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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Patrick’s Cabaret and charity foundation settle anti-LGBTQ discrimination complaint

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Patrick’s Cabaret, a queer-led Twin Cities art organization, settled with the Laura Jane Musser Fund after Patrick’s Cabaret filed a complaint with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights alleging anti-LGBTQ discrimination. The announcement was made last week.

The cabaret filed a complaint with the Department of Human Rights in late-2016 after the fund denied the cabaret’s grant request, in part, on grounds that the fund doesn’t fund LGBTQ causes.

Patrick’s sought a Intercultural Harmony grant from the Musser Fund in 2015, and when the group was denied, executive director Scott Artley asked for constructive feedback on the application. The program manager at the Musser Fund left him a voicemail:

What I want to tell you about Patrick’s Cabaret and being turned down with the Intercultural Harmony work, is a couple things. One is this is a pretty conservative board and they have grappled with the, whether they want to consider GLBT issues as something that they want to address with Intercultural Harmony and while it’s a moving conversation, it has not settled on it being inclusive to that. And so you may be throwing good energy against a brick wall in applying if your Intercultural Harmony work is addressing GLBT issues.

Patrick’s filed a complaint with the Department of Human Rights which alleged that the Musser Fund “refused to accept its proposal and provide funding because [Patrick’s Cabaret] is associated with the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community.”

The Musser fund denied liability but both parties agreed to mediation. The result of that mediation was announced in early August.

According to the terms of the settlement, the Musser Fund will adopt a nondiscrimination policy, adopt giving standards that focus on diversity, and will make a one-time settlement payment to Patrick’s Cabaret of $12,000.

“The Musser Fund made no omission of any liability that their grant decisions were based on any discriminatory factors,” Neal T. Buethe, Musser fund attorney told the Star Tribune. “We did settle the case because we tried to make it a positive and made sure diversity is built into the grant application process and ensure that Musser Fund is responsive to the concerns this charge embodied.”

Patrick’s Cabaret intends to use the settlement payment to cover costs associated with the human rights complaint and put the remaining funds toward supporting artists.

OutFront Minnesota calls for ‘immediate impeachment’ of President Trump

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OutFront Minnesota, the state’s largest organization working toward LGBTQ equity, announced on Tuesday that it was calling for the immediate impeachment of President Trump. In a resolution passed by the organization’s Board of Directors, OutFront lays out its case for Trump’s impeachment:

Whereas, OutFront Minnesota’s mission is “to create a state where lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people are free to be who they are, love who they love, and live without fear of violence, harassment or discrimination; and
Whereas, OutFront Minnesota understands this work is intersectional, as our struggle for freedom and safety is intertwined with others who suffer under violence, harassment, and discrimination; and
Whereas President Donald J. Trump has demonstrated an escalating pattern of affirming intolerance, discrimination, and hate, and of eroding civil liberties and basic human rights, from discriminatory travel bans and tearing apart families of those suspected to be undocumented, to purporting to exclude transgender individuals from serving in our armed forces, and rolling back orders that protect voting rights, and women from employment discrimination; and
Whereas, this President has aligned himself with hate and discrimination in his defense of domestic terrorists; and
Whereas, President Trump’s determination: to violate the Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection of the laws and free exercise of religion; to give comfort and encouragement to those who would assault Americans for engaging in protected speech and conduct; and to undermine the freedom of the press, which is essential to a functioning democracy, constitutes a pattern of high crimes and misdemeanors within the meaning of Article II Section 4 of the United States Constitution; so
Therefore be it resolved that OutFront Minnesota condemns the hate and discrimination of white supremacists everywhere, as well as this president’s lack of leadership against, and encouragement of, white supremacy and domestic terrorism; and
Be it further resolved, that with due consideration of all of the above, OutFront Minnesota calls for President Donald J. Trump’s immediate impeachment.
Monica Meyer, Executive Director, and Daniel Hawkins, Board Chair, for the entire board.

OutFront joins a growing list of organizations, cities, and elected officials calling for impeachment.

Around the Region: West Fargo library criticized by ND Republicans over LGBTQ Pride month display

North Dakota
The West Fargo Public Library has a book display for Fargo Moorhead Pride, the Forum reports:

As reported in The Forum, two state legislators criticized the West Fargo Public Library for promoting an LGBT book display during the Fargo-Moorhead Pride celebration. In my opinion, Reps. Christopher Olson and Ben Koppelman are failing to represent their full constituencies, which undoubtedly include LGBT residents. Their comments were a direct and damaging insult to children being raised in West Fargo. I found these comments to be unfortunate and disheartening. As a Davies High School graduate, I understand the overall conservative composition of the area. However, I remain convinced that these specific opinions represent only a minority of residents.
It is especially disheartening when considering the specific publications seen in the photo of the library’s display, which are seemingly not in the same vein of the “ideology of sexual fluidity, promiscuity, experimentation and deviation” alleged by Olson. For instance, “The Last Deployment: How a Gay, Hammer-Swinging Twentysomething Survived a Year in Iraq” is the story of a gay man in the military forced to repress his sexuality to avoid being discharged. “Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle” details the LGBT fight for civil rights and was described by The Economist as “the most comprehensive history to date of America’s gay-rights movement.” “Safe Spaces: Making Schools and Communities Welcoming to LGBT Youth” focuses entirely on supporting youth in the school system to avoid marginalization.

That display has come under attack by two conservative Christian Republican lawmakers, Gay Star News reports:

Two North Dakota legislators have criticized a library’s display and promotion of LGBTI books.
People unhappy with the display contacted representatives Ben Koppelman and Chris Olson.
The library had also posted a picture of the display on Facebook with the caption ‘Looking for the perfect last days of summer read?’
Olson labelled it ‘radical, hardline sexual ideology.’
One of the books in the display was Beyond Trans: Does Gender Matter?.
He went on to add that he does not mean this to be an attempt at ‘censorship.’ He does not have a problem with the books being in the library but does not believe the library should promote them.
Olson said: ‘I find it very surprising that the West Fargo Public Library would choose to showcase a display promoting these types of materials regarding human sexuality.’

