A Day in the Life: John Sugimura


Photo by Asha Belk

Name: John Sugimura

Age: Older…but young enough not to be bitter.

Where did you grow up? I grew up in the north metro and migrated to the city of Minneapolis early on in my life.

Where do you live? I live downtown and thoroughly enjoy high-rise living, especially when it is snowing and freezing out and I don’t have to shovel or scrape off my car.

Who do you live with? I live with my SO of nearly 22 years and our dog Rudy.

What is your occupation? Currently, I am the executive chef, concept-brand director, and partner for the fine-casual restaurant brand PinKU Japanese Street Food.

When did you come out? I have never been in, unless other people weren’t ready.

How’d that go? Personally, my memories are positive. I had parents that loved me and wanted me to be me. Everyday I received thoughtful messages that I am okay just the way I am.

When do you wake up? My sleeping schedule is driven by morning restaurant shopping starting at 7:00.

Phone alarm or old school alarm? My phone alarm wakes me 50 percent of the time and the other 50 percent of the time is my hungry four-legged BFF Rudy.

What’s the first thing you do in the morning? Turn on the hot water for tea and feed Rudy.

Breakfast? My SO will prepare breakfast for me including a bagel with half-cream cheese/half-peanut butter with sliced bananas…I share with Rudy.

Coffee? I’ve never been a coffee drinker. My morning drink is Earl Grey Tea.

Cream or no? No.

How do you spend your commute: During my six-minute commute, I typically consume Red Bull.

If your job were like a yearbook, what would you be voted? I think I would be voted most creative.

What inspires you? Happy people who make me laugh inspire me…a lot! At this point in my life the one thing I can offer is kindness without expecting anything in return. When I reflect each day and when I feel I have given more than taken, I call it a good day, and feel inspired to do it all over again tomorrow.

Do you eat your lunch while working or take a break? I like to take a lunch break to recharge.

Is your work space tidy or a hot mess? Tidy — ’nuff said!

What’s been your favorite job? Obviously opening PinKU Japanese Street Food and getting to know my customers who have been so complimentary of our restaurant, food, and hospitality. Their authentic generosity has blown me away. People and service is my passions.

For many years I enjoyed public service for the City of Minneapolis Mayor’s Office, PICA Head Start, and Autism Works. Every day I worked aggressively to improve the lives of children and their families.

Who are your heroes? Alyce Dillon, the executive director for PICA Head Start since 1969, is my hero. She has been making a difference in the lives of the poorest families in our community for decades…very inspirational. I adore her!

People who are battling/winning/loosing chronic diseases are my hero. I hate fucking cancer!

Favorite weeknight meal: Go out, take out, or cook in? Eat in and enjoy Aglio Et Olio (traditional Italian pasta dish coming from Naples) made with capelli d’angelo pasta, roasted tomatoes, garlic, basil, and really expensive Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

Most embarrassing moment: My second grade teacher hung a sign around my neck that read “I Talk Too Much” and made me walk the school halls and successfully humiliated me.

On a usual weeknight, you are doing what? Working at the restaurant, designing the next restaurant location, creating new menu items for our fabulous guests, walking Rudy and, on occasion, I have been known to sneak off to a movie to get in a treat and down time.

Bedtime: After 9:00 p.m. and before 3:00 a.m.

Favorite weekend activity: I love afternoon movies.

Words of wisdom to share: “I’ve learned that people will forgot what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forgot how you made them feel.”  —Maya Angelou

The They/Them Project: An Interview with Brent Dundore


What is the “They/Them Project”?
The “They/Them Project” was created for individuals who currently or formally use they/them/theirs and other non-binary pronouns, offering a platform for them to tell their stories and give personal insight to those wanting to better understand how pronouns (and other words and actions) affect transgender and non-binary individuals.

How were you inspired to make this project come to fruition?
I realized I had my own ignorance and lack of acceptance of non-binary gender and wanted to change that for myself. It stemmed from my own coming out story, not with gender, but sexuality (two completely separate things, for anyone who is new to understanding these subjects).

When I came out people didn’t ask me the questions which would have enabled them to better understand me and my non-binary sexuality. Telling family and friends of my attraction to men was confusing to some, as my partner at the time was a woman. She knew I was also attracted to men from the beginning of our relationship. Sooner or later I felt the need to share that part of myself with everyone else as well.

After that relationship came to an end most people found it easiest to label my sexuality “gay,” and at times even define me as such. “This is my gay _____ (insert relationship), Brent,” or at best, “This is Brent, he is gay.” Thus, I experienced firsthand that it is human nature to want to label people, and how certain labels can affect people.

Today I am married to a man, but gay is still a label I don’t feel describes me, and one that shows a lack of understanding of who I am. Over the years labels have not only affected me, but have also hurt me.

This all relates to starting the project, because when I first heard of people who use they/them/theirs pronouns, I had a lack of understanding, ignorance, and sometimes judgement regarding the subject. When asked what I felt about people wanting to use such pronouns, my response was “people can be whatever they want, but you can’t make up a new gender, or pronouns.”

My husband knew my coming out story, and how labels affected me over the years. After he heard my initial opinion on non-binary pronouns, he immediately stopped me and asked if I was joking. He then stated, “After all you’ve dealt with regarding labels, how would you have the right to tell someone else what they can and can’t be?” Right that second, I decided my opinion needed to change.

