MNMOMAG: How COVID-19 Has Altered Life in Minnesota

MNMOMAG: How COVID-19 Has Altered Life in Minnesota

                                      Illustration by Øivind Hovland

COVID-19 has turned our lives upside-down.

A big-picture view of the pandemic and its many effects on us and our communities.

In early 2020, Alex West Steinman, co-founder and CEO of the Coven (a co-working space for women, trans, and non-binary people in Minneapolis’ North Loop) opened the company’s second location, in St. Paul. In late January, she had settled into a groove of rising at dawn, getting in an early morning workout, commuting to the new space from her home in Plymouth, then picking up her two little ones from daycare at 6 p.m. That’s when she wasn’t traveling around the country for fundraising trips and accelerator workshops. One of her goals for the year was to set healthy boundaries that would allow her to prioritize being home for dinner and the kids’ bedtime.

Six weeks after the opening of the St. Paul location, Minneapolis City Council member Andrea Jenkins was headlining an International Women’s Day event at the space. That’s when Steinman looked at her phone and saw a news alert: Minnesota had announced its first case of COVID-19. “Oh, shit,” she thought.

Alex West Steinman, co-founder and CEO of the Coven
Alex West Steinman, co-founder and CEO of the Coven


We’re always living through history, of course, but rarely are we so aware of it. We assume things will more or less carry on tomorrow as they did today. But now the world is abruptly, completely different, and we’re desperately looking for clues about what’s coming next.

Researchers who study how humans perceive the passage of time have found that novelty tends to slow down our experience of it. Monotony, on the other hand, makes it feel as if time has passed quickly, as the brain hasn’t laid down new memories. This is why we experience a car crash in slow motion, but incarcerated people report decades slipping by in a flash.

For many of us here in Minnesota, March felt something like a slow-motion car crash, with each day bringing revelations about the scale of the threat posed by the novel coronavirus and how we would need to respond to it. In contrast, April and most of May slipped by quickly, in a haze of sameness under the governor’s stay-at-home order. The former bonanza of sights and activities packed into each day reduced to steady repetition—the same familiar faces of those we live with, within the same familiar walls.

Even the daily headlines took on a Groundhog Day quality, emphasizing the state’s commitment to ramping up testing while laying out the delays that kept pushing the plan’s execution back. Clarity seemed to recede farther into the distance day by day, even as data accumulated.

And then suddenly we hit warp speed again, as the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin in south Minneapolis on May 25 set off a local response that quickly rippled across the nation. What’s to come remains anyone’s guess. But if one thing is clear, it’s that we cannot—and should not—go back to the old normal.

It may be near-impossible to actually remember the path the state was on before the pandemic swept it, and more than 1,300 Minnesotans’ lives, away.

So let’s take this opportunity to zoom out. Our spring lockdown brought acts of everyday heroism from frontline workers and volunteers, as well as vocal protests around the duration of the stay-at-home order. And now, there’s a sense that we can expect significant lifestyle changes going forward in our post-pandemic reality, for better or for worse.

Alex West Steinman, co-founder and CEO of the Coven
Alex West Steinman, co-founder and CEO of the Coven


Where We Were

In the early months of 2020, amidst faint but growing warnings of a new respiratory disease emerging in Wuhan, China, the presidential Democratic primary dominated the headlines in the U.S. In the two days leading up to Minnesota’s primary election on March 3, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar both dropped out of the race, and Joe Biden carried the state.

In the Twin Cities, Minneapolis Public Schools unveiled a controversial new plan in January to reduce the number of district magnet schools and redraw community school boundaries. The response from residents was mixed, and the debate seemed certain to rage right up until the vote. (In mid-May, it passed during a virtual meeting.)

Also in January, the biggest potential disruption facing the upcoming Minnesota State Fair—which had packed in a record 2,126,551 guests in 2019—was the addition of metal detectors at the gates. First Avenue rolled out details of 50th-anniversary festivities for summer, and the Guthrie Theater had casts and artistic teams in place for their summer productions of Cabaret and the Pulitzer Prize-winning play Sweat by Lynn Nottage. The Twins were optimistically riding the momentum of last season’s division title into spring training. Dozens of new restaurants, eateries, breweries, and distilleries were in the works across the state, with plans to open in the coming months. The stock market was continuing its record-setting upward climb.

