How gay-friendly is Northfield?

ldallas_0528.jpgTime magazine has a story this week about gay-friendly Dallas, Texas: The Lavender Heart of Texas.

It reminded me that the NDDC and others have been pitching the importance of attracting Richard Florida’s Creative Class, especially artists, to Northfield’s economic development future.

Some argue that, in metro areas at least, gays are part of the equation. Here’s a blurb from the Wikipedia:

[Richard] Florida, and others, have found a strong correlation between those cities and states which provide a more tolerant atmosphere toward gays, artists and musicians for example (exemplified by Florida’s “Gay Index” and “Bohemian Index” developed in The Rise of the Creative Class), and the numbers of creative class workers that live and move there.

(For some criticism of Florida’s work, see: 1) MPR: Is the Twin Cities metro really a haven for the creative class? and 2) City Journal: The Curse of the Creative Class).

  • What churches in Northfield are the most ‘open and affirming’ of gays and lesbians? Which are the least?

  • What businesses have openly supported gay causes?

  • Are there bars and restaurants where Northfield’s gays hang out?

  • Which public, private or parochial schools have programs that reach out to LGBT students?

  • What programs do the colleges have that reach out to LGBT students?

  • Are there many gay and lesbian couples in town with children?

  • What other questions should I be asking?

51 thoughts on “How gay-friendly is Northfield?”

  1. Interesting and important topic. It seems to me that most cities that are “gay-friendly” are more pleasant places to live in generally: more environmentally-friendly, better educated, more cultured, more attractive, and with better services. Of course, my experience is based on the wonderful small cities of Burlington, VT and Ithaca, NY. Not bad models to aspire to.

  2. I’ve never been to those cities, Rob, but I think David Brooks in his book “Bobos in Paradise” considers them each a penultimate ‘latte town’ — “a city that has perfectly reconciled the mercenary instincts of the bourgeoisie with the artistic spirit of the bohemians to create an upscale consumer culture” to quote a 2002 NYT article.

    I think Northfield qualifies to some extent as a latte town but I like it that half the town is still working-class.

    If Mr. ‘conspicuous consumption’ Thorstein Veblen was on the EDA, I wonder what he would advise?

  3. Griff – I’m not the right person to direct you to them, but I know that Carleton has at least a couple organizations, official and non-, for and by GLBT students (and faculty and staff). A call to the Dean of Students Office would probably put you in quick connection with more-knowledgeable people.

    Anecdotally, I see as many rainbow-flag bumper stickers, pink triangle decals, and the like here as I did when living in south Minneapolis, in a neighborhood that was well-known for the density of gay and lesbian families.

  4. Northfield is Lesbian-Friendly… has been for a long time, but no gay man in his right mind would choose to live here with Uptown so close….

  5. no gay man in his right mind would choose to live here with Uptown so close

    How about gay men in a committed relationship? How about gay men in a committed relationship who want to raise children?

  6. Our school has a Gay-Straight Alliance called ‘Rainbow Raiders’ that I’m a part of. I think it’s pretty amazing that a small public school is able to reach out like we are, and I really hope that it’s making a difference for any LGBT youth at our high school.

  7. I’m afraid we don’t have a website. We usually just communicate by word-of-mouth or school announcements. Some of our advisors are Sarah Swan-McDonald and Kim Slegers, both teachers. We also have a bundle of support from a number of teachers. In fact, the Day of Silence at the high school was made even better by the many teachers who wore supportive shirts, being they couldn’t participate.

  8. Thank you for this important and informative discussion. It is important to create an environment where people are free to express/be themselves. This is what drives quality of life/happiness and attracts the highly talented people whether gay, straight, bohemian, immigrants, young or old.

  9. David:

    You touched the heart of the matter. “Celebrating Diversity” is a wonderful slogan but it’s really about making everyone feel welcomed to the community. If they are included, they’ll make their contributions, and we’ll all benefit.