About three months ago I was shooting for one of my fine art projects and learned that my subject preferred they/them/theirs pronouns. I asked if I could ask some personal questions about that. I learned a lot about their journey and use of pronouns. After the photo shoot I was looking through all the photos and saw one that spoke to me. It was there that the “They/Them Project” was born.

I asked another person who uses they/them/theirs pronouns to come in for the project. I again asked various questions to personally better understand their story, and how they came to use their pronouns. After working with them for the fine art shoot, I was looking through the images, and thought to myself, “These images do make me think about this person, they are everything I want visually, but they don’t answer the questions I had about gender.” It was then that I realized I needed to document those questions I myself had been asking, if I wanted to really make a difference for anyone else who might have the same lack of understanding I had.

Since the second shoot, I ask those questions to every person I photograph, making the interviews the focus of the project. I would have been grateful if people had asked me questions about my sexuality in order to better understand me. This is now the mindset I bring to all the interviews.

What other projects have you done or are you currently doing? How does this project differ from those?
Previously, my “Marry Us Campaign” was a photo booth style project which helped individuals share the message of marriage equality. The goal was to use the image to start a conversation about how it would affect them personally. Currently, I have two other endeavors in addition to the “They/Them Project.” “Broadway Legacy” celebrates African American Broadway artists, who many times are overlooked in the industry, some of whom happen to be Tony Award winners. Lastly my “Why I Ride Project” stems from my past position working for the Red Ribbon Ride (a nonprofit bike ride that raises money for several AIDS service organizations in Minnesota). This project gives individuals participating in the ride the chance to show why they do it and ask for donations for the cause.

The “They/Them Project” differs from the other projects in the overall look, video interviews, and targeted audience. I feel it also differs in the way it is personal to each subject, and how it is shared through social media.

What have been some surprising moments along the way?
I have yet to finish an interview without learning something new about gender, and how every person has a uniquely different story and description of their gender. I was surprised to learn that some use several sets of pronouns, and how truly fluid gender is. No one is an expert on someone else’s gender, or what gender means to someone else. Everyone is also always growing and changing.

What have been some humbling moments in the process?
The first time I watched someone who was non-binary watch one of the interviews, I saw how they kept nodding their head, and, at times, smiling wholeheartedly, showing how much they related to parts of what they were watching. I realized then, that in the least, this project could speak to non-binary individuals, letting them know there are others out there who are looking at and discovering some of the same types of things they are.

I also recently had a humbling experience when asked to be interviewed for Twin Cities Pride Podcast. The host wanted to ask me questions about myself and the project, but I suggested we keep it as much about the individuals as possible. We gathered six people from the project to speak. It was a truly unique experience, and I highly recommend that everyone listen to the TC Pride podcast!

Who is the audience for this project?
I hope this project speaks to everyone. Youth questioning their gender can look to this project to see that they are not alone, and how others have gone through their journey and are now flourishing. Some from older generations might know about gender, but in many cases, they still have questions they are afraid to ask non-binary individuals. This projects gives answers to those questions. Finally, others might view this project and for the first time see that non-binary people are real. They are as much non-binary as others are male or female. Watching these interviews gives everyone the chance to better understand that.

How do you imagine the audience will experience the people you’re introducing them to?
Some will nod in appreciation. For those people, I imagine they are feeling acknowledged, accepted, respected, and loved. Others who are watching the interviews may say, “I did not know that!” They likely felt they never had the opportunity to ask the questions to individuals themselves. Some will shake their head “No.” I hope these people continue watching, as they will see how people are describing simply who they are, giving us more reason to accept and love everyone.

Where do you see this project going?
I have had conversations and meetings with several different organizations about how this project could be brought to the masses. I’m very excited about the energy of the project and where it is going.

What do you need from the community?
Share the project every time you see it! Especially if you watch an interview, share it through social media with a message about something you personally learned, asking others to watch and do the same. It’s so easy, and you’ll be surprised by the comments people leave, as they are grateful for what they learned from the interview as well.

I’m hoping to include more youth, more people of color, more people who are 40 and older. Please share the project with these people and have them contact me through the website.

Where can we find this project?


You can also see all my industry and personal projects at: BrentDundore.com

Decorate Your Roost at Cockadoodledoo

A store like Mary Poppins’ carpetbag. Or Hermione Granger’s purse in the final Harry Potter installment. Or what you’d find when you go through the looking glass or down a rabbit hole. Where it seems like the inventory would end, there’s something more to encounter. Something even more delightful or whimsical to behold. Something more to put on my wish list. Something to crow about. Perhaps like Peter Pan.

Gerry Seiler has a store in the Bryn Mawr neighborhood of Minneapolis that reminds me of all sorts of literary wonderlands and magical accessories. But would the actual moniker of Peter Pan apply to him as the owner and proprietor of Cockadoodledoo? Is he the boy who never grew up? Hardly. He’s the man who grew up, followed a career path to one of our Fortune 100 companies in Minnesota, and then symbolically chose to go to the second star to the right and then straight on till morning. No, it didn’t lead to Neverland, but where he first opened his shop on Main Street in Stillwater.

