VOTE NO Campaign last year–I did it because I wanted to create something that was entirely happy-feeling, and positive-feeling. It’s something that I that I think about and I’m pretty sensitive to negative comments about gay marriage, which is hard. So, I wanted to do something in response to those feelings. I think it’s hard to do something actively about it, to get a happy and positive message out there to be spread around. I made postcards of the design and sent to some representatives and friends who are either gay and gay supporters as well as family members. That was the idea behind it.

This time, I tailored it to the marriage equality piece. It’s the same type of message that I want to spread–I want people to see it and think positive, happy things. It’s hard to imagine someone hating that design or feeling negative about gay marriage when they look at it.

You recently become engaged. Who is your beloved?

(Laughs.)

Susan Greve. We met about six years ago but started dating two years ago. The second time I saw her I was very enchanted by her. I felt a spirit connection to her. We had reconnected at her softball game–at Rice and Arlington Fields–and ever since then, it’s been a great thing.

Do you know when you might be tying the knot?

I think this year. I want to do it before the end of the year.

You listed her on your website as an inspiration, along with some other funny things–like Maine hounds–that inspire you.

Yeah, she’s got a great sense of humor. And she’s writer, so we collaborate. She’s really good at words and I’m really visual so it works.

(Laughs.)

It’s always heartwarming to hear a love story that mixes with a positive message of marriage equality and art. The Minnesota design will be available as postcards or cards at Art-A-Whirl and Aych will also be at Pride this year with more great artwork.  Read and see more of Aych at www.theletteraych.com.

Photos by Anna Rajdl Photography
Photos by Anna Rajdl Photography

An Interview with Tammy Baldwin: 'Our Families Are Just Like Theirs and We Are Just Like Them'

Photo courtesy of Tammy Baldwin
Photo courtesy of Tammy Baldwin

Someday, there will come a time when we no longer have to call out when someone is the “First Woman” or “First Lesbian” or “First Gay” or “First Person of Color” Something-or-Other, but we are still in an era when these firsts are important to recognize. Progress requires attention and encouragement, especially for underrepresented groups of people. United States Senator Tammy Baldwin from Wisconsin is not only Wisconsin’s first woman in the United States Senate, but is also the United States Senate’s first openly gay Senator. I had a chance to speak with her earlier this month about being the keynote speaker at the Midwest Family Equality Conference this weekend.

Andy Lien: It looks like Minnesota gets to welcome you to your neighbor state, thanks to the Family Equality Council. What great timing, considering what’s happening in at the Minnesota Capitol this session.

Senator Baldwin: Yes. We’ll be looking at the arc of progress on GLBT equality, particularly focusing on family issues.  It will be a celebration of the incredible work of the Midwest Family Equality Conference over the years.

AL: As far as the arc is concerned, this may be the fastest moving movement in Civil Rights history and, right now, it’s focused on marriage.  Back in 1994 when you were in the Wisconsin Assembly, you proposed legalizing same-sex marriages. That’s almost 20 years ago. What are your reflections on this progress?

Senator Baldwin:  I can remember convening a group of folks who were family law experts and GLBT activists and talking about how can we protect our families and what sort of state law would work. We looked at the benefits and rights that are associated with marriage. We talked about, “Should we do statewide domestic partnerships or civil unions?” when no other states were talking about it extensively. We had a lot of discussion at the local level about cities passing ordinances, private corporations and nonprofits passing policies to recognize families of their workforces, but it really wasn’t happening a lot at the state level. I tell you this because even the GLBT activists I talked to said “this’ll never happen.” People were incredulous even talking about the idea. A friend of mine who was a part of that discussion back in the early ‘90s came up to me and said, “I can’t believe all of the changes I’ve seen today, and I do believe I will see this in Wisconsin in my lifetime.” They were pinching themselves at how much progress has been made in so short of time.

AL: That sort of optimism will be transferred to the families you’ll be speaking to at the Midwest Family Equality Conference. Plenty of those kids will grow up not necessarily even knowing this was an issue.

Senator Baldwin: Of course. And many of those young people, those children, won’t have the context of how impossible this seemed only a couple of decades ago.