But, the library isn’t backing down, WDAY reports:

The West Fargo Public Library says it won’t change any displays, despite criticism of a stand on LGBT literature.
The library features two displays which are changed out every month.
This month, one of the displays features books on topics about sexual and gender identities.
The library’s director says there have been some in the community upset over displaying the educational materials.
She says any materials featured by the library must meet strict guidelines of quality.
“It should be something of quality. We look at the needs of the community, and the up to date-ness of items which are technical or medical in nature,” said Sandra Hannah, West Fargo Library director.

Wisconsin
Madison celebrated Pride over the weekend the Wisconsin State Journal reports:

Near the front of Madison’s annual Outreach Pride Parade on Sunday, the Madison Area Transgender Association’s float flew flags of the five branches of the U.S. Armed Forces.
A sign on the float, which read, “Standing with our trans troops,” represented a clear response to tweets last month by President Donald Trump that announced his decision to ban transgender people from serving in the military.
For Kitnoki McCorison, a transgender woman marching in the parade, the float was a way to show support for her friend in the Air Force who is just beginning to transition into being a woman.
“She’s really worried about being kicked out,” McCorison said. “Nevertheless, we support our Armed Forces. We believe as long as we’re doing the right thing in the world, that’s good.”

A Wisconsin Democrat is giving big money to a transgender candidate in Virginia, the Washington Post reports:

In her bid to become Virginia’s first openly transgender lawmaker, Democrat Danica Roem is getting a major boost from a donor who lives 800 miles away. They’ve never met. She’s not even sure how to pronounce his name.
Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, a Democrat, has given $115,000 to Roem’s candidacy, nearly half of the money she has raised so far, and plans to keep contributing through the November election.
The six-figure investment in a race in the Washington exurb of Prince William County underscores the national interest in what is normally a sleepy, low-turnout affair. Abele, who is straight, sees a chance to make history by helping elect the first openly transgender candidate for a state legislature.
“She’s running because she’s an active citizen, and she cares and she’ll make a difference,” said Abele, who chairs the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund. “That said, she’ll also set a precedent and make it safer for a lot of other candidates to run.”

Around the Region: Fargo-Moorhead Pride spurs celebration and debate

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North Dakota
KVRR recaps Fargo-Moorhead Pride:

A street of rainbows shined across Downtown Fargo after the early morning rain.
The annual FM Pride Parade had their biggest turnout yet.
Floats, flags and candy littered the streets of downtown as thousands of people poured in for the annual FM Pride Parade.
“Rain or shine, even if it was pouring, we were going to be here anyway because we really want to reflect that love really conquers hate,” said Katie Granger.
People at the parade and rally managed to avoid getting wet on this rainy day.
“You can kind of tell this is kind of a sanctuary city in the area because you can see all the kids from all the rural town who didn’t fit in, they come here and they celebrate,” said Annie Motschenbacher.
One of the organizers told me it’s not just a time to celebrate but it’s also a time to reflect.
“Reflect on the work that has been done since Stonewall and all of the work that different groups have been doing tirelessly,” said Planning Committee Co-Chair Christina Lindseth. “All the different groups: Lesbian, Gay, Transgender… We reflect on those people who’ve given, as well as our allies. Now we reflect on these last eight months, everything that has been going on in the nation, everything that has gone on in our local community, as well as Virginia.”

Valley News Live also covered the weekend’s festivities and noted the lack of hate crime laws in the state:

A parade and rally wrapped up Fargo-Moorhead PRIDE 2017, bringing LGBTQ+ community members and allies alike together to show that our community won’t tolerate hate or discrimination. Though great strides have been made, many people still agreed that more work needs to be done so everyone is treated equally under the law.

A topic that hit the top of the PRIDE rally was the topic of hate crimes. While the Fargo-Moorhead community is supportive and welcoming of those who identify as LGBTQ+, Fargo doesn’t have any specific hate crime ordinances and the state of North Dakota does not have any hate crime laws. PRIDE advocate John Strand said “I do believe we need some policies on the books to address these circumstances when they happen.”
In North Dakota, LGBTQ+ people are not considered a protected class and Republican leaders in the state point to the Federal protections already in place for why they won’t pass what’s become known as non-discrimination ordinances. Strand, and others at the rally, disagree saying, “the only protections that exist are at the Federal level but you can’t turn everything into a Federal investigation.”

Wisconsin
LGBTQ Nation notes that a Wisconsin court has sided with a photographer who wants to deny service to LGBTQ people:

The Alliance Defending Freedom is declaring a victory after a Wisconsin court said they would clarify that a nondiscrimination law doesn’t apply to an anti-gay photographer because she operates a home business. The bombastic law firm, however, is pretending that they succeeded in overturning an inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance meant to “punish” their client.
Amy Lawson, who owns Amy Lynn Photography Studio, doesn’t want to serve gay couples who are seeking a wedding photographer. No couples have actually approached her and she doesn’t have a commercial space open to the public. There was no “punishment” to overturn because she had no standing to sue since she wasn’t harmed and couldn’t be.
Instead, according the firm’s bio of the plaintiff, Lawson put a notice on her blog that she wouldn’t serve gay and lesbian couple in 2016. After a customer complained, she took down the statement “for fear it might violate the law.” While Lawson didn’t know what the law actually said, you’d think the Alliance Defending Freedom would, but getting publicity has always been more important to the group than getting justice.

