2010 Pride Awards

by Russell Remmick

This past year, the GLBT community locally, nationally, and internationally has seen great changes—some for the better, others for the worse.

Some countries around the world removed their laws discriminating against homosexuals, while others enacted stricter ones. Some went so far as to decree the punishment of death for those convicted of being nothing more than who they were born to be.

Nationwide, we’ve seen antigay laws lifted in many states, with our neighbor to the south, Iowa, the first—and so far only—Midwestern one to legalize gay marriage. A major step forward turned into a major step backward when California rescinded marriage equality at the polls.

Our federal government now speaks of repealing the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell military policy, which would be a major victory for all GLBT service members who fight to protect the very rights denied them—and do so honorably.

In the Twin Cities, we still are battling for fairness in our very homes: to legalize our commitment to our lovers, our life partners, our husbands or wives—whatever one calls them. In this struggle, we stand proud, letting no one tell us our way of love is anything less than that of heterosexuals.

It’s a contest for equality in the eyes of the law, our friends, our families, our coworkers. It’s for all those who fear they don’t have a voice of their own. It’s for our pride to say we are: Gay. Lesbian. Bisexual. Transgender.

In each Pride Edition, Lavender spotlights just a few of the people and companies standing proudly with us. Since 2003, we have given six awards annually to help others see the good done by and for our community. These individuals and organizations have helped us make our voices heard, and achieve equality in ways that may not be perfect, but have helped us move toward our goal of full rights for GLBT people in Minnesota.

Lavender’s PRIDE (People, Rallying, Individuality, Diversity, and Equality) Awards are bestowed on six individuals or organizations that, in the past year, have proclaimed they are proud of who they are and what they do. It is never easy for anyone or any group to stand out from the crowd, but that is exactly what they have done.

We at Lavender thank these six awardees. But let’s not just thank them. Rather, thank everyone you know, whether it’s your lover, your friend, your family, your employer, or even a stranger. Thank them when they join our fight for equality—no matter how big or how small their contribution may be.

If you know of, or encounter during the coming year, an exceptional individual or group you’d like to nominate for the 2011 PRIDE Awards, e-mail that person’s (organization’s) name and contact information, along with a brief description of what makes that person (organization) a deserving candidate, to [email protected]

by Terrance Griep

A Lavender PRIDE Award is all about standing up for the GLBT community. But a community can’t exist—even begin to exist—without communication. And that’s where Comcast—winner of a Lavender PRIDE Award this year—comes in. Communication is Comcast’s first and foremost function.

Comcast is the biggest cable operator and the largest home Internet service provider in the United States. As such, it supplies cable television, broadband Internet, and telephone service to an information-hungry public. Comcast is a presence in 39 states and Washington, DC.

Wherever it has set up shop, Comcast has distinguished itself via exemplary community involvement, ranging from sponsorship of the 2010 Winter Olympics to the smallest local charity.

Comcast supports the Logo and here! networks, which provide GLBT-oriented programming on cable television and the Internet.

In fact, even the fairly specialized GLBT demographic market has grown more specialized. Last fall, Comcast Spotlight—the advertising sales division of the corporation—launched the Gay Travel on Demand Channel, which focuses the spectrum of GLBT attention on homoerotic adventures. So far, it includes virtual tours of Chicago and Halifax, Nova Scotia, among others.

These programming options are part of what led the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) to give Comcast an impressive 95 out of 100 on its Buyers Guide, which offers information to socially concerned consumers who want to vote with their pink dollars. It takes into account hiring practices that include banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity; providing benefits for GLBT employees and their families; and supporting GLBT equality.

Comcast’s high score is no accident, according to Mary Beth Schubert, Regional Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs.

Schubert says, “As a company, we are committed to diversity in our employment practices, our purchasing decisions, our programming, and our community investment.”