AL: Even here in Minnesota, we recently saw the proposal of civil unions by a group that was comprised mostly of members of the GOP. That’s something that took most of us aback; we would never have entertained that notion even a couple of years ago. Of the U.S. Senators, we’re [at time of press] looking at all but three DFL Senators supporting marriage equality. Great strides are happening.

Senator Baldwin: We just returned from our spring recess and we’re back in session. I had a chance to see some of my colleagues who, over the last two weeks, announced their support for marriage equality. We had little discussions and some of them were saying that this was “one of my proudest days in public service, to be able to make that announcement.” People showed great courage because it’s not necessarily politically popular but, boy, what a last few weeks it’s been.

AL: Last fall, the Democratic National Party wrote into its platform that marriage equality was something to strive for as Democrats. Do you see that as affecting your colleagues? How does that affect politics?

Senator Baldwin: Certainly party platforms and laws are very different things, but I do think that was an important step in the vision for the Democratic Party and also as a stark contrast between what you will see in the Republican platform which has few–if any–references to GLBT equality. Obviously, the platforms are the vision statements for the two parties and it exposes how very different they are. I gave a speech this past weekend about the progress on all different levels: you have party platforms, you have laws, you have court rulings, but we also have the constant need to change hearts and minds. We don’t want to just live in a country where our equal rights are enshrined in the law–but we’re certainly fighting very hard for that to happen–we want to live in a country where we are fully embraced as equal U.S. citizens, as Americans.

AL: Coming from Wisconsin, obviously Minnesota is similar in demographic make-up; do you have any advice for other legislators who are facing the question of marriage equality? How might they be able to frame it in their mind?  What advice would you give constituents in Minnesota as they talk to their legislators about marriage equality?

Senator Baldwin: When you look at whether it’s the President’s evolution on this issue or the many U.S. Senators and other office holders who, in the last few weeks, have announced their full support for marriage equality, the common thread has been how loved ones, family members, neighbors, and coworkers have influenced their decisions. For the office holders, my advice would be to stick to that narrative: how have the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people who you’ve known impacted your view of their worth, their wholeness as citizens?

Then, when interfacing with elected officials, the GLBT movement since its earliest days has been about visibility and telling our stories. How do you change hearts and minds? By being heard and being seen. Then, people, including elected officials, come to the conclusion that our families are just like theirs and we are just like them.

____________

Join Senator Baldwin and many of our local politicians, friends, families, and professionals who are part of (or are working with) GLBT families in the Midwest at the Midwest Family Equality Conference taking place this weekend, April 19 & 20, in Minneapolis. For more information, go to www.familyequality.org/get_involved/events/midwest_family_equality_conference.

Human Rights Campaign: A Pink and Red Wave, Local Honors

HRC Logos
Photo via HRC

A wave of pink and red equality symbols swept over social networking this week on Facebook and Twitter as the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) gave us a symbol to represent our personal–and collective–quests for the freedom to marry. Facebook saw a surge of users uploading new profile pics which, though not mentioned in the linked article by ABC, coincided with the first day of the Supreme Court hearings regarding same-sex marriage, starting with Prop 8 on Tuesday and moving to DOMA on Wednesday. The HRC handed an amulet of sorts to the community and its supporters, one that had yet to be seen in on this scale in this current campaign toward marriage equality.

This national attention given to the HRC this week provides a perfect segue to give past-due praise to the Twin Cities HRC who received a record number of awards at the annual awards ceremony of the Human Rights Campaign’s 2013 Equality Convention in Washington, DC, early in March. Taking home fourteen awards, the Twin Cities HRC also received top honors of Steering Committee of the Year and Gala Dinner of the Year.

The fourteen awards presented to the Twin Cities:

  • Special Recognition – Workplace Program Support
  • Individual Achievement in a Ballot Initiative – Tom Knabel
  • Individual Achievement in a Ballot Initiative – Steve Pospisil
  • Special Achievement in a Ballot Initiative by a Steering Committee
  • Political Steering Committee of the Year
  • Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion
  • Federal Club “Strive for Five” Excellence – Steve Pospisil
  • Outstanding Leadership in Political Fundraising
  • Stretch Goal Excellence – Political Fundraising
  • “Full House” Award – Gala Dinner
  • Corporate “Goalbuster” Award — Gala Dinner
  • Dinner Co-Chair Team of the Year — Corey Smith and Arouna Phommasouvanh
  • Gala Dinner of the Year
  • Steering Committee of the Year

Of the 30 HRC Steering Committee cities in the U.S., the Twin Cities and Seattle took the most awards in this year’s ceremony.  “This is, by far, the most awards ever won by Twin Cities HRC,” said HRC Board member Les Bendtsen. “And our first ever Gala Dinner of the Year and Steering Committee of the Year awards.”