The Shepherd Express reviews a book about Milwaukee’s LGBTQ history:

These rare glimpses into Milwaukee’s early LGBTQ community (although it had no such title at the time), were only brought about by arrest and scandal. But evidence suggests that the city already had a secretive network of such like-minded people early on in the 1900s. Downtown hotels, bars, rooming houses and parks became known, by both members of the community and the police, as hangouts for gay Milwaukeeans. Police raids of these spaces resulted in arrests and, often times, in the public “outing” of the men charged as their names and addresses were listed in articles in the Milwaukee Journaland Sentinel. As noted by the Milwaukee LGBT History Project, at least one of these men committed suicide after having being named as a “deviate” in the paper.
According to Michail Takach’s 2016 book, LGBT Milwaukee, there were at least 33 gay or lesbian bars in the city pre-Stonewall. Most of these places were clustered in the river-bound Downtown districts long known for their embrace of certain behaviors—prostitution, gambling, drug use and others—that would not have been tolerated in other neighborhoods.

WSAU reports that a measure to add gender identity protections to the Stevens Point housing policy passed a key committee last week:

The City of Stevens Point’s Public Protection Committee unanimously approved a change to the city’s housing discrimination ordinance to protect transgender citizens on Monday night.
City Attorney Andrew Beveridge said the change isn’t hard to make, and a few words go a long way.
Beveridge said, “The amendment you’re looking at is just a small handful of words repeated several times throughout a couple sections of the ordinance, in an ordinance that’s otherwise quite detailed, but as you can tell from the statement you heard tonight, those words have a big impact.”
Committee Chair Mary McComb said that even though there are federal housing discrimination protections, the city should set an example by making the change to their own ordinance.

Iowa
An Iowa Democrat who was attacked over his support for transgender equality won his district, the Rewire reports:

Democrat Phil Miller was victorious in Tuesday’s special election for Iowa’s House District 82, despite a targeted GOP campaign to criticize his support of protections for transgender people.
Elsewhere, Democrats in Missouri failed to flip a seat that will now be held by an anti-choice activist.
Advertisements paid for by Republican candidate Travis Harris’ campaign and the Iowa Republican Party attacked Miller, the Fairfield school board president, for voting in favor of a policy allowing students to use the restroom corresponding with their gender identity. “We can’t afford to trust his poor judgment,” the ad said.
LGBTQ rights group One Iowa said in a statement published by Iowa Public Radio that the ad was “recklessly fueling rhetoric that contributes to harassment and violence that transgender people face.”

A reader in the Des Moines Register took Rep. David Young to task for anti-transgender language in his constituent survey:

Iowa’s Third District Rep. David Young frequently emails what he calls his “60-Second Survey” seeking input on issues/legislation that are of importance to his constituents. His most recent survey asks about use of taxpayer funds for gender therapy for military personnel.

South Dakota
The Associated Press notes that a Democratic candidate for governor is standing up for transgender students:

AP A Democratic governor candidate is speaking out against restricting which facilities transgender students could use in South Dakota schools.
State Sen. Billie Sutton said in a Friday statement to The Associated Press that such laws are a “solution in search of a problem.”

Innovative student group reimagines gay classic “Bent” by Martin Sherman

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As our world descends slowly into chaos, I am continuously impressed by the progressive youth in their advocacy, activism, and their art. Few people can claim the dedication and heart that the youth of today possess for creating real change in our society. Thomas Bertron is one such young theatre artist who is further equipped with an entrepreneur’s heart. Bertron recently founded Geki Arts, a theatre group of 17-23 year olds that is student led.

From Geki’s press release, “The mission of Geki Arts is to work with young artists of varying identities to produce works that shed light on the internal struggles of individuals in society while provoking dialogue between the artist and audience.” Furthermore, Bertron informed me in a quick interview that in addition to the important mission of the work, Geki was also founded on principles of Geki Noh, a specific form of Noh theatre that focuses intensely on the psychology of the characters in a play and the internal struggles they face. This ambitious artistic aesthetic and focus still pales in comparison to the depth and importance of Geki Arts’ first show: Bent by Martin Sherman.

For those who don’t know, Bent is a Pulitzer and Tony nominated play about the horror faced by homosexuals in Hitler’s Germany and its concentration camps. It’s an incredibly moving and difficult piece of theatre. It is also vital and, unfortunately, a stark reminder as the world descends into chaos that LGBTQ+ people are not safe in the face of tyranny.

Heart is so firmly at the core of almost any student led production, so I asked Bertron to describe the show in his own words. “Bent is the story of love and how love is able to survive in the face of evil. More specifically, it explores how one is able to embrace their true identity when faced with evil. It centers around a gay man, Max, and his journey from living as a promiscuous junkie in Berlin to a prisoner in Dachau Concentration Camp, selling himself off as a Jew in order to avoid receiving a pink triangle which identifies him as queer. The play takes place during the fall of the Weimar Republic and rise of the Third Riech. The Weimar era marked a major shift in German politics. The arts and entertainment industries thrived. New ideas were accepted and embraced. However, the indulgent cultural norms developed during the Weimar were instantaneously crushed by the rise of the Third Reich. This political tension transcends the context of the show and can be seen in the current political state of America. Given the current purge against Gay men in Chechnya and of course the crippling political state of the US, this show speaks to today. I want this show to make audiences think not only about the prevalent themes and events depicted onstage, but also about their identities and how much of an impact they have on others.”

Bent will take place at the Bryant Lake Bowl for one weekend only, Friday, August 25th through Sunday, August 27th. While most theatre companies choose venues based on rates and availability, the more talented ones will also think about the vibe of the space itself and how it jives with the rest of the show. Geki Arts chose this seemingly odd venue because the lively and rustic feel of the BLB is reminiscent of the Weimar Cabaret Theatre. The company was also drawn to the intimacy of the space. There isn’t room to distance yourself in the BLB, and this story is sure to seep under your skin and become a part of you when you’re that close to the stage.

Bent stars Adam Rider, Johnny Stang, Sage Ftacek, Mackenzie Diggins, Simone Abraham, Clay Sletta, Seth Wagner, and Helen Sabrowksy. The creative team includes Bertron himself as Director alongside Ava Egertson, Lydia Erickson, Charlie Schirvar, Chloe Janisch, Talia Wendlandt, and Nathaniel J. Davis. This team of young emerging artists, again, ages 17-23 already has a handle on this emotional and historical text that is uncommon even among established artists. Bent was developed with the Geki emphasis on internal struggles and thought processes, with the venue’s perks and pitfalls in mind, and with the intention to draw parallels to this piece of classic literature rooted in history and our world today. When a show is produced widely, it is easy to think there’s nothing new to be done with it, but this small but mighty group of students and allies has seemingly found a way to expound on the play’s intensity and depth.