Years later and having relocated to Bryn Mawr, he presents his neighborhood and customers with a curated inventory of goods that span from vintage furniture and collectors items to brand new gifts and decor pieces. A broad array of tastes for any of us who grew up, but still enjoy plenty of the playfulness that humor, irony, and history can give us. There is a menagerie of animal heads to hang on the wall, including stone pig heads and a mosaic cow head. Coasters shaped like toast. Makeup bags with curse words. T-shirts advertising Twin Cities throwbacks like Dayton’s, Moby Dick’s, and Porky’s. Signs and lawn chairs for the backyard or lake, a congratulatory dishtowel for the brides (or one for the grooms), or even a dishtowel that says “You can’t say ‘happiness’ without ‘penis.'” Mugs, candles, lotions, jewelry, art, lawn ornaments, and enough irreverence to make some folks blush. Perhaps this is also a good first-date destination; head to Cuppa Java for some coffee then stroll over to Cockadoodledoo…if your date doesn’t laugh, then skip the second one.

People come through the door, greet Gerry (who seems to know all of them), and ask or look around for what’s new. I imagine that’s one of the signs of a well-executed curiosity shop. The goods stay fresh to keep people coming back. With vintage items, particularly, there’s a good chance to see something from your childhood that will strike with exactly the same pang of nostalgia as hits when referring to Cockadoodledoo with so many storybook references from my own childhood (and before).

With a hug when I met him and a kiss on the cheek from him as I left, it’s a place I’ll want to return to so I can see what else he’s managed to fit into his shop. I’m certain I will be as entertained as I will be compelled to buy things for both myself as well as pretty much each and every person I know.

403 Cedar Lake Rd. S, Minneapolis

A Day In The Life: Robyn Dochterman

Name: Robyn Dochterman

Age: 54

Where did you grow up? Near Mt. Vernon, Iowa (east central part [aka not the flat part of Iowa]).

Where do you live? For the last dozen years, I’ve lived near Scandia, which is about 40 miles northeast of the Cities. Before that I was a South Minneapolis gal.

Who do you live with? My partner for 30 years, Deidre Pope. We also have a cattledog, four cats, 20 chickens, and honeybees.

What is your occupation? I own my own business, St. Croix Chocolate Company, and I’m the chocolatier, which means I make all the chocolate.

When did you come out? I was 19 when I first fell in love with a woman.

How’d that go? Well, the interior part, where I understood how I was different, was wonderful. The romance was wonderful. The family part was like a horror movie. It started with my parents arguing over whose fault it was that I was gay, and ended with me being forced to leave college and taking a Greyhound to California to live with my aunt and uncle. It got better, though.

When do you wake up? Around 9:00, usually.

Phone alarm or old school alarm? The birds outside or the cats inside usually instigate awakening.

What’s the first thing you do in the morning? Feed the animal circus.

Breakfast? Always. Cap’n Crunch peanut butter or Honey Nut Cheerios. Dry. With a glass of organic milk.

Coffee? Cream or no? I like my caffeine cold, so…Mountain Dew. Cream in Mountain Dew would be kinda gross, I think.

How do you spend your commute: I used to listen to a lot of music when I drove into the Cities, but now it’s only four miles, so I mostly watch for deer.

If your job were like a yearbook, what would you be voted? Most likely to do what everyone envies. Is that a category?

What inspires you? People who are really good at what they do; and people who aren’t, but put themselves out there anyway and learn from each experience. Also, fresh-squeezed tangerine juice is so good, it always reminds me to be grateful for the experience of being on Earth.

Do you eat your lunch while working or take a break? I usually take short breaks while chocolate cools to the right temp, so I’ll sort of graze my way through the day. Unless I’ve been very organized and brought leftovers.

Is your work space tidy or a hot mess? The kitchen is clean and calm. My office is a disaster to everyone who sees it, but it works for me. I call it a visual, horizontal filing system (meaning, everything is on a horizontal surface where I can see it).

What’s been your favorite job? I love working with chocolate and being my own boss, but I’ve loved every job I’ve had, including being a web editor at the Star Tribune and being editor of Equal Time (GL newspaper) back in the ’90s. Each has its own rewards and challenges.

Who are your heroes? My first hero was Joe Torre (who played for the St. Louis Cardinals when I was a kid). Also, Amelia Earhart, Melissa Etheridge, Chris Kluwe, and everyone who works to protect the environment.

Favorite weeknight meal: Go out, take out, or cook in? I love to cook and grill, which is good, because there aren’t that many restaurants within 10 miles.

Most embarrassing moment: While I was still in college, I did an internship in San Francisco with the Women’s Sports Foundation. I’d read somewhere that tennis champion Martina Navratilova liked to play the horses, and I knew she was in town. So on behalf of the WSF interns (and on WSF letterhead), I sent her an invitation to spend an afternoon at the track with us. Apparently, that wasn’t even close to appropriate and I got in a lot of trouble for using the organization’s name, and not going through proper channels (which would have derailed my plan, of course). A year later, though, my boss made sure I got a chance to meet Martina in person, though we never did get to hang out at the track.