Our calendars were dense with leisure, sports, arts, dining, and travel. All of it would offer much-needed distraction from the usual demands of work, and from the biggest story of the year, which was all but certain to be the hotly contested 2020 presidential election.

When the Wave Hit

Two weeks after the Minnesota Department of Health confirmed the state’s first case of COVID-19, the total cases were 115, and the state saw its first death from the virus. From there, things started moving quickly. Gov. Walz’s stay-at-home order went into effect on March 27, but by then many of us were already staying close to home, venturing out only for groceries, caretaking, or essential work.

Edina graphic designer Heather Lane developed “Thank U”
Edina graphic designer Heather Lane developed “Thank U”
yard signs to honor frontline workers


Between mid-March and early June, more than 750,000 Minnesotans filed for unemployment—more than triple the total claims filed in all of 2019. The economic impact of the pandemic fell disproportionately on people of color: Thirty-two percent of Black people in the state’s labor force applied for unemployment, compared with 25% of Hispanic workers, 22% of Asian workers, and 18% of white people.

Seemingly no industry was spared, from hospitality to manufacturing to media. The Minnesota Council of Nonprofits reported that its members lost an estimated $1 billion in revenue in April. Outstate and Twin Cities-area weeklies folded after steep and sudden drop-offs in advertising revenue. There were pay cuts at the Star Tribune, and both Minnesota Public Radio and the St. Paul Pioneer Press offered staff buyouts.

Poultry and pork processing plants throughout the state faced closures and uncertain futures. The Austin-based Hormel Foods halted production at two of its factories in outstate Minnesota for at least two weeks. A JBS pork-processing plant in Worthington closed indefinitely after hundreds of workers tested positive for the virus. At a Pilgrim’s Pride chicken plant in Cold Spring, workers called for the facility to be closed for a two-week deep cleaning after nearly 200 cases were confirmed among the plant’s employees.

Closures have gutted dining and hospitality. For hotels that remained open, occupancy has dipped precipitously. Hospitality Minnesota—an association of 2,000 hotels, restaurants, resorts, and craft brewers throughout the state—said that, without government assistance, half of its members could close by this summer. Among the Twin Cities’ losses by the end of May: the award-winning Bachelor Farmer restaurant in the North Loop, Chicago Avenue’s El Burrito Mercado, Muddy Waters on Lyndale Avenue, and Pazzaluna in St. Paul.

How We Responded

In the midst of the economic gut punch, Minnesotans, businesses, and institutions are digging deep to keep themselves and their neighbors safe in bold and creative ways. There is bravery and compassion on the front lines from first responders, and from those working in essential healthcare, retail, delivery, janitorial, and public safety roles.

A shortage in personal protective equipment (PPE) and other supplies for frontline workers has led to efforts large and small. Costume shops at the Guthrie Theater and the Minnesota Opera have sewn masks to donate to healthcare organizations. And local designers, such as Sarah Butala of Strey Designs and Maggie Thompson of Makwa Studio, pivoted to creating and selling masks, with proceeds from sales helping to enable mask donations to health clinics and vulnerable community members. Minnesota distilleries, including Tattersall Distilling and Du Nord Craft Spirits, have started producing alcohol-based hand sanitizer instead of spirits.

Meanwhile, Minnesota’s status as a national leader in health innovations and care propelled us to the forefront in the battle against COVID-19. 3M ramped up production of N95 respirator masks and ventilators, helping to meet an urgent national need for medical-grade protection for healthcare professionals. Medtronic innovated new ventilation technology that allows caregivers to monitor and adjust ventilators remotely, limiting the possibility of virus transmission between patients and healthcare providers. And Mayo Clinic took a leading role in working toward vaccine development, gene therapies, and other potential treatments for the disease.

Scores of Mayo Clinic doctors offered telemedicine assistance to intensive care unit providers at NewYork-Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital as it was inundated with COVID-19 patients. Mayo specialists used secure audio-video connections—plus access to patient records, lab tests, bedside monitors, and X-ray images—to bring their expertise in critical care medicine to one of the country’s hardest-hit hotspots. The University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic also came together to ramp up what Gov. Walz dubbed Minnesota’s “moonshot” testing capacity, with a goal of performing 20,000 tests throughout the state each day. (The state regularly hit 10,000 daily tests by early June.)