    Ross

  10. St. Olaf has a group called, refreshingly, “GLOW!”, for Gay, Lesbian, or Whatever! Last year some GLOW memembers and a few of us Northfielders (the latter all straight, like myself, from what I know) lobbied on behalf of GLBT folks at the State Capitol on JustFair Lobby Day, organized by OutFront Minnesota. (I blogged about this at the time.)

    At the United Methodist Church of Northfield this year we’ve been very seriously and methodically (of course) looking at issues related to gay and lesbian persons. That process is still ongoing.

  11. I think, on par, Northfield is a pretty open community — of course this is my perception as a straight member of the community (though I’ve been told I have “metro” tendancies).

    Carleton received recognition from the LGBT community for its openness. St. Olaf seems pretty supportive of its students and is improving with its faculty/staff (it provides same-sex partner benefits). I have heard the two schools have higher LGBT enrollment than many other schools, which seems to indicate a perception of openness.

    Without mentioning any specifics, I know there are other businesses in town that are conciously supportive of LBGT staff as well.

    Cannon Valley Friends Meeting, of which I am a member, has supported LGBT for some time including recognizing same-sex unions. I would imagine that the Buddists, Unitarians and some others are also supportive. As a former Lutheran, I think I am correct that their formal position is “reconciled in Christ” — i.e. it’s a sin, but nobody’s perfect (not exactly the most supportive IMHO).

    If I were a member of the LGBT community, I would certainly feel more comfortable here than many other places — even in MN.

  12. The Day of Silence requires (usually students) to be completely silent from the the beginning of the day, to the end of school, or as long as you possibly can. I’m sure there would be several complaints if the teachers did that, but I think what they did was awesome anyway. (Many teachers wore shirts that said ‘I’m not gay, but my Friend is’ which sounds strange, but to any LBGT student or ally, it means a lot.)

  13. I’m so glad Rainbow Raiders is doing well!! That is wonderful that there are a lot of teachers being surportive too! It it’ll be nice for furture questioning students to have someplace to go to. Is the key doing anything? I know that St. Olaf generally tries to be open, but have heard that is is hard to actually be out and openly gay(please forgive me if this is wrong). I know from friends and some that experience that it is really hard to not be “normal” or “straight” in Northfield. People who are supportive are not always easily found, due to Northfielders having(in a VERY broad general feel)that we are an everyday normal town. So when you aren’t in the norm it puts all the more attention on you.

  14. The Key has hosted a few LGBT discussions, and we’re hoping to have another in the summer. It’s amazing because some of the kids who are normally rowdy and outspoken were very respectful and asked good questions, which is the sort of attitude that we would like to see in every generation. Youth recieve many complaints from adults it seems (and being a part of the Key, we get the blunt truth of all of it), but after these LGBT meetings, I have a greater respect for the youth, after seeing how mature they can be about serious situations like gender and sexuality.

  15. Dita said:

    I know from friends and some that experience that it is really hard to not be “normal” or “straight” in Northfield.

    I hear things like that from time to time, but honestly I’ve never experienced any sort of discrimination for being “not straight.” The case may be different for adults in Northfield, but let’s remember that this is an extremely liberal town for rural Minnesota. And I think we’re a pretty accepting one.

  16. The UCC – First United Church of Christ – is “Open and Affirming.” This is the national and local stance – you may have seen some “controversial” commercials in the past couple years, highlighting the open and affirming acceptance of people from all walks of life.

    From the Associated Baptist Press, “The ad — which can be viewed on the UCC communications office’s website at http://www.stillspeaking.com — features two muscular male “bouncers” standing guard at the door of a picturesque church building. A male couple, holding hands, approach the bouncers, who deny them entrance. The bouncers then let a young white family through while rejecting a young African-American woman and a man who appears to be Latino.

    The scene is interrupted by text that reads, “Jesus didn’t turn people away. Neither do we.” Then, as a multiethnic and age-diverse group of people pose, smiling, inside what appears to be a church sanctuary, a narrator says, “The United Church of Christ: No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you’re welcome here.”