On a usual weeknight, you are doing what? I often work until 8:00 or later (the later, the better because no one can see me boogie out to ‘70s music), but I love to walk, watch reruns of Friends and read cookbooks. Lately, I’ve become obsessed with Forrest Fenn, a guy who hid a million-dollar treasure chest somewhere in the Rocky Mountains and then wrote a poem to direct people to it. Five years later, we’re all still trying to make sense of the clues and find the treasure. So I like to pore over his memoirs, looking for some little tidbit that others might have missed. No luck so far.

Bedtime: Sometime between 10:00 and 1:00, unless it’s a “chocolate holiday” like Christmas, Valentine’s Day, or Easter. Then, much later.

Favorite weekend activity: I like to hop on the garden tractor and mow the lawn. It makes me feel organized, visually calm, and industrious. Plus, I get to visit everything I planted (before I started the business, back when I had a real life) and see how it’s doing. Add some grilling to that, maybe a bonfire and a Bloody Mary, and I’m good.

Words of wisdom to share: First, be a decent human being. Then, do what you want to do.

A Day in the Life: Paul Bigot

Name: Paul Bigot

Age: Is this necessary? Okay, fine. 30ish.

Where did you grow up? The Redneck Riviera: a small beach town in Florida called Fort Walton Beach.

Where do you live? I’m an Uptown girl…Minneapolis.

Who do you live with? This hook-up from four years ago that won’t leave. Plus two dogs. And a Fox.

What is your occupation? Hair and makeup designer at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, wig technician at the Guthrie Theater, and an independent hair and makeup designer at various theaters.

When did you come out? At the age of 16.

How’d that go? My mother was fairly accepting. I told my father that it took me 16 years to deal with it, so he had 16 years to get over it. Then I never wanted to hear another word after that. And…he did.

When do you wake up? In a perfect world: noon. In reality: 8:00 a.m.

Phone alarm or alarm clock? Phone alarm…five alarms with an hour of snoozing.

What’s the first thing you do in the morning? Take the dogs out, question why I live where it’s cold, and tip-toe around my partner who really gets to sleep until noon.

Breakfast? Sure…you buying?

Coffee? I start every morning with a wonderful cup of coffee at Twin Cities Leather (shameless plug for my partner who sleeps until noon).

Cream or no? Cream and honey.

How do you spend your commute: Not sure, I just zone out…then wake up and I’m there.

If your job were like a yearbook, what would you be voted? I really was voted “most likely to succeed” in high school. Today, “most likely to break out in song and dance.”

What inspires you? Talent. I admire people who pursue their craft…there is no small role in theater.

Do you eat your lunch while working or take a break? While working. Who has time for a break? Especially after all my songs and dance numbers.

Is your work space tidy or a hot mess? Please. “Hot mess” is an understatement. I literally have things scattered all over the metro and in my car.

What’s been your favorite job? I toured the country with numerous national tours of Broadway shows for almost eight years. Of that, La Cage Aux Folles was my favorite. Gay men, drag queens, and 1970s hair — what more could you want?

Who are your heroes? Anyone who pursues their dream in the arts when they were told their whole life it was only a hobby.

Favorite weeknight meal: Go out, take out, or cook in? Cook in. The only reason I let my partner sleep in is because he’s a fabulous cook and I come home to great meals.

Most embarrassing moment: When female actresses realize I get embarrassed by boobies while changing their wigs and costumes. It then becomes a teasing free-for-all.

On a usual weeknight, you are doing what? Getting everyone ready for a show. Taking on and off sweaty wigs. Making sure everyone looks good going on stage.

Bedtime: Usually between 1:00 and 3:00 a.m., after winding down from work.

Favorite weekend activity: Haha, what’s a weekend? I work when everyone else is having fun…and am free while you’re in a cubicle.

Words of wisdom to share: I started out in this business as a dancer and was badly injured very young. I thought my career in this industry was over. I was later given the chance to go backstage and work. I found a new way to be involved in this industry that I love. I’ve achieved more success this way and feed my passions. My advice is not to become so focused on a single path that you miss opportunities to still achieve your goals, and then fail to realize your dreams.






Sweet Silence, Golden Voice: Puddles the Clown Comes to Town

Photo by David Stuart Photography.
Photo by David Stuart Photography.

A silent clown with a golden voice. A towering figure of stature and talent. His voice makes me weep, his appearance is a little unsettling. He’s Puddles and he’s bringing Puddles Pity Party to town for a show at Mill City Nights on Thursday, October 2. I can’t wait.

Perhaps you’ve seen him; his version of Lorde’s “Royals” with Postmodern Jukebox went viral (see video below), with good reason. He walks into a crowded frame with purpose, everyone is deadpan, and they deliver a version of the song that is so satisfying as more of a Gen X anthem than what the young Lorde likely intended. Because, let’s face it, many of us Gen Xers sadly feel that struggle between the grown-up world of Cristal out there, in sharp competition with our waiting-for-the-other-shoe-to-drop reality. Or maybe it’s just a fantastic song sung by a stupendous voice, without all the postmodern deconstruction. However you like it.

An internet search shows that Puddles covers other songs that delight our playlists: ABBA’s “Dancing Queen,” Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic, and Sia’s “Chandelier.” I antsy to see and hear what he brings to the stage on Thursday which, as he said below, will be included on a CD he’s going to record next week. Very exciting.