Second Harvest Heartland, the region’s largest food bank, launched Minnesota Central Kitchen and teamed up with Twin Cities restaurants and caterers to distribute 10,000 meals daily to local hunger-relief programs. And organizations such as St. Stephen’s, the Cultural Wellness Center, and Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis redoubled efforts to keep Minnesota’s most vulnerable residents fed, clothed, sheltered, and well.

Groups are bonding together to protect the arts and hospitality industries. Dayna Frank, CEO of Minneapolis’ First Avenue nightclub, heads the board of the new National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), which is fighting to secure emergency government aid for its more than 1,000 U.S. music venue members. Meanwhile, the Twin Cities Restaurant Coalition has assembled our best chefs to brainstorm ideas for long-term sustainability for restaurants. Springboard for the Arts, a community development organization based in St. Paul, has emerged as a national leader in raising and distributing emergency funds for artists who lost work due to the pandemic, and for the Black Lives Matter movement after George Floyd’s killing in late May.

Small businesses pivoted to delivery, curbside, or virtual services. At the Coven, Steinman and her co-founders kept their community connected when their two physical locations temporarily closed in March. Within 24 hours of launching a pay-what-you-can digital membership, 50 new members had signed up. That number eventually grew to more than 500, reflecting the hunger people are feeling for a sense of community in the midst of physical distancing. In the wake of Floyd’s death, the Coven’s digital offerings held space for the community to process grief and trauma, and its physical locations collected supplies for affected neighborhoods.

The New Normal

There’s no way to know what the new normal will look like, or when it will arrive. By all indications, a long, slow process of reorienting to new economic and social realities is ahead. Seeing and wearing masks is becoming common. For many, telework is here to stay. Easy, frequent hugs and handshakes may be a thing of the past. Social distancing guidelines seem likely to linger well into next year, or beyond. Our neighborhoods need to heal.

Artist Maggie Thompson of Makwa Studio is selling and donating face masks
Artist Maggie Thompson of Makwa Studio is selling and donating face masks


The Minnesota Historical Society is collecting and preserving Minnesotans’ personal experiences of the COVID-19 crisis. The community-sourced digital collection of stories and images, called History Is Now, might show future generations how the pandemic affected our lives. (To read others’ stories or submit one of your own, visit

Businesses and organizations are recalibrating. Major League Baseball is weighing options for a shortened season with empty stadiums. Colleges and primary schools are making decisions about when in-person classes might resume. For now, large summer gatherings, like Fourth of July parades, are being canceled, and the Minnesota State Fair has been called off for the first time since the polio epidemic of 1946. We are processing the protests that began in late May. Will we all vote through the mail in November?

Many want a fresh start. Progressives hope to rebuild so the pandemic’s disproportionate economic and medical impact on communities of color doesn’t exacerbate inequality. They’re rallying around policies mandating paid sick leave, a livable minimum wage, and greater housing and food security for low-income residents. Environmentalists hope a glimpse of clearer air, while commuting was on pause, inspires bold initiatives.

Like some other Minnesotans, Steinman and her husband are looking at each other during these days of quarantine and thinking, We haven’t been home this much in years. “My yard is amazing,” she notes. “I’ve got a great garden going, and the house has never been cleaner. I get to see my kids all day. We’ve got nothing but time; we’re not rushing to anything. I want to take elements of this with us into whatever this new world is.”

At the same time, she and her co-founders are busy planning the new safety measures that will allow the Coven’s two locations to reopen, including new design elements and protocols.

“We get to be a leader in what workspace design looks like,” she says. “That’s part of the craziness of being an entrepreneur: You can be equal parts dreading what’s to come and excited about what you can help shape.”




Queer disobedience: A history of pride and protest in Minnesota

Queer disobedience: A history of pride and protest in Minnesota

Photo: Emily-Utne

Thank you to our models: Frozaen Pissás, BE., Noah Lawrence-Holder, Raquelle, Puffy, Victor Samuels Farmah, Tatum Vanyo, Sterling Miller, Dom Dates, and New Black City dance group: Mimi Solis, Destiny Anderson, Zhane Jackson, Luis Nufio, Lydia Jones, and Mary Hayes.


Remember: The first Pride was a riot.

It wasn’t sponsored by Walmart and Coca Cola. Comcast didn’t wave a rainbow flag. There certainly wasn’t a Wells Fargo float.