Comcast consistently is rated as a top workplace for anyone, gay or straight, earning kudos from such relevant publications as the Boston Globe, CableFAX, and Black Enterprise Magazine.

Perhaps one reason Comcast is such an unapologetic supporter of GLBT causes is that, like our community with whom it connects, Comcast often finds itself largely misunderstood by the outside world.

Schubert explains, “Comcast is sometimes viewed as an ‘old-fashioned’ cable television company only. However, that view is from yesteryear, as Comcast means so much more today.”

Further, Comcast is on the cuspy vanguard of multiple communication media.

Schubert details, “We provide the fastest Internet speeds in the Twin Cities. We also provide digital-quality home-phone service. And, we’re the industry leader when it comes to digital-TV viewing choice, with hundreds of channels, and thousands more viewing options with Comcast On Demand. We have created a cutting-edge, high-tech, integrated telecommunications platform for Twin Cities consumers.”

Despite its interstate reach, Comcast is careful to make each of its local affiliations feel, well, local—particularly where hiring is concerned.

Schubert relates, “We serve the entire Twin Cities and surrounding communities. There’s no cherry picking. It’s essential that our workforce and our supplier partnerships mirror our community.”

So serious is Comcast’s commitment to these modern principles that it maintains and analyzes meticulous records before, during, and after the employment of a given individual.

Schubert states, “We measure employee retention, and build strategies around increasing employee retention for all. Additionally, we offer inclusion training for all leaders to ensure they embrace the differences represented by our employee population.”

The idea, of course, is to make employment as pleasant—and, therefore, as productive—as possible.

Schubert remarks, “When we talk to job applicants, they are often surprised at the wonderful benefits we offer, including our standing tradition of medical insurance for same-sex domestic partners.”

Comcast, like the GLBT community writ large, understands that improving its people—its customers and clients, its employees and leaders—ultimately will improve the company.

As Schubert affirms, “We believe that a workplace for employees and suppliers free from discrimination and harassment is not enough. We are committed to setting an example, actively providing complete opportunities for all in order to reach our full potential.”

It Doesn’t Define Us
by Kolina Cicero

Young filmmakers Bruce Meyers and Gordon Severson are the masterminds behind It Doesn’t Define Us. This feature-length documentary highlights the overall movement for human rights as American citizens, specifically focusing on the GLBT community.

It Doesn’t Define Us is about the struggles of Minnesotans, and their journey down the coming-out path—an illustration of the reality that GLBT rights are not equal, despite the endless battle. The film is a step in the right direction, however, increasing awareness, and encouraging others to fight for their rights.

The idea for this film came about after Severson walked in a Pride Parade in Minneapolis. Stunned by the size of the Twin Cities GLBT community, he immediately wanted to learn more about the issues it was dealing with.

At first, the film was a small project with no grand plans, but it quickly became a full-fledged documentary that became a passion for both filmmakers. The two had worked together previously as students at St. Cloud State University. That led Severson to contact Meyers, bringing him on to be in charge of the look of the film. At this point, the piece only was supposed to be three to five minutes.

However, Meyers says, “One thing led to another, and we would interview one person, and they would refer us to another person. Eventually, we had over 40 interviews and about 100 hours of footage.”

Like the shooting of any film, occasional setbacks and moments of discouragement ensued, but the directors always had a reason to keep going with it.

Severson explains, “The more people we met and worked with in our film, the more we needed to finish the project. Once you see how much this film can impact people’s lives, it’s nearly impossible to give up.”

It Doesn’t Define Us is made up of four parts, each of which focuses on a different set of current issues in the GLBT community: coming out; media portrayals; political and public policy; and a true-life story of a Minneapolis-based gay couple.

One of the many topics covered is the problem of poor interpretations and misunderstandings fostered by the media and religion—how influential people in both make way for poor public policy that doesn’t necessarily reflect the beliefs and wishes of the public.

Each filmmaker had his own niche in the process: Meyers in camera and photography, Severson in writing and interviewing.