    This ad was rejected by 2 major networks in 2004, but played on several others and also some cable networks.

  17. There are some concrete measures of how gay-friendly a place is, including:
    1. does the city offer domestic partnership benefits to its employees?
    2. does the city allow partners to register as partners, so they are included as families in city events?
    3. does the city have a non-discrimination clause including sexual orientation?
    4. does the school district have a non-discrimination clause including sexual orientation?

    The answers to the first two questions are both no. I don’t know the answers to the second two.

    My experience in Northfield is that many residents and businesses in town are indeed gay-friendly, but that there is a lot of subtle discrimination, much of it likely unintentional. There are also frequent homophobic letters to the editor of the Northfield News. Anti-gay graffiti has not been cleaned up in a timely manner.

    I also find it interesting that I’m the first gay person to respond to this blog. Are we afraid to be out there? You bet we are. I hesitated for probably an hour before responding. I really have no idea whether or not I’ll get hate mail or prank phone calls from posting here.

    Thanks for the question…

  18. There are a lot of gay/lesbian people in Northfield, not necisarily open. Grouping up in Northfield, I was not openly out for a long time, and then with a group of friends.

  19. My experience in Northfield is that many residents and businesses in town are indeed gay-friendly, but that there is a lot of subtle discrimination, much of it likely unintentional.

    Connie, could you (or anyone here) give us examples of this? It might help raise awareness among those like me who mean well but are often clueless.

  20. Thanks for responding and being interested! For those of us who are partnered, one thing that happens all the time is that folks either ignore our partners, or call them our “friend,” or ask if we are still together. One way to figure that one out is whether or not you’d ask your married friends that question, or refer to their spouses as “friends.” One would never ask a straight married person how their “friend” was (meaning spouse). You’d ask, “How’s _______ (name)?” Just do the same thing for us.

    One would never ask a straight married person if they are still together with their spouse. The assumption always is that people are together unless you’ve heard otherwise. Same thing for us. When people ask if we’re still together (after 12+ years!) I always feel like we’re somehow supposed to be on the rocks…

    And don’t be scared to bring up questions about political topics if it’s on your mind. “How would this legislation affect you personally?” is always welcome, even if it’s a hot topic.

    Does that make sense?

  21. Perfect sense, Connie. Those are great examples. Question. If I don’t know the name of person’s partner, can I say “hey, how’s your partner?” much like my dad’s generation would say, “hey, how’s your better half?” or “hey, how’s the ol’ lady?”

    I’ll often say “Hey, how’s your hubby/sweetie?” to straight couples, and with a gay couple I know well, I’ll say “how’s your sweetie?” which usually generates a good-natured laugh.

  22. Connie – great points. BTW, I have heard “Are you still with…” used with straight married people — maybe that has something to do with the high divorce rate.

    To Connie’s other points:
    1. The city should offer domestic partnership benefits to its employees.
    2. The city should allow partners to register as partners, so they are included as families in city events.
    3. The city should have a non-discrimination clause including sexual orientation.
    4. The school district should have a non-discrimination clause including sexual orientation.
    Anyone know if #’s 3 and 4 are already in place? Let’s talk to the HRC and city staff/council about these to encourage their implementation.
    ‘Course if you don’t agree with me, I would be interested in your reasoning.

  23. As a person whose training (applied mathematics, industrial engineering) could be labeled as “how to be creative and get things right”, I find Northfield to be not so open to creative thinking (except, perhaps, in the arts). But I still have hope, that’s why I am working so hard to open a dialog from Dundas with Northfield. Some of the planners in Northfield, unfortunately, seem to think of Dundas and Bridgewater as mere renegades, ignoring completely the fact that the two of them are fighting a heroic struggle to preserve the small town and rural nature of our space.

  24. Let me start by saying that what I am saying will hopefully lead to more understanding and more acceptance of each other and is in no way to be thought of as anti anything accept maybe ignorance.