That first Pride, in 1969, was an uprising led by queer people of color. It was a rebellion, and it began with a police raid on a New York City gay bar that was a home to many of the queer community’s most marginalized members: homeless youth, Black trans women. There were six nights of unrest. It was a turning point for the gay rights movement.

Plenty of people have been quick to condemn the protests that followed George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis police. Burning buildings isn’t the “right” way to do it, they say. Smashing windows doesn’t “actually” do anything.

But the riots at Stonewall are just one example that shows: It works. So this year, to celebrate Pride, we’re taking a look back at some of the queer acts of civil and not-so-civil disobedience that have transformed the Twin Cities.


1. FREE and the fight to end workplace discrimination

Minneapolis became the first city in the country to pass a non-discrimination ordinance in 1975, thanks in part to Twin Cities activists—including members of the student group FREE (Fight Repression of Erotic Expression)—who had been advocating for fair employment practices for years.

One of FREE’s first major actions came in 1970, when the State Services Radio for the Blind fired a man named Thom Higgins after he told his boss he was gay. About 30 people picketed Higgins’s employer, in an act Minnesota Historical Society historian Noah Barth, who made a documentary about the radical queer student group, calls “somewhat revolutionary.”

“It’s coming a year now—a little under a year—after Stonewall. So pretty early on, but also, like, in Minnesota,” Barth says. There were other groups advocating for gay rights at the time, but not a lot of that work was happening in the Upper Midwest.

Even within FREE, Barth says, there was uncertainty about how to protest. The group had its “radical hippie types,” but also more moderate members of the gay establishment who thought it was better to go by the book: write petitions, study law, run for office. “They thought they would scare people with direct action.”

“They were trying to identify what a gay rights movement would look like,” Barth says. “It’s 1970. They’re defining it as they go. They know what other movements look like, but this is not like other movements… they were afraid of alienating a lot of the people that would contribute to their organization by doing something so public and so abrasive.”

But other public efforts toward ending job discrimination followed. For a campaign to bar anti-gay companies from recruiting at the U, FREE sent out letters to employers throughout Minnesota asking if they’d hire an openly gay person. One of those employers was Honeywell, which said: Nope. “They put so much pressure on… that eventually Honeywell yields,” Barth says.

And there was a rally for Mike McConnell, who married FREE president Jack Baker in 1971, making them the first legally married same-sex couple in the history of the United States. McConnell, who had been hired by the U of M libraries, had his offer rescinded by the board of regents when they found out. So FREE demonstrated again, this time in front of Morrill Hall.

That hall, it should be noted, has historically hosted powerful acts of dissent. In 1969, Black students occupied Morrill to protest institutional racism at the U, eventually leading to the founding of the African American and African Studies Department (one of the nation’s first). Most recently, it’s where students gathered to get Minneapolis Police off campus.

Anita Bryant, post-pie

Anita Bryant, post-pie


2. The pie-ing of Anita Bryant

It’s one of the most satisfying two-minute clips on YouTube. Notorious anti-gay activist Anita Bryant is on a panel in Des Moines discussing her work to end protections for “the homosexuals.” Out of nowhere, a fruit pie flies across the screen, splattering all over her bigoted face.

This is in 1977, and the “Save Our Children” campaign is in full swing. The group wanted to overturn new laws around the nation protecting gay people from discrimination, and Bryant—a former beauty queen and Christian singer who was also the face of Florida Orange Juice—was its most prominent spokesperson. “She had a kind of celebrity that was very much tied to conservative, right Christians,” explains Kevin Murphy, one of the editors of Queer Twin Cities.


“At the center of their agenda was this idea that gay men, especially, would recruit children,” Murphy explains. “They can’t procreate by themselves, so they need to increase their numbers through recruitment.” (They were also early proponents of the whole, “if we let men marry each other, where does it end—with people marrying Saint Bernards?” line of thought.) Save Our Children was working to reverse ordinances around the country that protected gay rights, and with some success: They helped overturn a Miami-Dade County law that banned discrimination in areas like housing and employment.

One of the places Bryant targeted was St. Paul, which had passed civil protections on the basis of sexual preference in 1974. A Twin Cities gay rights group called the Target City Coalition didn’t love that. “They were radical in the way they protested—you could see the kind of street, performative politics… Target City Coalition believed in the kind of protesting that would get a lot of media attention and public attention through spectacle,” Murphy says. And what better way to do that than with pie?