Bertron ended our interview with this: “The show is inevitably dark, but I am encouraging the cast to find moments of light. These smaller moments of joy, happiness, or laughter set to the backdrop of Dachau add a more compelling arc to the characters as well as make them more real. Regardless of the environment we’re living in, we as people naturally experience ups and downs and in order to make the characters more ‘real’, they must experience the ups and downs of daily life.”

A big unspoken thread in Sherman’s script is how we function and find a new normal even in the worst of times—and with Bertron’s closing statements I’m confident in capability of this group to hit on that hard but important thread. In spite of it all, we still love and we still live—even when we know the worst is on its way.

Martin Sherman’s Bent will be performed at the Bryant Lake Bowl Friday, August 25th and Sunday, August 27th at 7:00 PM and Saturday, August 26th at 1:00 PM & 6:00 PM. Tickets are $16 for general public and $11 for students and educators. The BLB is charming but small so I strongly recommend purchasing tickets in advance at bryantlakebowl.com.

Navigating the 2017 Minnesota Fringe Festival as a queer person

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The Minnesota Fringe Festival is, in short, 167 plays, storytelling, dance, and variety shows that are an hour long or less stretched out over 13 days across multiple venues in the Twin Cities. It’s a crucial time for networking if you are an artist. It’s about art. It’s an experience. It is theatre kid heaven, but it’s also incredibly overwhelming. So how does one navigate it to ensure maximum enjoyment and minimal stress? This is an art in and of itself that has taken me a few years to master, especially as a proud and loud member of the LGBTQ+ community who insists that art should be as inclusive and accessible as it is technically good, and that neither end of that should be sacrificed. Fringe is particularly hard to navigate when you are avoiding the “-isms” so prevalent in privileged comedians, storytellers, and playwrights. Here’s the system that’s worked best for me to find quirky and queer work that is also well done and artful during this intense Festival.

Step One: Planning Well

The Fringe Festival website is an amazing resource that allows you to look at synopses, cast, venue, and other info about all 167 shows. It also has a well of other features, including the option to schedule the ones you want to see. This feature is my number one sanity saver. I’m incredibly socially anxious as well as diagnosed obsessive-compulsive disorder so having the Fringe website itself tell me exactly where to go based on what I said I wanted to see is a miracle. Having it all mapped out saves me so much time and energy on a Fringe day, even if it took me awhile to get everything pulled together beforehand. The website also features keywords you can search like “comedy,” “storytelling,” and “LGBT”.

Obviously the first thing I do is scan the “LGBT” section of the website. You can find this section at Fringefestival.org by hitting “Full Show List” and pulling up the drop down menu below. There you’ll find lots of options. (If you can’t find it, scroll down. This year “LGBT” is near the bottom.) Once you click on that you can see a list of every producer who lists their show as being queer-oriented. It is worth mentioning that some of these are stretches. Many producers will list their show under this heading because there are a couple of LGBTQ+ artists involved, or because the show has themes or sensibilities popular in queer culture even if nothing is explicitly LGBTQ+. This is honestly frustrating to me, and I won’t call out any producers by name, but I do think labeling your show “LGBT” without explicit queer content or an entire production and creative team of queer people is bad practice and exploitative to the community. Even so, this header is the best place to get started in your search for shows as you’re scheduling your Fringe, and this year my favorite show was queer-created and rife with queer sensibility though not explicit. (It is worth noting though that the queer producer still did not list the show as “LGBT”, which makes me think those stretching the intent of this category are not queer arts community members themselves.)

Word of mouth, like in the non-Fringe arts scene, is really the best way to find out about shows though. This year I put up a Facebook call asking what I should see based on what I wanted to do with this article and got a lot of great ideas. If you’ve been hanging around queer circles in Minneapolis, you probably know someone who knows someone who’s involved in a show you’d probably like. If you’re like me, you also have a list of artists who’s work you always try to see. For me this year, that list includes Javier Morillo-Alicea, Sami Pfeffer, and Jason Schommer. That says nothing of the slew of close friends involved in work that also quickly moved to the top of my priority list. To plan your Fringe and reduce your stress day of, you can also search for the names of companies or people that you want to see on the Fringe website to see when the shows are. After a couple of weeks of talking to people, looking up the artists I love, and scanning the Fringe website, my Fringe started to take shape.

I don’t only hit the LGBT circuit, and I recommend that you leave room for variation as well. I won’t see artists that are known to make queerphobic, sexist, or racist jokes or content, but Fringe is a great time to explore your larger arts community. This is why I recommend talking to those involved with shows or asking people close to you what they’re excited about. I’d also leave at least a couple of gaps for surprises, or allow your schedule to change shape as you learn more. By the time you’re reading this for 2017 Fringe, you probably have a good idea of what your Fringe schedule will look like, but this is an important note for future years (or if you’re still sitting on the fence).

It’s so important to remember pricing when you plan your Fringe. Unless you’re going to spring for a VIP pass for $200, you’ll want to see as many shows as possible with your Day Pass which means venues should be close together. There is NO late seating in Fringe and a great number of shows are a high sell out risk, which means getting there as close to house open (which is thirty minutes before a show) is crucial. Day passes are $16 on weekdays and $22 on weekends. If you want to reserve for a high risk sellout show, that’s an additional $3.75 and can be done online. You can pick up day passes at any Fringe box office, which is basically at any Fringe venue, at any time on a Fringe day.

Later on I’ll review some of the stellar shows I’ve seen already, but I wanted to highlight some other work. These are shows I haven’t see, but have been on my priority list since day one. Most of them are also pulling pretty stellar reviews, which only ups my desire to see them to “urgent.”