And, true to form, being a silent clown meant that Puddles didn’t take a phone interview, but tacitly returned my questions via email. A clown of few words, he says so much:

Where’s the Pity Party and how does one get an invitation?
The Pity Party is on the road right now, spreading the pity from city to city. And you’re all invited.

Why so sad?
It’s a sad and beautiful world. Sometimes I cry tears of joy and not sadness. It’s important to let it out.

Where does a clown with a golden voice go for training?
School of Hard Knocks.

Are you afraid of other clowns?
No. Of course not.

Is there a story behind the name “Puddles”?
That’s a question for my Pop. He’s up in Valhalla if you want to give him a holla.

Did you have to come out to your family as a clown?
My family came out to me as a family.  And that meant a lot to me.

Why do you carry a lantern?
To light the way.

Are you bringing anyone with you to Minneapolis? MonkeyZuma? Sweet Georgie?
MonkeyZuma is at home mowing the lawn and taking care of Sweet Georgie and Kitty Klaus.

Do you do any songwriting?
I do like to dabble in some songwriting on occasion.  But I also love to sing the beautiful cathartic words of others.

Can we expect an album from Puddles PIty Party? If so, what might it include?
I’m in the studio next week working on a CD.  It will mostly represent the material in the current show.

Which celebrity would you spend 27 hours in a box with and why?
That’s easy. The Cos.

Who flirts with you more, men or women?
I feel the love from both parties.  Women seem surprisingly more forward.

What are you looking forward to doing in Minneapolis?
It will most definitely involve food and coffee.

Who are your vocal role models?
Freddie. Pavarotti. Iggy. Christina. Francis.

Why are you silent?
‘I’m silent for the sick and lonely old,
for the reckless ones, whose bad trip left them cold.
I’m silent mournin’ for the lives that could have been.
Each week we lose a hundred fine young men.’

What should we expect from your show, for those of us who’ve never seen you perform?
Half the laughter. Twice the tears. And lots of hugs.


Puddles Pity Party
Facebook: Puddles Pity Party
Mill City Nights
Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014
Doors at 8:00pm
Tickets Available

“Royals” with Postmodern Jukebox via ScottBradleeLovesYa


Coloring with David Bromstad

I went to the same rural school as David Bromstad, of HGTV fame. You know how the younger kids always know who the older kids are; he was no  exception. I remember him, though he left for the suburbs after 8th grade. His talented family had an impact on our small communities and consolidated school district. Our towns are more conservative than not; our people tend toward the monochromatic in attitudes, behavior, expression, and pallor. Or, that’s how it seemed, then. His trademark smile, shared by the sisters that I knew, made our communities brighter.

Or course, no matter how homogeneous a community might appear, we know it’s got its differences within. There are positives. We make them and we find them. A hometown is always where we each began. It’s where we are constructed, in part, to be who we are today. David Bromstad was a bright, colorful force in what presented itself as a united beige. Miami in Minnesota. A “Color Splash,” as one of his television shows was so aptly named. Here’s an interview with the Minnesota-Boy-Gone-Big, HGTV STAR‘s David Bromstad.

There’s quite a nice number of out and proud D-C expatriates. You’re probably the most famous of the bunch. How do you like them apples?

I love them apples. Them apples are delicious! And just for the record, I went to D-C for K-8 grades and moved to Plymouth, Minnesota and graduated from Wayzata Senior High School. I was the only one from my family including my mom and dad NOT to graduate from D-C.

In your own words, you were “After School Special” bullied. You were pretty badly treated in our rural Minnesota school. Would you care to expand on that? Share what happened and how you got through it?

I was constantly harassed for, really, nothing. I was a new kid that entered into an environment that was so foreign from the familiar halls of D-C. I really didn’t know who I was after I left Cokato. It turns out I was a very shy person. The girls loved me and the guys hated me for it. I was awkward and had a hint of gayness which was then elevated by the guys. Going to school was torture for me and I dreaded going to school for fear of being tormented everyday. I was always the center of every joke and always laughed at. “Faggot” became a term that I never adjusted to on a daily basis and to this day hate the word. I don’t know if there is any way to let you know how I got through it. I just did. I woke up, I dressed myself and I just had to go through it. My strength came from my church group. If it weren’t for my relationships with my buddies from the Wednesday night youth gathering, it would have been a much harder road. The best part of being a part of that group is that no one from my school attended my church. It was a massive relief knowing this.

Do you have any advice for any of the unicorns out in Dassel-Cokato and other rural schools today.

I do. Hold strong; surround yourself with people who want to be your friend and fight back. When I say fight back I don’t mean with fists or words, but mentally. If you put your mind to something, you can do anything. Just remember: these bullies are insecure buttheads that are taking out their insecurities on someone who they think is less than themselves. Talk to your teachers and counselors. It gets better and there is help out there if you just reach out. Many kids are so scared to reach out because they haven’t accepted their sexuality, especially at a young age. Find local organizations and never, ever let someone bring you down. You have the inner strength to fight and rise above. So my advice is fight and fight like hell.

You came out at age 22. How do you think things would have been different for your coming out experience in 2013?

Times have definitely changed since I came out. People are becoming more accepting and sensitive to my community, which is great. I do believe it’s still more difficult to come out in communities with less diversity, like in rural areas. People are close-minded and unfortunately, kids are still locked inside their own closet for fear of being bullied and made fun of. The winds are changing, but we need to fight to ensure they continue to change—and quickly.