Both emphasize that the film was a 50/50 project between them. Many friends helped, including narrator Bryan Piatt and photographer/assistant editor Taylor Watts. For all involved, the goal was the same: to get the message out that equal rights are for everyone.

Severson notes, “Regardless of your religion, race, or background, you need to view the LGBT community as people first, and realize that everything they do and want is based on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. People’s fears, religions, or ignorance shouldn’t get in the way of other people’s rights. Everyone needs to educate themselves on both sides of every issue before they can make a decision or their own opinion.”

This film has allowed Meyers to examine his own beliefs, and help confirm that he supports equality for all citizens, regardless of race, sex, or religious belief. It’s important to him, because he has had many friends who have gone through the difficult coming-out process, and have had to deal with the repercussions of admitting the truth.

In Meyers’s words, “Ultimately, it means a lot to me if I am able to help even one person deal with coming out. I just want the film to be a good tool for people to become educated, and then explore gay rights on their own.”

Severson shares, “Creating this film is my proudest achievement, and the experiences Bruce and I have had are priceless. My hope is that one day, my kids or grandkids will look back on this film, and laugh at it, because the arguments against LGBT rights will seem so ridiculous.”

It Doesn’t Define Us, an insightful film about the struggles of the GLBT community in Minnesota, is a must-see for anyone interested in educating himself or herself. One of the main messages the directors wanted to get across is the importance of self-education, and that equal rights should be—obviously—equal. Unfortunately, far too many people reject this view, so the film was produced to prove them wrong.

Visit www.itdoesntdefineusfilm.com to find out where you can watch the documentary.

Minnesota Red Ribbon Ride
by Terrance Griep

Taking in dollars is the first thing most people think of, but if Theresa Fetsch, Executive Director of the Minnesota Red Ribbon Ride (MRRR), has her way, it won’t be the only one.

Fetsch says, “Our primary objective is raising money for the benefiting agencies, obviously, but it’s also raising awareness and reducing stigma. I think there’s still this stigma that AIDS is a ‘gay disease’—and it’s not.”

According to its website at <www.redribbonride.org>, MRRR is “a four-day, 300-mile bike ride” whose primary purpose is raising funds and awareness for HIV/AIDS organizations. The event currently is in its eighth annual incarnation.

The “raising money” part is pretty obvious. Riders are responsible for bringing in funds—$1,500 at a minimum, usually from an amalgam of sponsors, big and small—in order to participate. The moneys are divided among eight Minnesota HIV/AIDS service organizations.

One such group is Clare Housing, which is a comforting quilt of eight different foster homes for people disabled by HIV, one of which, Grace House, fittingly houses the MRRR office. It is here that rocklike theory is ground into a powdery practice, which at times is as heartwarming as it is heartbreaking.

As Fetsch, MRRR’s only paid staff, shares, “Sitting in an office at Grace House has really given me the opportunity to see where the money is going. I get to see the residents every day. I get to interact with them. They come down and visit. I get the best of both worlds. I love working with volunteers and sponsors and civic leaders and the participants and all of their work. Seeing it come to life is just unbelievable. We’re truly helping people.”

MRRR’s good works notwithstanding, the recession has turned the ongoing race for revenue into an uphill pursuit, as Fetsch laments, “So many of the benefiting agencies have suffered from cuts in funding. We need the money more than ever.”

Considering the dearth of money, it’s bitterly ironic that the collective work of the benefiting agencies urgently is required.

Fetsch reports, “2009 experienced a 13 percent increase in HIV in Minnesota. It’s the highest increase in 17 years.”

After the need is established, and the subsequent funds are raised, the ultramarathonic realities of the actual MRRR follow.

This year’s blends traditional green with a trendier green, Fetsch relates: “We’re stepping up our recycling efforts this year, as well. We’re taking little, baby steps with composting, working with our caterer, reducing waste. This year, we reuse, reduce, and recycle.”