As mentioned, I’m a huge fan of storyteller Javier Morillo-Alicea. This year he’s presenting A Resister’s Handbook (for holding onto optimism in shitty times), a storytelling show who’s title is pretty straightforward. Javier is a long-time union leader and shares parts of his own life and story to inspire the audience to stay strong and optimistic as we enter tumultuous political times. This one is a high sellout risk for all remaining performances, so get those reservations in or plan to come early.

Kory LaQuess Pullam is a queer-allied and radical playwright that I’ve been keeping an eye on for awhile. His Odd Man Out, a rare Fringe drama, sounds like a standard family drama. The show centers around a black family in South Texas dealing with the death of the family patriarch. Pullam’s stellar writing and a slew of incredible acting performances is garnering the expected rave reviews, and everything I have seen or read of Pullam’s so far in his career has been exceptional.

Gravitational Collapse by Cole Sarar is a queer sci-fi thriller set to music, and honestly I needed to hear very little else to be sold on this show.

Twin Cities comedian Jason Schommer has a hit or miss history with Fringe shows, but this year he’s teaming up with storytelling superstar Allison Broeren to perform a storytelling show about the seemingly mundane choices that led them to some of their best adventures and misadventures. Schommer’s comedy is amazing, and Debacle: Stories of Life’s Ultimate Fiascos is sure to make 2017 a hit year for Schommer at Fringe.

Mnemosyne by Sunday Driver is an artsier choice by all accounts, as it’s marketed primarily as a movement or dance piece about memory and technology. I’m a fan of several of the artists involved, so while this wasn’t isn’t listed as being queer-specific, I think it’s a good fit for those looking for a queer Fringe experience.

Step Two: Fringe!

Once you have your schedule and a rough idea of how you might want to fill any flexible slots you’ve built in, it’s time for Fringe. (Well, if you’re like me, it’s about two weeks before Fringe and you have to sit and wait and watch rehearsal shots fill up your instagram feed, which just serve to make you even more excited. However, that’s likely not your situation at this stage of the game.) In spite of my anxiety-fueled introversion, to find out more about Fringe itself and shows you maybe haven’t thought about yet, talking to people while you’re standing in line for your show is actually incredibly beneficial. I try to keep those conversations to close friends or people I’ve worked with artistically, but I have met very friendly strangers with similar tastes. This is a part of the Fringe experience, and it is an important one. In addition to this social strategy of processing your own Fringe experience and hearing about other people’s, it’s also recommended that you get to your Fringe show as close to that half hour before mark as possible. This year almost every show I went to was relatively full, so even if a show isn’t listed as a high sellout risk, I wouldn’t take a lot of big chances.

One incredibly stressful part of Fringe for me comes in navigating the Festival not as a queer person, but as a chronically ill person. Standing in line for twenty minutes or more every hour, all day is unbearable to me as someone with severe rheumatoid arthritis. Most venues are accessible, and many have seats for your wait. Not all venues are created equal though. Even if you opt of line and kiss your dream seat in the show good-bye, waiting for a show at the Bryant Lake Bowl is is torturous. There is nowhere to sit short of taking a table or bowling seat from a non-Fringe patron who may need it for it’s intended purpose. Intermedia Arts however, is a dream. Even if a line gets really long, there is seating close enough to the line that you can hop up and squish in somewhere decent once they start seating. Most venues fall somewhere in the middle—you have places to sit, but if a show is full you give up a decent seat to move out of line and preserve some energy. I’m honestly not sure there’s a solution to this, but it is something to prep for and think about if you too have invisible accessibility concerns.

Now that you have your basic information, Fringe works like this: you make your schedule, and if you’re worried about sellout, you reserve online. Your first show of a Fringe day you go to the box office to purchase a day pass, and check your name off of a list if you have reservations. Then you get in line. Seating is usually only ten minutes before a show, but at an event where so many great shows sell out, it’s key to be there when box office opens (one half hour before the show) anyway. You’ll receive a token that they use to check house numbers while you’re in line. It feels silly when you just give it back to the usher on your way in, but I promise this helps guarantee you a seat and helps producers know how their show is selling. Once this show is over, I recommend a pretty quick hustle to your next venue, as tempting as it is to wait for artists or chat with friends in line for the next show.

This year I saw fourteen shows in three days. It was a whirlwind and for a Twin Cities arts fanatic like myself it was mostly a blast. Navigating Fringe as a queer person is much easier once you’ve done the festival a few times before. I mentioned earlier skipping shows with artists that I know to be oppressive, but even with that attitude over the years I have definitely ended up in shows with all male, all straight casts where homophobic jokes were rampant or the casual sexism made me want to stab my eyes out. I’ve seen so-called edgy humor that is actually just racist. I’ve seen countless shows with a token minority who ends up being a minor character who just exists to be the butt of jokes. This year though I managed not to run into any of that. A lot of that is because I’ve become well versed in what makes a Fringe show a trap for the content or humor I despise. I caution you though if this is your first Fringe to trust your gut and listen to what your LGBTQ+ friends are finding challenging. Stick to the LGBT circuit and recommendations until you get a feel for the rest. In spending a couple of years to get the hang of Fringe, I created a year where I’ve seen almost nothing but beautifully challenging, incredibly thoughtful, and often outright hilarious work. Based on the fourteen shows I saw, here’s a great starting point to making your schedule.

Definitely Do Not Miss

These are this year’s Fringe shows that I think the majority of thecolu.mn readers will absolutely love, even if they aren’t LGBTQ+ specific. There’s either a progressive politic or undeniably queer sensibility to each of them, and most importantly: they are very, very good.