Some of the most recent information I could find is that you now live in Miami with your partner and dog, can you tell us more about your life?

I love my life. Miami is my home and I enjoy every minute of it. The city is so colorful and full of people from all ethnic backgrounds. I’m proud to live in a city that is so accepting. I am always busy, so one of my favorite things to do with my partner is just relax on the beach or sit on the couch with my dogs and my partner and just chill out. It’s my peace and I am very blessed in life.

Do you come back to Minnesota often? What do you like to do in Minneapolis/St. Paul?

I do come back at least once or twice a year. Family time is so important and when I go home for the holiday or any celebration, I do nothing but relax and take in the gorgeous crisp air. I always stay at my sister’s house on Prior Lake. I just wake up and take in the beautiful scenery and enjoy every minute with my family.

Are you taking interior design clients? Would our readers be able to hire you for their homes and spaces?

Absolutely. This is a new venture in the last year and I am currently working on several personal interior design projects as we speak. It’s really challenging to do private work, but I am enjoying it. For more information on my design service, you can check out my website that will lead readers to the appropriate section: www.bromstad.com.

Now HGTV Design Star has become HGTV Star and you’re the host, mentor, and original Design Star. What do you find rewarding about this role?

It’s such an honor to be hosting the show that started my career. To mentor and host these talented designers on their journey is really exciting for me; it’s like looking in a mirror. I know the stress they are going through and it’s really interesting to see it from a different perspective. I’m so proud that I can be there to help them through this intense and overwhelming process of what is a reality competition show. I’ve been there and done that and I think the designers really appreciate that my perspective is right on point with their own.

In addition to your work with HGTV, you also have artwork for sale–Fine Art by Bromstad on Penny Lane. What role has art played in your interior design and how do you incorporate your art into clients’ surroundings? How do you hope that the general public might incorporate your art into their spaces?

Yes, I have partnered with a wonderful company: Penny Lane Publishing. My art is available on their site (www.pennylanepublishing.com) and a link to the art is also on my website. Art is a huge role in my design for clients. It’s always been something I leave my clients with to add a personal touch to their space. I always wait to the end of my projects before creating a personal piece for them. I like to find out personal things about my clients and what they like and dislike in life. After the space is complete, then I can create something for them inspired by what I know about them and their families. My art can be put in any type of décor from contemporary to traditional. My art is always fun and colorful and it’s a great addition to any space.

Color seems to be your niche–would you agree? How does your relationship with color set you apart from other designers?

Yes, color definitely is my niche. Color is huge in my life, always has been, and forever will be! In fact, I have given many presentations on color and the meaning of each color and what roles color has in each of our lives. I think, as a designer, people know that I am not afraid to use color, but most people are so frightened by color that they shy away from it completely. Using bright, vibrant color and utilizing it in a way that is not only pleasing to the eye and soul, but is livable. Color is so powerful and many people are afraid of it until they realize it can be used as an accent to liven up any space in their home. Color is my entire world.

Color Case Study 1

For all of my spaces, I usually start with a fresh palet unless the owners have a unique piece that will add something special or unique to my design. I love to take an old piece of furniture and restore it to fit the new design. The three examples below consist of everything new. I didn’t use any of their existing pieces because the space didn’t call for it and my clients were eager to start fresh.

This room is still one of my all time favorites. Turquoise was the color of the year when I designed this room. It was a condo on Key Biscayne that was really large. The design consisted of the living and dining rooms and hallways of the condo. My favorite piece in the room was the custom oversized tufted ottoman you see in the front of the picture. The use of turquois with touches of brown and neutral walls really gave this space an incredible feel. Notice how the turquoise is carried throughout the space bringing the room and color together beautifully. Another focal point is the wall mural in the backdrop. It really gives the room a unique touch and adds visual interest and depth to the space. Interestingly enough, shortly after putting this mural up, I partnered with another wonderful company: www.muralsyourway.com. I thought, how fabulous would it be to have my art blown up and made into a wall mural. So now, all of my art can be purchased either as a canvas, or made into a gorgeous wall mural in any size. How fun!

Color Case Study 2

I had so much fun designing this dining room for the client. They were so not afraid of color, as you can see. She wanted color and Bromstad delivered. The custom yellow, oversized, dramatic dining bench could easily fit 20 people in the back. White walls really bring out the color in the room and they all pop. The use of yellow, pink, orange and turquoise shows you that you can combine many different colors in a space and it works. The client just so happened to have French Bulldogs, just like me.  So I created these custom pieces for her to add a personal touch.

Color Case Study 3

I loved designing the traditional space below. So many of my clients in Miami request a contemporary design, so I was thrilled when I was asked to design this traditional space. The neutral walls are custom designed with tufted fabric bringing an elegant, soft touch to the space. The use of red, which I adore, brings in a rich feel to the room that complements the neutral tones on the walls. This house had a very large living area and because of the size, we had to ensure the room was comfortable and livable. I created several different seating areas to fill the room because the client requested a room to sit and entertain in. My custom canvas above the fireplace is a focal point in the room as an example of how a piece that appears contemporary at first glance can be incorporated into a traditional setting.