“Pie-ing is spectacular, right?” Murphy laughs. “It’s an act that gets attention, it has some humor, there’s an element of camp. It’s in the tradition of throwing cream pie in people’s faces that comes from, like, the Three Stooges, and vaudeville. It’s made for media culture.”

Thom Higgins wasn’t just the poster boy for workplace non-discrimination… he’s also the activist who splattered Bryant with pie. Thom and co. did a few famous pie-ings—they pied the Catholic Archbishop of Minnesota, to somewhat mixed public reaction—but this one was huge.

“That clip was featured on Saturday Night Live, in the Weekend Update segment. It immediately got a lot of attention,” Murphy says. “And that clip, in the age of the internet, it’s circulated so widely that it’s become influential on its own.”

Again, there was concern within activist groups that the tactic was inadvisable, that embracing radical queer politics would turn people against their cause. And in fact, Save Our Children did manage to overturn protections for gay people in St. Paul.

“In the immediate sense, it was not successful,” Murphy said. “In the longer-term sense, though, it was very successful, in that if politics are debated and understood within the realm of popular culture, then finding ways to engage the media and popular culture in protest can be very effective.”

3. The creation of the Women’s Studies Department at the University of Minnesota

In the mid-1960s, Toni McNaron was a professor in the English Department at the U of M. It was a time of great protest—for the establishment of ethnic studies and women’s studies departments, against the Vietnam war—and there was a lot of talk about whether or not feminism needed to formally come to the university.

“That interested me, because I had been going to study groups, both lesbian and plain-old feminism, around the city with other people,” McNaron says today.

A group of grad students asked McNaron if she’d polish up their proposal to establish women’s studies at the university and take it to the academic powers in place. She gathered a few faculty members who were willing to help show the enthusiasm was there, and… it worked. Sort of.

“We got approved as a program,” McNaron says—but not as a department. “Now, what you need to know is that was how the university generally thought it could say ‘yes’ to something, but it would go away eventually because there wouldn’t be enough support.”

Students asked McNaron if she would be the first women’s studies… “person,” McNaron chuckles. “You couldn’t be called a chair, because you didn’t have a department.” They gave her a desk in a room in the college of liberal arts and “about a third of a secretary’s time.” And then, she began trying to find a list of dates for when she had to have course descriptions in.

“If there had not been incredible support by a lot of secretarial staff, we never would have made it past the first year.” McNaron says she would get phone calls saying the deadline had passed, but the secretaries wouldn’t tell anyone. “There were all these marvelous staff women who saw in this thing something that had to do with them.”

And the minute courses opened, they were full. Within two years the “program” became a department; in another two, it was allowed to have a major and a minor rather than a concentration. And shortly after that, it became the first non-coastal graduate women’s studies program in the country.

“What began to happen is the lesbian component of this bunch of people began understanding that it wasn’t enough to have just a week, or a book, or a couple of books—that there really needed to be something that began to raise more complicated issues,” McNaron says. At the time, she was still closeted. Not in her personal life; she’d meet with out groups to talk about and share ideas. “But at the university, I was petrified.”

When she taught “Introduction to Women’s Studies,” she’d refer to lesbians as “they.” But eventually, with the support of her friends (and after making the decision to get sober), she came out in front of a class.

“I have a feeling no more than about 15 of them even heard the difference when I said ‘lesbians, we,’” McNaron says. “But I heard the difference, and my friends heard the difference, and it was an incredibly important moment for me.” She started working to bring more queer ideas to campus, and told the English Department she wanted to teach lesbian literature.

McNaron was the first out professor at the university, followed shortly by Allan Spear, who became one of the first openly gay Americans in elected office in 1974. McNaron is now a professor emeritus of English at the U and the author of several books, including Poisoned Ivy—which is about lesbophobic and homophobic bullying in academia.

McDonald, left, and Minneapolis City Councilwoman Andrea Jenkins take selfies together at a 2016 fundraiser.

McDonald, left, and Minneapolis City Councilwoman Andrea Jenkins take selfies together at a 2016 fundraiser.Star Tribune


4. The Free CeCe Movement

The movement to free CeCe McDonald was a seminal moment in trans history and activism—not just in the Twin Cities, but around the world.

“I think one of the cool things about the CeCe McDonald story is… it really helped, I think, create some intersectionality between the Black Lives Matter movement and the trans rights movement,” says Minneapolis City Council member Andrea Jenkins, the first Black openly transgender woman elected to public office in the United States.