“_________” by Sami Pfeffer, Kai Greiner, Beckett and Suzi Love. This show also stars Beckett and Suzi Love and is part performance art, part play. The show brilliantly compares emotional abuse to experiences with ghosts or hauntings and climaxes in a possession of sorts. There is audience participation which is off-putting to a lot of audience and probably could have been explained better to the audience beforehand. Nonetheless, this show is moving in parts, terrifying in parts, and oddly humorous on occasion. Pfeffer is a playwright and filmmaker who’s work always blows me away, and this was no exception. This is a HARD show to get through if you’ve dealt with emotional abuse in your life, and the shows asks a lot of it’s audience. This show is Fringe at it’s Fringiest, and hits the notes it should to tell this story. It is riveting, perfectly performed, and executed so well it will, ahem, haunt you long after.

First Year Queer by Lyssa Sparrow. Sparrow has been working on this show for so long, and I’ve seen pieces at Patrick’s Cabaret, Raw Sugar’s The Funny, and at a Gadfly event. None of that prepared me for the humor and heart pouring through every piece of the full storytelling show that also features puppets, an impact play demonstration, and stories from polyamorous families making it all work just fine. Sparrow has a bright future in storytelling—her demeanor is disarming and she makes even everyday notions seem hysterically funny. This show is definitely not fluff though. First Year Queer features a short video where Sparrow talks to survivors of sexual assault and features a little bit of Sparrow’s own experience being assaulted. The discussion of polyamory is honest about the oppression that those families face. Sparrow does not shy away from being honest about her anxiety and depression. A true test of skill though is that the show crams all of that into an hour yet never feels overbearing or like too much. The show ends with something that surprised even me: door prizes! Even if you don’t love the show as much as I did, you might walk away with a 1st edition copy of a re-release of The Ethical Slut, a sexy time kit, or another fun prize. You will definitely walk away with a couple of Starbursts and a list of resources for your mental health or bi, poly, or kink education needs.

Blackout Improv has been making waves for all the right reasons since their inception. It’s an all black cast talking about black issues that is also absolutely hilarious. Their Fringe show is unique in that it adds guests from various mediums to the standard improv format, so I got treated to some musical humor the night I went. Blackout doesn’t shy away from hard topics, but also consistently brings smart humor. The format of the Fringe show is a short performance by the guest artist first. Then the MC for the night (it was the ever-enjoyable Joy Dolo the night I saw the show) brings out the Swag Hat, which is full of audience suggestions. The suggestions are garnered before the show and are meant to be issues important to the black community. The cast members then have a conversation about that topic, and then perform an improv set based on that conversation. There is a deep, necessary need for a powerhouse team of black performers to have these discussions before the laughter. Even those of us who are not black but consider ourselves solid allies will have preconceived notions challenged. I can’t imagine the power and importance that this show holds for black audience members. From a comedy or improv standpoint, you won’t find a more solid show in the Fringe that makes you laugh this much. The Blackout cast rotates for each performance, but hopefully you’ll catch Dolo, Theo Langason, or Duck Washington when you go. These three staples of the Twin Cities theatre community do some of their finest work as part of this ensemble. The incomparable Khary Jackson will be playing instruments throughout no matter what.

Collective Unconscious Performance’s Skins is probably my favorite thing I saw this year. That doesn’t mean it’s the best show I saw, though it is very, very good. It’s also certainly not the most important show I saw this year, though it is important and does have a lot of weight to it. However, I love fairy tales more than almost anything in the world, and Skins is based on darker versions of Cinderella (such as Deerskin or Donkeyskin) where she runs away from a would-be forced marriage to a relative and disguises herself as a creature until she falls in love with the prince and tries to woo him with some magic gowns she acquires earlier in the story. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but this play does not end how you think it will, but does end up telling a story of self-love that made me swoon just as hard as a well-done romance. Emily Zimmer’s performance is electric, and Sara Dewhirst and Logan Verdoorn are such natural actors that you’ll forget you are watching a play and get completely sucked in. This show has some puppets, some humor, and gives a fierce feminist take on a somewhat familiar story.   

Take A Chance On

These are shows that ardent readers of thecolu.mn might have skipped due to lack of queer content or sensibility or because the shows aren’t one hundred percent ready and perfect and some of the reviews reflect that. They are also shows that I think are completely worth your time and energy especially in the setting of Fringe Festival where the point is for artists to explore, experiment, and create work we may not go out of our way to see otherwise.

Pope Joan by Featherstone Creative starts Kjertina Whiting, a rising star in the Twin Cities theater community, as the title character in a rarely-told story of the “female” pope. The storyteller Christy Marie Kent is behind Featherstone, and she and the cast approach the story as though “Joan” was not female at all, but a trans man instead. The cast is slightly uneven in terms of experience and skill, but the actors who are good are so good, especially Whiting. There are some pacing issues in the show that may be worked out by the time you read this. (First couple of times with Fringe audiences are weird even to seasoned vets sometimes.) Even so, this story is fascinating, Kent’s writing of this character is so full of love and emotion, and it’s a stark reminder of the history and politic of the Catholic church that shapes so much of who we are as a society today still. Go with an open mind, as much of the point of Fringe is for writers and producers to try new styles and conventions, and some of Kent’s experiments pay off big time in Pope Joan. You will be fascinated by Joan and super impressed by Whiting’s performance regardless.

Mayor Lear of Townsville by Play-Dot was the second most enjoyable thing I’ve seen so far at Fringe. This play is sheer fun—a retelling of Shakespeare’s King Lear set in the world of The Powerpuff Girls with an incredibly charming cast. This show is probably only appropriate for fans of The Powerpuff Girls but your Shakespeare knowledge can be minimal. If you are a fan, Natalie Rae Wass’ performance as Mojo Jojo and The Mayor is worth the price of a whole day pass alone. The all-female cast is unexpected and perfect. Shalee Coleman is one of the most gifted directors working the Twin Cities small theatre seen, so if you love nostalgia, hilarity, and well-done art, add this to your schedule ASAP.