While a ride can’t exist without riders, they can’t get under way without the support of a crew. As electronically etched on the MRRR website, the crew is “a team of people that work together like a fine-tuned machine, with respect for one another, and a sense of dignity to make the Minnesota Red Ribbon Ride happen. Crew members travel with the Ride, are with us for the duration, and stay with Riders in camp each night.”

That’s just scratching the surface of the crew’s value, as far as Fetsch is concerned: “The crew is absolutely amazing. They go above and beyond—from before dawn until Midnight. The crew is working tirelessly to put on the effort to support the riders. They support each other. It’s one, big, happy family, really, traveling from site to site.”

All other logistical cracks are filled with volunteers of every stripe, from the people who assist with check-in to those who clean up after the closing ceremonies.

Lavender is awarding MRRR the original cover art of this year’s Pride Edition. Because of the red ink marking the ledgers of the benefiting agencies, it, too, will be transmuted into desperately need cash.

Fetsch speculates on the artwork’s ultimate fate, “I think a silent auction. I think it might be at our victory party. There’ll be a sense of accomplishment and a sense of helping the benefiting agencies. With so many cuts in funding for the benefiting agencies, and the increase in infections, we need the money even more.”

To bid on the artwork, visit eBay, and search for “2010 Lavender Pride Edition Original Artwork.”

MRRR ultimately is a triumph of raised dollars, raised awareness, and raised expectations.

As Fetsch puts it, “The Ride is one of the most amazing events I’ve ever worked on, and I’ve been doing events for 12 years. The passion and commitment behind the Ride is just unbelievable. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

Park Tavern
by Todd Park

The GLBT market is a powerful economic force. We vote with our dollars. We are vocal about supporting brands and companies that give back to us. A positive reputation often is hard-won, but when the word is out, loyalty is definitely a two-way street.

Park Tavern in St. Louis Park is one such business. It’s not only a great place to grab a beer and burger, and bowl a few lanes, but also has proven to be generous by extending its facilities to a number of charitable organizations, including the local Human Rights Campaign (HRC) for its Bowling For Equality fundraisers.

Owner Phil Weber’s philosophy is simple: When people are treated with respect, they come back. That way of doing business indeed has brought customers back time and again. In what has been a down economy for most, Park Tavern’s business definitely is up.

Park Tavern is a welcoming place for the GLBT community—a family place in every sense of the word. From birthday parties for kids to cosmic bowling to corporate events, it literally has something for everyone. In the summer months, the patio is hard to pass up.

More than simply having a successful and inclusive business model that has stood the test of time, Weber has chosen to stay involved in the daily operation. Whether it’s at the bowling counter, the restaurant, or the 11th Frame lounge—a favorite for corporate parties—he often will be the first smiling face a new customer sees upon entering.

Weber says, “What better business is there where the only reason people come to you is to have a good time!”

While Park Tavern certainly is a place for the serious bowler, with clean, modern, and well-maintained facilities, it intentionally is geared toward the recreational crowd. It has leagues, but none officially “sanctioned.”

Park Tavern has undergone a number of transformations in its more than half-century of operation.

Weber recounts that the original establishment at a corner on Minnetonka Boulevard was “an old 3.2 bar. It was a small place, had a 10-item menu, and could hold maybe 75 people.”

In 1979, when the city widened Louisiana Avenue, Park Tavern moved to its current location in the Knollwood area.

Weber took over operation from his father in 1985, and in time, created an entertainment complex that overcame the typical negative stereotypes of bowling “alleys.” In the process, he attracted virtually every segment of the community to its doors.

Offshoots of Park Tavern in Excelsior, Bloomington, and the Minneapolis Lake Calhoun area never quite could create the same atmosphere as the original, even though they were successful. Financially, it was great, but an element of fun was missing. In 1996, Weber spun off the others, devoting all his energy to Park Tavern in St. Louis Park, remodeling the space to its current look.