It was in June 2011, around midnight, and CeCe, a Black trans woman, was walking with friends to the Cub on East Lake Street. Outside of the Schooner Tavern—right by the Third Precinct, Jenkins notes—they encountered a group of people who hurled racist and transphobic slurs at them.

“They were pretty lit up. And they were white supremacists. I mean, one guy had a swastika tattooed on his chest,” Jenkins says. They started throwing punches; one slashed CeCe across the face.

At the time, CeCe was a fashion design student at MCTC, so she had a pair of scissors in her backpack—“not to mention that Black transgender women need to be able to protect themselves.” And, well. The man, Dean Schmitz, died of stab wounds to his chest.

“Literally, this is the same time George Zimmerman is on trial for claiming to ‘stand his ground’ against Trayvon Martin,” Jenkins explains. “It was literally the same time. But here in Minnesota, Mike Freeman, the county attorney who’s still county attorney now, said that CeCe had a duty to retreat.

CeCe was charged with two counts of second-degree murder. She was convicted of second-degree manslaughter and sentenced to 41 months. And she was sent to a men’s correctional facility in St. Cloud.

“But that sparked an international movement around trans rights,” Jenkins says. LGBTQ organizations around the country wrote letters to Mike Freeman in support of CeCe. One of the most famous trans people at the time, the revolutionary activist Leslie Feinberg, took up the cause, and was arrested for spray-painting “Free CeCe Now” on the Hennepin County Courthouse. Laverne Cox made a documentary about her struggle.

“CeCe led that,” Jenkins says. “From jail. She sparked her own movement.” And on January 13, 2014, she was released, after serving 19 months. (Cox was among those who greeted her at prison; she later says she envisioned her Orange Is the New Black character as an homage to CeCe.)

“CeCe was a survivor,” Jenkins says. “So far 15 trans women this year have not survived. They have been killed. Twenty-eight trans women last year. Twnety-six the year before that. The numbers just keep rising. One hundred and seventy-two trans people have been murdered since 2013, and 73 percent have been black. The violence is real.”

Black trans woman Iyanna Dior was just brutally beaten in St. Paul during the protests, as people stood around watching and filming the attack.

“The statement that Black Lives Matter—it has to be all Black lives,” Jenkins says. “Transgender people are Black lives. We have lots of work ahead of us.”

Scenes from the first Gay Pride Block Party

Scenes from the first Gay Pride Block PartyTom Sweeny


5. Gay Pride v. the City of Minneapolis

“It is hardly known —except by a few scholars and those who lived through the events—that in 1980 and 1981 a small group of determined persons in Minneapolis fought, and eventually won, the right to hold a Gay Pride block party on the city’s leading thoroughfare over the opposition of almost the entire Minneapolis political establishment.”

So civil liberties lawyer Norman Dorsen writes in the instantly grabbing preface to Jason Smith’s 2011 book Gay Pride v. The City of Minneapolis.

As Dorsen notes, the story is simple enough. Local gay rights organizations wanted to hold a parade on Hennepin. The city repeatedly denied their requests, even though other groups and businesses had been allowed to shut down the street for their causes and companies over the years. Activists went up against the city, and on Friday, June 26, 1981, following an “exhausting three-year struggle in a federal courtroom,” the city’s first Gay Pride Block Party was held.

“I was nervous that night, but also tremendously excited,” recalls Claude Peck, a Minneapolis-based writer and editor and Target City Coalition member who fought in favor of the party at the time. “After years when gay men gathered mainly in windowless gay bars, this giant celebration took place outside, on Hennepin, where the Aquatennial and dozens of other groups had been granted permits.”

Peck remembers that they didn’t have a ton of planning time between the favorable ruling and the event itself, which meant a lot of it was organized and publicized at the last minute. “I rented a flatbed truck, literally tied the punk band Urban Guerillas onto the back of it with their equipment, and drove around the corner from Fourth Street onto Hennepin Avenue in front of the Gay 90’s,” he says.

It sounds like a lot of fun, right? And it was! Peck remembers the crowd going wild, the music, the passionate speeches by Brad Golden of Target City Coalition and Matt Stark, the “pugnacious heterosexual MCLU director who by then had led several other landmark court fights for gay rights in Minnesota, often without the support of DFLers.” (In fact, it was the DFL-controlled Minneapolis City Council that had been blocking Block Party permits for years.)