The Shrieking Harpies, a musical improv trio, weren’t on my original list in spite of the fact that I’m a huge fan of Hannah Wydeven and Taj Ruler both. I hadn’t seen Lizzie Gardner, the third Harpie, before but she was an equally gifted improviser. The Shrieking Harpies’ Songs of Summer MN kicked off my Saturday in part because of weird planning on my end, but it ended up being the exact right choice to put me in a Fringe mindset for the day. The show’s hilarity got my energy up, and the sheer talent of the improv artists got me amped up for a performance art festival. The Harpies’ chemistry and vibe is just right when you want to celebrate comedy, friendship, or Fringe itself.

Wait, Didn’t Patrick’s Cabaret Close? is on this list for an entirely different reason; I almost skipped this show because I see Patrick’s Cabaret all the time, and I suspect this is the case for many queer art fans in Minneapolis. However, Artistic Director Scott Artley has a different line-up scheduled for every night and has been really excited about doing a Fringe show, so I decided to swing by their opening night show after all and was treated to three incredible Patrick’s Cabaret alums in completely different mediums. The show is only an hour, so even if you think you’re pretty well-versed on what Patrick’s has to offer, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the diverse roster of unbelievable artists. I’ve seen Patrick’s Cabaret before, and I’ve seen two of the three artists before—but not like this. The Cabaret continues to surprise even during Fringe when we expect the unexpected.

Spy in the House of Men: A One-Woman Show With Balls by Penny Stirling is what Fringe Festivals are for. This is a simple, sweet transgender coming-out-and-coming-to-terms-with-yourself storytelling show that could use a little more polish. It’s incredibly engaging though, and Stirling’s story features some brave aspects you’re unlikely to see elsewhere, including pictures of her former self and taking a moment in her story to wonder if she made the right decisions on when and how to come out. Stirling is incredibly endearing just standing up there being herself, and this show is definitely worth the noticeable line flubs and slightly cliché storytelling show framework. What makes storytelling at any level work is the genuine care and pieces of your own soul that you put into it, and on this front Stirling delivers big time.

Raw Sugar’s Synchronicity is not a sure bet for all The Column readers. It’s purposely geared towards WTF audience members that had a pretty typical experience growing up and falling in and out of social graces as a teenager. If you fit that bill even a little bit though, you’ll be delighted by this comedy about a community ed synchronized swim team that features a hilariously choreographed sychronized swim routine and everything. Sarah Parker shines as Marley, the snack-driven member of the squad, and genderqueer actor Ally Rae’s return to traditional theatre is long overdue. I loved this play. It’s simple, but it’s fun, feminine, and accessible.  If it sounds up your alley, definitely swing by Mixed Blood to check it out.

Step Three: Curtain Call

Before and after your Fringe shows, you’ll likely be asked to go online and review the show if you enjoyed it. I strongly recommend doing this as a service to the artists who work so hard for so little money, but also as a service to fellow Fringe goers. The Fringe review system is pretty indiscriminate. Anyone can go online and say anything. Even shows that I thought were undeniably strong had some pretty harsh, nonsensical critics. So if you have a valid critique, found something challenging in the wrong way, or felt belittled or degraded because of a show, you absolutely have an appropriate outlet for that. Many directors and producers take intelligent feedback from audience reviews to heart, so this is a time where your voice matters. Certainly if you left raving about how genius a show was or how hard you laughed, let the cast know in a review, and help inspire other Fringe audience to stop in for that show too. In past years audience reviews have connected me to lifelong collaborators as well as inspired producers to contact me about making the show less problematic. Certainly I have been thanked often for kind words. It is well worth the time to go to the website and leave a few words. More importantly, if possible, take time in between Fringe days to decompress, jot some notes about things that meant a lot to you or hurt you, and breathe. Art is better when it has time to rest in you, so I recommend not overloading yourself unless you don’t have a choice. Grumpy’s Downtown serves as Fringe Central this year, a place to mingle with the artists and friends you’ve been seeing shows with. This is a great way to feel like you’re a part of it yourself, even if you’re not an artist. Most importantly, this year’s Festival has been seriously wonderful so far according to almost everyone I’ve talked too. So head over to a venue near you, and support Fringe work!

The Fringe Festival is going on through this Sunday (August 13th). You can reserve tickets, schedule your shows, and learn more about the shows listed here or anything else you’re into at Fringe’s website.

Settlement reached in Nova Academy anti-transgender discrimination case

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A settlement has been reached in a discrimination complaint brought by the parents of a transgender child against a St. Paul charter school. Gender Justice, the legal organization representing Dave and Hannah Edwards, and their daughter, announced on Monday that the settlement had been reached through confidential mediation.

According to the settlement, Nova Classical Academy will pay damages of $120,000 to the Edwards’. The school will also “revise its policies and practices to support its transgender and gender nonconforming students.”

The Edwards’ daughter enrolled in Nova in the fall of 2015. After encountering some hostile comments for being gender nonconforming, staff prepared gender-inclusive training but were blocked by school leadership, according to a civil rights complaint filed in April with the City of St. Paul.

In late 2015 and early 2016, a slew of local and national religious right groups began putting pressure on Nova to reject steps to make the school more inclusive of transgender and gender nonconforming students.

That coordinated campaign was launched by conservative Christian parents — with the aid of the Minnesota Child Protection League, the Minnesota Family Council, and Paul Ridgeway, the host of religious radio station AM 980 KKMS — . sought to prevent the school from enacting any inclusive policies. The Minnesota Family Council held an anti-transgender seminar in the school gymnasium (which hundreds of transgender community members and allies silently protested). The conservative groups even enlisted the help of the American College of Pediatricians, a national religious right group that has been described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group.

The Edwards were forced to withdraw their child from the school on Feb. 29, 2016.

The City of Saint Paul Department of Human Rights investigated following a complaint by the Edwards’ and found that the Edwards’ had probable cause to sue the school under St. Paul’s civil rights ordinances.

On Monday, Gender Justice and the Edwards announced that the settlement was reached and a lawsuit avoided.