As Weber explains with the voice of experience, “Anyone can be successful, and you can only be so efficient, but I never want to lose the fun.”

Clearly, Weber is an ally of the GLBT community. While he appreciates the economics of the gay dollar as much as any other business, he has chosen to make Park Tavern a welcoming place for all. He has gone out of his way to support the community in fundraising and by training his staff well.

Weber shares that he enjoys GLBT customers, who historically are generous to the wait staff. He knows that because he treats his gay clientele with the same respect as his other customers, they bring back friends.

Weber remarks, “It all comes down to respect. We provide good service. We’re accommodating.”

It may be a simple and rather modest claim to make, but it is exactly this kind of business that fosters a public environment where people can be themselves, authentically and without fear.

Ready or Not… They’re Gay
by Ed Huyck

For many parents, having a child come out can be a traumatic event. But Paul and Hjordy Wagner of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, found themselves having the talk with both of their sons, several years apart.

Instead of cursing their fate, their world, or just God, the pair of educators embraced their new reality, though it didn’t come without heartache and tears. They took their experiences one step further, collecting their thoughts, observations, and lessons learned into Ready or Not…They’re Gay.

In the book, the Wagners share the story of when their oldest son, Brad, and a few years later, their youngest son, Andrew, came out, and said they were gay. For the mild-mannered Midwestern-to-the-core authors, the changes were immediate. The book, however, germinated for several years before the two began work. Getting the book together was a matter of time.

Hjordy, who worked in several areas in the Eau Claire public schools, including as a media specialist, recalls, “We didn’t have the time when we were teachers. Once we retired, we really had a lot of time to work on it. It took us four years of writing and one year to publish.”

Paul, a physical education teacher for his entire career, recounts that once the idea had solidified, “We brought it in front of the boys. They were on board right away. So, we started to put thoughts on paper, and then, it wouldn’t stop. We knew our situation was not unique, and that this is a tough time for many families.”

When Brad came out, Paul and Hjordy’s first instinct was to find a book to help them deal with it. Now, they’ve added to the growing list of titles geared toward parents, families, and friends of GLBT youth and adults who take the step out of the closet.

Hjordy says, “The need is so much greater than we ever imagined. Based on our experience, there is a lot of work to be done on this issue of acceptance and education. We want to roll up our sleeves and work.”

Writing the book did bring back hard memories—and regrets—according to Hjordy: “I wish I had been a little more active in the school setting. I wish I would have been able to help some of my peers and the kids in school more than I could. I was in the closet a bit. You would pick and choose whom you told. I wish I hadn’t been so protective. I could have helped others.”

Since the book was published, the couple have worked tirelessly to promote it, and to bridge gaps in the community. That has led to some slammed doors, but also to breakthroughs and understanding in different areas. Part of it is that the message is coming from the parents.

Paul relates, “We are able to get in more that way.”

Hjordy adds, “It’s different when a parent is talking, rather than a gay or lesbian person. They are more apt to listen.”

Target areas include middle and high school media centers and churches.

As Hjordy explains, “That’s where we get some of the door-shutting, but we have to roll up our sleeves, and break down the barriers. We find young people are coming to us saying that they’re buying the book for their parents who haven’t gotten through the grief, or don’t understand yet. This way, they can see that there are parents who have gotten through this with a happy ending.”

Along with Paul and Hjordy’s own recollections, the book includes thoughts from Brad and Andy, as well as stories from several other people. The authors hope to collect more of these recollections for a second book, which may be published or collated onto a website.

The key to all this is getting their story—and the message that families continue to thrive—out to as many people as possible. The end goal is to make things better by changing minds.

Paul insists, “People can change, with education and self-drive.”

Hjordy remarks, “We want to be able to walk down the street holding hands, then have our sons and their partners walking with us, holding hands, and no one will take a second look, or point a finger. Then, we will know we are there—we are in a better place.”