But the event was a lot more than just a big party on Hennepin. In his book, Smith argues that this was a turning point in gay rights organizing in the Upper Midwest and a factor in shifting public attitudes about homosexuality and civil rights.

“On one side of the issue were Gay activists and their straight allies and supporters who wanted immediate recognition and support of their rights by society and its institutions of power,” Smith writes. “On the other side were City Council members who opposed any recognition of Gay rights, and conservative Gay leaders who favored a ‘go-slow’ approach that they hoped would, little by little, lead to greater acceptance of Gay men and Lesbians by society.”

As Peck puts it: “The party was also a precedent.”

Claude Peck

Claude Peck


6. The quiet revolution of POC queer community-building

Something you’ll quickly notice about the written and recorded queer history of the Twin Cities is that it’s very, very white.

Jason Jackson remembers looking for Black queer history and talking to Stewart van Cleve, author of Land of 10,000 Loves: A History of Queer Minnesota. “Me being bold, I was like, ‘I’m kind of curious to know what were you able to find around Black queer history in the Twin Cities?’ And he was like, ‘Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of information.’”

Jackson, who’s now a Diversity and Inclusion Consultant at HealthPartners, knew that just because the information wasn’t readily available, that didn’t mean it didn’t exist. So he started looking into the hidden Black queer history of the Twin Cities, digging into the archives and hunting down old news stories. Eventually, he put together a project called “Unheard Voices: Black LGBT History in the Twin Cities.” (It’s available today in the U of M’s Tretter Collection in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Studies.)

“I started to ask myself the question: What is Black, queer Minnesota? What are the stories I wouldn’t know about the place I now call home?” Jackson asks. “Where are their faces? Where are their voices? Where were they?”

Jackson explains that much of Minnesota’s early Black queer organizing is the kind of stuff that didn’t make it into periodicals. “These organizations may have not had 501c3s, you know?” Jackson explains. “They were kitchen-table organizations. Who’s going to give us a 501c3 for Black Pride in the ’80s?” They were more like social support networks, fundraising and hosting events, sure, but also lifting each other up and making one another feel heard.

One of those groups was Taranga, which became a space for Black queer men just to be in community with each other. Black men were still targets of discrimination within the gay community in the late ’80s and early ’90s (and, let’s be honest, are to this day). Jackson heard from men who were routinely asked to show three pieces of ID to get into gay bars, who were hassled in ways their white counterparts weren’t.

There was also the organization Men of Color, which Jackson describes as “the welcome wagon”—if you were a gay person of color who moved to town in the ’90s, they’d know about it, and make sure someone reached out, came to visit, made you feel part of the community.

Then there was the group Women of Color Stirfry. “It was social and philanthropical, in a way,” recalls Stirfry’s Rosanna Hudgins. “We wanted to give back to community… it was a way to connect with other queer folks of color, and we tried to give back to community in whatever way we could.”

Some of those donations went toward producing My Girlfriend Did It , a groundbreaking film produced by Casa de Esperanza that’s one of the first training videos on on woman-to-woman intimate partner violence. Hudgins was also the statewide coordinator for same-sex domestic violence for the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault—the only person of color on the staff—and the video has been lauded for its focus on racial diversity and lesbian point of view in 1995. Hudgins is also responsible for bringing Audre Lorde to speak at a women’s studies conference at the U.

This kind of activism doesn’t have the spectacle of tossing a pie in someone’s face, doesn’t have the flair of a parade down Hennepin. Black activists in the movement’s early days had to work within systems that were safe, that worked for them. Because to even be queer and a person of color is radical.

“I remember segregation,” says Hudgins. Growing up in Kansas City, “We were taught as kids, if we were playing outside, if you saw a bunch of white people coming your way to split and run. Kids would disappear. Adults would disappear. They’d turn up dead somewhere.”

“Queer black people and queer people of color—having to push up against racism within the queer community, and homo- and transphobia within all communities—we always find ways to take care of ourselves and each other,” Jackson says. “It feels really authentic, it feels like when I ask you how are you, I actually mean how are you? It means I’m going to take care of you, because I see you in myself.”