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Mother Moon

“As with any Cirque show, you can let your imagination run wild. That’s why there’s no story line or words that are given out so that each individual that comes can be taken and transported into their own individual journey.”
Mark Pawsey, Artistic Director of  Amaluna

The big top is in a parking lot in Denver. In the daylight, it looks similar to how it will appear when Cirque du Soleil puts its tent pegs into the asphalt at the Mall of America. A blue-and-yellow striped tented oasis in a stretch of black hardtop. I’ve been to Cirque shows in different locales: the Target Center, the Mall of America, Lowertown St. Paul, and, my favorite, the Sculpture Garden at the Walker Art Center. When the blue-and-yellow delight was tucked into the Sculpture Garden near the 394/94 interchange in Minneapolis near the likes of the Basilica and the Cherry and Spoon, Minneapolis seemed more like an urban Wonderland than ever. Regardless of where it is, there is always magic within.

Like circuses of yore, Cirque du Soleil finds a blank canvas, sets up camp, and then departs without leaving a trace. One day it will be here, one day it will be gone. In their sophistication, sometimes they even leave a space better than how they found it; it’s part of their agreement. If they had to remove something, they put it back. If they had to repave something, they leave the new pavement. For most of us, they leave only memories and mementos; regardless, they leave us better than they found us.

Walking into the tent, the air becomes different. On a hot day, it becomes cooler. Light takes on a different value of color and consistency. It smells of popcorn. It’s the staging area for showtime. Earlier in the day, I went behind the scenes at Cirque du Soleil and visited the different areas of the multiple tents. It was a bit like walking through a church when it’s empty and dark; everything was set in its place and people were quietly going about their preparations for performing the rituals and sacraments of Amaluna. I didn’t want to bump or touch anything and thought that speaking in a low hush seemed appropriate as I tried to stay out of the way of the performers who were rehearsing and the crew that was literally setting the stage for the show. But no such reverence was required. As an outsider looking behind the curtain, I was welcomed and shown a community that is serious and playful, one that is full of professionals from as many as 18 countries.

Cirque du Soleil and its people are as much of an ideal community as some of the dream worlds it shows us. Welcoming, with an “anything goes in the circus” kind of attitude, Cirque isn’t flippant about its diversity, but it’s more of a non-issue than anything. People are from different countries; people have different shades of skin; people cover the whole spectrum of sexuality. Being a Canadian company, Cirque’s employees have the benefit of Canada’s years of marriage equality for same-sex couples. It’s a dream that is becoming our reality, our future, here in the United States and Minnesota. Knowing that the arts community as a worldwide group has been more progressive in social issues for the GLBT community is one thing; seeing it as a way of life in Cirque du Soleil makes the whole Amaluna experience even more enriching.

Back in the big top as I wait for the show to begin, a peacock sits in my lap. The spotlight finds us and she waves to the rest of the crowd from where she sits on me, her perch. Around us are some of the nearly 2500 people who fill the circular seating under the big top in which every seat is a good one. We are surrounding the stage that is circular, but actually extends all the way up to the top of the tent. Cirque du Soleil includes aerial acts and uses as much of its own space as possible in the tent shows—something that I value more than the arena shows where the action is all on a one-sided stage. Performers use the tent and its high-tech poles and pulleys as well as its audience, particularly in the time before the show begins. Looking up at the source of some commotion, there is Cali, the half-human, half-lizard character perched high on a pole, throwing popcorn at people as they take their seats. Something as simple as a one-sided food fight warms up the crowd for what is to come: art, athleticism, music, and motion with comedy and playfulness infused throughout.

The story of Amaluna is based on The Tempest by William Shakespeare. Seated in the big top, with or without a peacock on the lap, the set and imagery leaves much to our imagination. Mine took me further into Greek mythology and lore as well as into my own childhood’s pop culture. As I’d read about the show, the story of an island of Amazon women reminded me of Sappho from the Island of Lesbos, not to mention Diana’s Paradise Island in Wonder Woman. But, as the story unfolded, it was definitely on-theme with Shakespeare’s story, as far as the characters and events were concerned. A mother (Prospera instead of Prospero) with a daughter (Miranda) live on an island. There is a storm (assisted by the spirits, Arielles), there is the addition of a love interest for Miranda (Romeo instead of Ferdinand), and there is an impish character (Cali instead of Caliban). But, central and above much else, is Amaluna, which symbolizes the most significant departure from The Tempest: the women.

Amaluna is the name of the mysterious island where this story unfolds. It means “mother moon,” something that is visually enforced as often as Prospera—the mother, the queen, the sorceress—flies through the air with the Moon Goddess. At times in the story, her visibility is more obvious than others, but the roles of both the moon and Prospera are ever-present. The Tempest had one primary female character in Prospero’s daughter, Miranda. Amaluna’s cast is over 70% female, something that is not only a departure for Shakespeare (which often had men playing the roles of women), but for Cirque du Soleil as well. It’s a coming-of-age story for Miranda. The Amazons are female gymnasts. The clowns—who are more “clowning” than acting as traditional “clowns”—are actually a same-sex couple, thanks to cross-dressing. The sailors-turned-castaways and Romeo are young and strapping men, something which is just as pleasing as the fact that the show is so female-rich. Most remarkable, for the first time in Cirque du Soleil’s history, the band of musicians is composed entirely of women (and directed by a “Lavender leader”). Music is as central to Cirque du Soleil’s productions as the stories, the performers, the costumes, and the acts. It creates as much of a setting as the stage and tent do. To intentionally carry the prominence of female characters and themes to the music is significant and superb.