    The Bible and Koran and other holy books of the world are the stories of our lives and a common ground by which we can communicate. No other organization or body of membership has done such work. This is where we look for understanding of a big, complicated world, even back in the day when dirt was invented, things were pretty complicated. It is difficult to find solutions to all modern day problems therein however, but

    as I read the Bible and believe me, I am no scholar, it seems like there is always a perfectly good reason for things to happen, like thunder rain storms, and people doing the things they do. Then the books often tell us about the consequences of the people’s actions, too.

    Like, so, oppression of women is bad on the surface, but when you oppress women in the name of keeping them off the dusty streets and away from men who don’t have their own woman to ‘oppress’,you are actually doing them a favor of sorts.

    It seems to me that once we understand that situation, we can move to make the oppressed woman, not only free, but safe and dust free. 🙂

    But when it comes to homosexuality, I have not seen one thing mentioned in favor of, that explains the existence of the condition (for lack of a better word) of homosexuality and why the homosexual seems to act in a way that has no valid place in nature. That is what we fear and what we do not talk about…even though throughout history, up to 10% of the population has been homosexual, at least as far back as in the days of the Roman Empire, and certainly further back.

    When I ask myself that question, I come up with, maybe it’s a natural form of birth control, or maybe it’s just to show that nature tries different things to strengthen certain other aspects of human nature. I don’t know, but I think that
    the fact that we don’t know, and it is a subject that Puritan America has been trying to avoid for centuries, it may be time to put it out there once and for all.

    I sincerely hope I have not offended anyone with my words and hope that complete acceptance of people, their imperfections as well as perfections are not hated, loathed or otherwise negated so that all people can live free as long as they don’t impinge on others in a truly hurtful manner. Live and let live, eh?

  25. ACLU demands that Northfield School District stop unconstitutional web filtering of LGBT content

    For Immediate Release
    May 2, 2011

    St. Paul, Minn – The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Minnesota demanded that school officials at Northfield School District stop viewpoint-based censorship of web content geared toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities. The ACLU has sent similar letters to schools across the country as part of the organization’s national “Don’t Filter Me” initiative, which seeks to combat illegal censorship of pro-LGBT information on public school computer systems.

    more….

  26. It’s hard to imagine what the legitimate purpose is of a filter that allows restriction of “Education about lifestyles — gay, lesbian, alternate.” But it doesn’t seem like the district had malicious intent. An embarrassment for Northfield, nonetheless.

  27. If the school district wishes to employ filters, then the school board must have a discussion and develop a clear policy as to what filters will be used. There should be no room for a filter to be inadvertently installed by a technician , as is implied by District’s response to the Patch article.

    I agree, Sean, that there was certainly no “malicious intent” by the district…

    However, one has only to look at the anonymous response on the patch article, from a person who calls themself “Responsible Parent”, to see that there are those in the community who do not want schools in the business of educating their students on SOME subjects.

    The schools cannot be selective, or they would do no educating at all beyond the basic ‘three Rs” as one can find persons who object to all sorts of things that have scientific proof, but may be unacceptable to a specific person’s belief system.

    I would hope the School Board would follow up this incident with a policy discussion that sets out very strict direction for “technicians”, and possibly even board approval on action taken.
    Sounds like ‘micro-managing’, but Northfield has a proud history in its schools and must work to maintain that in more complicated electronic times.

  28. “It was pretty clear there was no intentional desire (there),” he said of the filter.

    I may be wrong, but Richardson comes off sounding very defensive, in a self protecting way. I don’t believe any filter was installed without his, or SoMeOnE’s knowledge. That’s just not the way things are done ethically. So if what he says is true, that he had no knowledge of it, then
    1) he was negligent in his duty of knowing what is going on (it’s the old “the buck stops here” moral ethic and his apology would have served better) ,
    and 2)whoever installed this filter had to have done so knowingly, with intent, and has no business in any area that could be used for discrimination.