“It’s not going to get on the cover of Time magazine, and that’s okay. That’s not the point. The point is to survive.”

by Emily Cassel in Arts & Leisure


Let’s Go North: Boundary Waters Canoe Area – Saq Lake

Let’s Go North: Boundary Waters Canoe Area – Saq Lake

VOYAGEUR CANOE OUTFITTERS: A Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Outfitter and Resort

Where the Trail Ends Your Voyage Begins… For all of your Boundary Waters Canoe Area and Quetico Park outfitting needs choose Voyageur Canoe Outfitters. Located on the edge of the BWCA with direct access to Saganaga from our dock on the Seagull River…


…Voyageur Canoe Outfitters is conveniently located on the edge of the most beautiful, lake based and paddle only wilderness in the world. Our location on Saganaga Lake and the Seagull River (BWCAW entry point #55), allows for a relaxed atmosphere prior to your BWCA Wilderness canoe trip adventure.  Upon arriving at this magnificent lakefront setting, a feeling of tranquility and peace will begin to develop within you. The beauty of the BWCA Wilderness natural wilderness and its exceptionally fresh air will cause you to breathe a deep sigh of relief, as the cares of your daily world begins to melt away.

The Voyageur Crew is here to introduce our guests to the special joy of wilderness paddling. Relaxing at a campsite, enjoying the abundant wildlife, and paddling the crystal clear lakes of the BWCAW (while hopefully catching a fish or two) are just a few of our favorite things to do in this life of ours at the end of the Gunflint Trail.   Once you paddle through Voyageur we believe you will never want to outfit anywhere else. We are confident that you will completely enjoy your time with us and we guarantee your satisfaction. Think about it, life is too short and vacations are even shorter. It makes the best sense to go with a sure thing.

Your vacation is our livelihood. Voyageur Canoe Outfitters was born from the sheer love of sharing wilderness adventures with people like you.  Our lives are devoted to creating the very finest experiences in the industry, which we have perfected since 1961. The BWCA Wilderness is our playground and we are dying to share it with you. Canoeing is streamlined to maximize your bird and wildlife sightings and the experience will only help you relish this natural world even more. The Voyageur Crew is made up of charismatic adventurers who are knowledgeable, committed to your safety, and devoted to giving you memories you will treasure for life. Best of all, our respect for the wild moose, fish, eagles and loons extends to our camping and cabin practices. We operate under the strictest, ‘Leave-No-Trace’ ethics. Even our Base Camp package remains eco-friendly without permanent structures or fueled devices, so you can enjoy the wildlife without harming their habitat. Rest assured that on a VCO trip, you would leave this special world as pristine as you found it.

The Spirit of the Voyageur is something we at Voyageur believe strongly in. The kind of adventure where you become in tune with nature and every moment is breathtaking.  Listening to the call of the wild, laughing around an evening campfire, or paddling past a majestic moose are just some of the wonderful things you can experience here in the beautiful and vast BWCAW or Quetico Park. Let the spirit of the Voyageur call you to where the Gunflint Trail ends and your Voyage begins.


Summer Guide 2020: Rebuilding, Education, Nourishment, Lifting Up

Summer Guide 2020: Rebuilding, Education, Nourishment, Lifting Up

Citypages: We’ve joked in the past that summer is canceled. But in reality, this could be the most important summer of our lives. Things in the Twin Cities already looked vastly different in the throes of COVID-19. But after the police killing of George Floyd and the following protests and riots, the next few months are crucial. With that in mind, this year’s summer guide is focused on rebuilding, education, nourishment, and lifting up Black organizations.


Ready to rebuild? These groups and businesses could use your help

Black-owned/run arts orgs in the Twin Cities to support right now (and always)

Black-owned restaurants in the Twin Cities to support right now (and always)

GoFundThem: Where to donate to save Twin Cities restaurants

Farmers markets

Classes and workshops

Photos by Hammed Akindele @flytouchstudio

Colorful figure mural by Jose Dominguez @hozay_dmngz

Butterfly mural by Andres Guzman

Special thanks to our models:

Jasir Sadeen
Taliyah Letexier
Alexianna Cherry
J. Morgan



Healing Community: Uptown Association – Minneapolis, MN

Healing Community: Uptown Association – Minneapolis, MN


So many of our artists are out there adding their expression to all the plywood in place. More to come!!! You can also help with donations at:


The Uptown Association’s mission is to improve the economic vitality and sustainability of Uptown through collaboration and partnerships.



RIP: Justice for George – Minneapolis, MN

RIP: Justice for George – Minneapolis, MN


Pin It on Pinterest