After leaving Fargo, North Dakota, I headed toward Grand Rapids, Minnesota. (The hometown of Judy Garland.) There I met with some great folks who are doing the work to promote equality in northern Minnesota. This is not the liberal city Minneapolis. Currently there is a debate in the local paper. Letters-to-the-editor are flying. The argument is not over gay marriage or if LGBTs deserve rights, but whether or not homosexuality itself is allowable.
There is a medical doctor in town who has taken a hard stance against homosexuality. He uses religion as his basis for stating that gays and lesbians are sick and need to change. My new friend Andy Mundt used to see this doctor when he was younger. After Andy came out, the doctor tried to help him find a “cure” and asked if he wanted ex-gay literature. Andy knew he wasn’t sick and started seeing a different doctor. That is when he learned that his old doctor had marked on his chart that Andy was sick, suffering from homosexuality. Andy is now the President of Itasca GLBTA Alliance. Check out a clip of our interview below.
I also interviewed Ashley Rantala. She lives in Hibbing, Minnesota, part of the Iron Range. The Iron Range is a series of towns that are grouped together because of their main export; iron. This part of the country is not the most welcoming place for gays and lesbians. She started a group for LGBT folks living in the Iron Range. She fields phone calls from closeted community members looking for help. Ashley proudly wears her rainbow neckless in town. One day she was in a gas station when the boy behind the counter saw the neckless and reached out to her for help. He is gay, in the closet, and was close to suicide. Ashley was able to be there for him when he needed someone to talk.
I hung out in Grand Rapids until 3:00AM and then drove a few hours toward Omaha, Nebraska. Today I woke up around noon and continued driving the rest of the nine hours to my next destination. I just arrived in Nebraska and am camping near a lake.
Throughout the country, I have tried to get a more even feel of the state of our LGBT community by meeting people in small towns as well as big cities. If I had more time I would travel to every part of every state, but that is not possible. Of course I conduct interview in big cities, but I also find it incredibly important to talk with folks in small towns to get a better idea of what life in America is like for LGBT people.
I live in the extremely gay friendly city of Cambridge, Massachusetts. But that is not where I grew up. I was born and raised in the central part of the state, far away from the big city. The town I grew up in has less than 10,000 people, didn’t have a stoplight until I was older, and my high school class was about 80 students. I know what it is like to be from a small town. I love Lunenburg, but I understand that it can be hard for LGBT folks to feel safe and welcomed in a rural community.
The number one thing that I had, and still have today, going for me, is my parents. A lot of kids from rural America don’t have the support of their parents. I always have, and am realizing more and more everyday that I travel through this country and meet folks who have different stories, just how lucky I am.
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