    Just my opinion…as flawed as it may be!

  29. Just a thought on this scenario- With the proliferation of pornographic sites out on the internet, I believe “filtering” access on the internet is appropriate. There is a technical aspect of this as to how certain filters work. In my limited understanding of them, most work on certain word recognitions. Depending on the quality (and therefore cost) of certain programs, I can see it likely that certain sites inadvertantly might not be accessable, depending on the word recognition. It also seems likely that this would not be evident until the program was installed. In this day and age of angst against censorship, I can understand how Dr. Richardson might be defensive when confronted about the situation. Offering a little understanding might be appropriate in this case.

  30. John, again, the name of the blocked category was “Education about lifestyles — gay, lesbian, alternate.” Clearly the filter was working correctly — not just an overly ambitious porn filter. It’s understandable that Richardson was defensive, but it looks worse for the district than a simple apology. The way his quotes read in that Patch story, it suggests he’s scolding the student (or whoever) for reporting the matter to the ACLU (by saying it could have been resolved by a phone call, etc).

    No matter what, it’s the district’s fault for the public embarrassment, not whoever reported it.

    1. Sean- Are you familiar with the particular filter in question? How can you say that just because the title had “education” in it is the reason it was flagged? I certainly don’t know which filter was used. I suspect that it was not sophistocated enough to differentiate between an “educational” website and a “gay pornographic” website, which both exist. That is all I’m suggesting. Tell me, would you want to be accused of being “cheap” in the selection of the filter?

      1. Ah. I found the name of the software program in the link above. It is called “Lightspeed.” Now, are sites giving students information to become free of the GLBT lifestyles being blocked? Free speech is free speech.

      2. I’m not sure what/whom you’re quoting when you’re quoting “cheap.” I didn’t say it was cheap; in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the district blows a good load of money of this filter.

        The name of the filter makes it clear that it is intended to block educational/political sites about LGBT issues. I don’t know how you could possibly think “education about lifestyles” could mean anything else.

        Now, are sites giving students information to become free of the GLBT lifestyles being blocked? Free speech is free speech.

        Do you mean gay-to-straight sort-of “conversion” sites? I would guess these would be blocked under the same filter too, though they might be categorized as some sort of religious site. I don’t feel a great deal of concern about these being blocked (but I don’t know that they are). If they are blocked and the antigay folk want to get up in arms about it, sure, free speech is free speech — students should have access to them, too.

      3. Sean- The word “cheap” is my own word. I assume less sophistocated filter programs are less costly, (re: my post 42) though I may be wrong in that. I’m also glad to hear that you are open to both types of sites being available. I think it is reasonable that a young person be able to choose which path he/she might want to follow.

        Corey- Thank you for your comments in post 44.

  31. Before too many people get heated toward Superintendent Richardson, I want to clarify that in our conversation, 1. He was apologetic toward the situation and students it may have affected 2. He was not “on the defensive,” but was just saying had the issue been brought to his attention and the district’s attention (instead of having reporters call about it once the ACLU released a statement), it would have been fixed because the filter wasn’t meant to be in place.

    I try not to comment on my stories, especially ones that can spawn a strong conversation like this one. But I don’t want Superintendent Richardson to be misrepresented. I believe my story is fair and factual. Everything Richardson said was written in context. But as a reader, everyone has a different perception of someone’s word by what’s written, as you’ve seen here. To remove any doubt from folks interpreting MY writing of HIS words, I will tell you, I feel he was genuine. Thanks, all.

  32. Corey… thanks for your comment; that’s(commenting on your own story) a tough call for a journalist to make, and your decision to do that shows sensitivity to the ‘small town’ environment.

    I think one reason this filter issue stirred some alarm, is because the High School has had some problems with dealing with GLBT issues with kids in the past, and with conservative ‘Christian’ values becoming more obvious in the community, everyone needs to be vigilant about making sure that kids get the info they need, if you believe in that occurring.

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