For more information about Ready or Not…They’re Gay, visit www.readyornotstories.com.

The Whelihan Experience
by Kolina Cicero

Anthony R. Whelihan’s art could be identified anywhere in the world as easily as that of Salvador Dali. It’s a style so completely Whelihan’s own, with a common flow of colors and overlain screen designs, that if any piece resembled his style, imposter would be written all over it. Luckily for our local community, he uses his undeniable talent for countless good causes.

The reason The Whelihan Experience—rather than simply Whelihan’s Art—is receiving a PRIDE Award is that the former truly is an encounter encompassing more than just the pleasure of viewing one or more works.

According to the artist, The Whelihan Experience is the “time in which you allow your imagination to run free, and your senses to recognize their uniqueness in relation to each other. It is a kaleidoscope of emotion enticed by visual art.”

The Whelihan Experience is available to anyone who has an appreciation for an eclectic piece of art that takes the mind on a road to fantasyland.

The hype that surrounds Whelihan’s work is the reason he is able to be a major supporter of many local—and even national—organizations.

You may have noticed Whelihan’s edgy designs on Lavender’s Pride Editions from 2005 to 2009. His expansive 5,500-square-foot mural on the exterior of the Minneapolis Convention Center is one of the largest on canvas in the world. He was commissioned to do a piece for Disney’s 75th anniversary, as well as the 65th birthday of Donald Duck.

While Whelihan’s style is specific, the variation in his projects is infinite. His medium of choice is watercolor. His gigantic-sized paintings are done by hand, despite their computer-generated look.

Art is something Whelihan has engaged in his entire life. When he was told to paint an apple, he substituted a banana instead. His noncompliance with the art rules in school developed into a success that has defined who he is, not only as an artist, but also as a person. His bubbly spirit is full of energy, passion, and tips for living a life the beautiful way he does his. It’s no wonder that his work turns out to be so unique and beautiful.

Whelihan’s piece of advice to make it in this world: “You’ve got to do charity.”

And Whelihan’s involvement in charities is endless, as he chooses seven each year to contribute to. He donates his art; the organizations host benefits; and in the end, they sell the art. All the money goes to the charity, which is what keeps the artist grounded.

Whelihan observes, “Karma is a wonderful person or a vindictive person. It depends on what you do to her.”

For people like Whelihan, Karma must be on their side, as everyone is putting forth a little extra to contribute to our community.

Whelihan explains, “I try to use my work for fundraising for the many organizations that need to raise funds, as well as awareness.”

Such organizations include The Aliveness Project, The Breast of Broadway, Children’s Hospitals, Irving Berlin on Broadway, The NFL Caring for Kids, PACER, and Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus.

Whelihan’s parents instilled in him at a young age the importance of giving back to the community, which clearly has stuck with him his entire life.

As Whelihan enthuses, “The amazing thing is when you do this something, and the universe opens up…so many wonderful things happen.”

Whelihan attributes his success in the art world to the people he associates himself with, whether it be his friends, or children in the PACER program. Having worked with the latter for 15 years, he has developed a strong fondness that resulted in Creative Kids of PACER, a workshop for children with disabilities to learn to paint, draw, and the like.

Whelihan has produced more commissioned pieces for famous people in the United States than even artists such as Andy Warhol and Peter Max, two icons who set the scene for their time. Although his work is widespread, Whelihan remains devoted to the Twin Cities community and his selected charities, among which are GLBT groups.

As Whelihan remarks, “I take pride in the gay community. If there weren’t gays, there would be no culture, no theater, no art, no nothing.”

Whelihan shares that his favorite work is whatever he is about to embark on. Watching the excitement of viewers blossom in ways never thought possible, as they allow themselves to get lost in the illusions of his art, is what he loves to see most.

To find out where to participate in The Whelihan Experience, check out www.whelihan.com.

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