“We had a very motivated community in Minnesota during 2012,” said Board member Tom Knabel. “That, combined with the incredible dedication and hard-work of our local HRC volunteers led us to break local records in political organizing, fundraising and our Gala Dinner event.”

Twin Cities HRC Steering Committee with their awards, photo courtesy of the Twin Cities HRC
An exuberant Twin Cities HRC Steering Committee with their awards, photo courtesy of the Twin Cities HRC

According to Corey Smith and Arouna Phommasouvanh, co-chairs of the 2012 Twin Cities HRC Gala Dinner, our community and allies stepped up. The event was sold-out with 1,100 attendees, set a record for corporate partnerships, and raised more than $100,000 for Minnesotans United to help fund last year’s “Vote No” campaign.  By election day, HRC’s total contribution to the Minnesota effort had topped $1 million.

It takes a groundswell of support to do what Minnesota did when we rejected the marriage amendment in 2012, and the Twin Cities HRC has provided a great number of talented people who inspire others to strongly speak up and out for this community, whether it be at a fundraising gala or an afternoon of bowling for equality. The Twin Cities is fortunate to have these talented and professional volunteers with their eyes on Minnesota, the United States, and global human rights.

For more information about the Twin Cities HRC or if you would like to join, volunteer, or donate toward its efforts regarding the freedom to marry as well as legislation such as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA), the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA), and the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), visit the website at www.hrc.org/steering-committees/twin-cities.

Watch the HRC’s video of an historical year, making the way for much more progress to come:

Wedding Venue: The Bachelor Farmer

The Bachelor Farmer is housed in a historic brick-and-timber warehouse located in the North Loop neighborhood of Minneapolis and serves fresh and simple food that honors Minnesota’s Nordic heritage.  Though it opened in the fall of 2011, the event spaces on the second floor of The Bachelor Farmer “soft opened” to the public in the winter of 2012, slowly taking on events to ensure the high quality of service that guests have come to expect from The Bachelor Farmer. The owners of The Bachelor Farmer, brothers Eric and Andrew Dayton, are welcoming to the community and donated their time and resources as Vice Chairs of the Minnesotans United for All Families effort to defeat the Marriage Amendment last fall.

The Bachelor Farmer Afghan Room. Photo by John Reed Forsman
The Bachelor Farmer Afghan Room. Photo by John Reed Forsman

 

The Details:  

Is there space for a ceremony? Yes, there are a few different options for a ceremony setting.

Is there a dressing room? There is no formal dressing room. However, one of the smaller event spaces could be used as a private dressing room prior to a ceremony.

What is the rental cost and what does it include? None! There is no additional event space fee, there is just the standard food and beverage minimums. These minimums vary depending on which room the guest is interested in renting, and range from $1,000 to $5,000 per room. Full floor buyouts are also available.

Are outside wedding cake vendors allowed? No, all food and beverages are provided by The Bachelor Farmer. For wedding cakes, there is a special private dining dessert menu that offers a cake section.

Opening/closing time: The average is 5:30pm open to 11:00pm closing. However, there is some flexibility.

Minimum – Maximum # of Guests: The entire floor can accommodate 150 standing max. The max number of seated guests is 50 (due to the layout, seated dinners are only offered in the largest room).

Are there audio/visual services available? Yes, there are select a/v services offered through The Bachelor Farmer, and two of the rooms include projection screens.

Parking: There are plenty of nearby options, including street and surface lots.

Contact Julie Brousseau:
612.206.3932
julie.brousseau@thebachelorfarmer.com
www.thebachelorfarmer.com

The Bachelor Farmer Library Room. Photo by John Reed Forsman
The Bachelor Farmer Library Room. Photo by John Reed Forsman

 

The Bachelor Farmer Library Room, Couches. Photo by John Reed Forsman
The Bachelor Farmer Library Room, Couches. Photo by John Reed Forsman