Amaluna starts with a darkened stage. A single piece of fabric is swept by wind into the air, lit so that it glows. The music starts low and rises with the throaty alto voice of Prospera, establishing her as a strong and prominent force in the story. We are introduced to many of the characters on the island of Amaluna and then quickly thrown into the storm, “The Tempest,” which is largely depicted through music and reminded me of “Smooth Criminal” by David Garrett or 2Cellos. I’d been told that the music of Amaluna was reminiscent of that of Coldplay, but I heard so much more than that, throughout. At times, it was Florence + the Machine. When the Balance Goddess performs her hypnotizing act (that can’t be described in words adequately), I heard shades of Sweet Honey & the Rock and Bobby McFerrin. Prospera performs with a cello in a number of pieces, so my rock-cello-loving self was very pleased. A shredding guitarist reminded me of Prince in her long purple coat and charismatic musicality, while another had the edge of tattooist Kat Von D.  There are moments of Enya and stretches of Marilyn Manson. Hand-drumming and driving percussion bring the music back to more of a tribal feel, especially while the Amazons perform. A few times, I swear I heard Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant being channeled by the lead singer of the band. I make these comparisons not to make the Amaluna music sound as if it’s not original or authentic, but to show just how varied and diverse it is, much like its cast and audience.

Visually, Amaluna is a masterpiece. The correlation of a performer to his/her surroundings, costume, and make-up constructs a whole vision made of so many separate works of art. Each cast member applies his or her make-up to the specs that are required for their character. There are airbrushed tattoos for some of the musicians and Valkyries while Miranda and Romeo must wear cosmetics that can withstand the waterbowl. Wigs and colored contact lenses and jewel-toned hair stripes and face shadings show the audience that they are in the presence of more than mere mortals. As I sit and take in the performance, each act’s change in tone and timbre is accompanied by a shift in vision, carried out by the numerous costumes and props of each character. From the washable leather pieces to the swimwear to the lightweight peacock plumage to the softening denim to the scales of the lizards, each inch of each costume is optimized for beauty and movement.

What amazes me with each and every Cirque du Soleil show I see is the flawless execution of what seem to be impossible acts of talent and athleticism. This show is no exception. Valkyries and Wind Gods dance through the air on aerial straps. Acrobats spin watermeteors and each other showing off Icarian Games. Amazon gymnasts soar from uneven bar to uneven bar. Castaway men launch and land on the teeterboard. Cali juggles orbs with grace and skill. Lovers swim in the 6000-pound waterbowl. Romeo stops just short of certain death on the Chinese pole. The Peacock Goddess (on this issue’s cover) dances with grace and caprice. With a seemingly random pile of sticks, the Balance Goddess takes our collective breath away. All of the acts, though more numerous than mentioned here, pull together the story of Prospera, Miranda, and Romeo on the Island of Amaluna, and will surely thrill the audience, time after time.

I was on my feet in an instant at the end of the show. Without question, I can say that this is my favorite Cirque du Soleil production. It will thrill first-timers. For those who have already experienced Cirque du Soleil, it will be an exquisite departure from some of the recent touring shows we’ve seen here in Minneapolis. It’s different and it helps us to dream. As Artistic Director, Mark Pawsey, said:

“This is the joy of Cirque du Soleil. There really is no right or wrong. It’s what everybody’s individual journey is within the story. 2500 different people will have a different emotional reaction and a different emotional journey. When you give people joy to feel and they feel it together, it’s fantastic. If we do our job properly, we’re connecting the 46 artists we have to ignite the people in the audience to relate to each other and feel together. It’s like we’re on the ocean together, not struggling, but on the same boat going the same direction. People will see different things in the panorama—some will see mountains, some will see trees—and that really what appeals to me in this company and this product. It’s about your imagination. There are no rules to that. It’s about where you let your imagination take you. If you let it transport you, it’s unbelievable. It can change your life. You can think differently. It’s not that your life is different because of it, but it influences people to do differently. We inspire others to be better people, to want more out of life, because we enable people to dream.”

You have experienced Amaluna through me. This was my journey. You’ve seen what I pulled from interviews with the people who put the show together as well as the performance of the show, itself.

Be sure to have your own experience with Amaluna. See more because of it, dream more because of it. Release your imagination.

Interviewing the following people provided a wonderful context for the writing of this piece, and I am grateful to them: Mark Pawsey, Artistic Director; Jamie Reilly, Company Manager; Larry Edwards, Head of Wardrobe; and Janine de Lorenzo, leader of the band (who took a quick moment to not only tell me that she reads Lavender when she’s in Minneapolis, but that she’s a “Lavender leader”). Please be sure to visit lavendermagazi.wpengine.com to see photos of them and their surroundings from my behind-the-scenes visit to Amaluna in Denver.

Cirque du Soleil – Amaluna
Mall of America – North Parking Lot
September 26-October 20

Chris Kluwe: Goodbye to the Empathetic Punter

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

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.