“The discrimination we experienced will likely have a lasting impact on our family,” Dave Edwards said in a statement. “However, the phenomenal support we have received from the Twin Cities LGBTQIA community makes us feel optimistic about the future. We feel lucky to live in Minnesota, where gender identity and gender expression are protected by state and local laws.”

Hannah Edwards added, “We’re grateful for the professionalism, legal expertise, and kindness of everyone at Gender Justice. There is no doubt that transgender students are safer in Minnesota schools because of their passion, commitment, and tireless advocacy.”

Sens. Klobuchar, Franken urge Secretary Mattis to reject Trump’s ban on transgender troops

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Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken are among 45 members of the United States Senate urging Secretary of Defense James Mattis to reject President Trump’s tweets calling for a ban on transgender military personnel.

In a letter to Mattis, the Senators wrote, “This announcement contradicts existing Defense Department policies, undermines our military readiness, and puts our transgender service members as well as their commanders in an impossible situation.”

“Forcing these brave Americans out of our military would be cruel and discriminatory,” the Senators wrote.

The letter also states, in part:

We further write to request that, at a minimum, you do not separate any service member due to the person’s gender identity until you have completed the assessment that you announced on June 30, have reported back to Congress about any challenges that you foresee in the accession and retention of transgender troops, and determined the Department is unable to mitigate these challenges.

Forcing these brave Americans out of our military would be cruel and discriminatory,” the letter reads. “It would harm our readiness by denying the military of these service members’ capabilities and requiring the military to replace them at a time when the recruiting pool for services continues to shrink. It will harm morale in the military as service members see their brothers and sisters in arms — some of whom are currently forward deployed — thrown out simply because of their identity.

Any American who wants to serve and meets the standards should be allowed to serve our country. Transgender service members are serving with honor and distinction today and we ask that you, as our Secretary of Defense, assure them that their service will not be ended simply because of who they are.

Here’s the full letter:

Download (PDF, 329KB)

Minnesota’s AG joins 18 states in opposing Trump’s ban on transgender military members

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Minnesota’s Attorney General is among 19 state attorneys general that have sent a letter to leaders in Congress opposing President Trump’s proposed ban on transgender troop, a ban he issued via Twitter last week. Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson signed on to a joint letter along with Hawaii, California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.

“We…urge you to protect transgender service members through the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and join us in
opposing President Trump’s recently stated policy to prevent transgender service members from serving in the United States Armed Forces,” the letter states. “Specifically, we ask that you include language in the NDAA: (1) prohibiting discrimination against transgender service members currently serving in the United States Armed Forces; and (2) reaffirming that transgender individuals may not be banned from serving in the United States Armed Forces.”

The letter also states:

The new policy is also blatant discrimination. It has no place in our Armed Services. It is an insult to the courageous transgender service members who hold vital roles in our military and continue to make tremendous sacrifices for our country. Transgender individuals are valued members of our communities. The new ban harms our States’ transgender residents and marginalizes an entire group of people based solely on gender identity. In addition to its constitutional infirmities, it is inconsistent with the laws and policies of many States, and with fundamental notions of fairness and equality.

Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last week that the policy won’t change until Trump follows the proper channels for such a change.

Here’s the full letter and press release:

Download (PDF, 189KB)

Queering the Tarot: The Six of Swords

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Last month’s inquiry into the Five and Seven of Swords got a little (necessarily) heavy. We touched on mental health, medically transitioning as a transgender person, and fighting intense battles in our activism with cunning words and fighting within an oppressive system. Today we’re offering a little change of pace and featuring the Six of Swords. This card offers hope and promise in the middle of those rougher times. The Six of Swords most often depicts someone on a boat, traveling over water to a better time. The travel is bittersweet. It is a rite of passage, something we are meant to do to move on and move forward in our lives. It is also something that is hard or even tragic to walk away from. Many modern tarot decks do take a more positive approach to this card. Though the travel itself is difficult, what lies ahead are clear waters, healing, and happier times. In time then, our sadness and pain will fade and we will be rejuvenated. Obviously a lot of decks take some artistic liberty with the card and the original imagery has been changed. The metaphor of the journey and the break between the Five and Seven still stand.

I have always loved the Six of Swords. I love seeing this card of logically making the best decision for ourselves and our lives being tempered with the emotional and healing water. I love seeing that though this journey is the seeker’s, they are not alone. I love the ambiguity of who’s story this is. Is it the person steering the ship or the person calmly seated, contemplating their past and future? I love that it allows us to live in murkier times without trying to cut away our emotions—it just wants us to stay on track and know this heaviness is fading. This is a card of journeys and of change, and even when those do weigh heavier on our hearts, they are almost always for the best.

When I came out of the closet I was stuck in limbo (by which I mean the notorious Bible Belt, the Southeast of the USA) for awhile. I was in love and it didn’t work out. I had new queer friends and other chosen family, but I will still stuck in a place that was damaging to me, that liked me better when I was in the closet, and that wanted me gone as badly as I wanted to be gone. I suffered for probably three years, stuck in that Five of Swords oppression. Until one day someone said to me “Why don’t you just leave?” They weren’t being kind, but it was the best thing anyone has ever said to me to this day. When you are fighting your mental health, outside oppressors, and your past, cutting through to something simple and pure is impossible. That’s what the Swords cards do for us though—they become that person that says “Why don’t you just leave?” In my case this card came to represent the journey I took to the Midwest itself. Leaving to finish school in a then-blue state meant leaving my closest friends, an ex-partner that I was determined to make it work with still, the mountains I had found myself in, and so many other things. Yet it was right for me, and it was necessary. The road to the Midwest was littered in hiccups and regret–until I got here, and for the first time I felt like I could breathe. That then is our first hard but true queering of the Six of Swords. Many of us feel trapped in small towns. It feels like that Five of Swords environment might actually get the best of us. (In truth, some of us are trapped, and I don’t mean to sound insensitive to that reality. Other cards and Queering the Tarot columns have and do address that head-on.) In many cases though, we can just…leave. We can find somewhere queerer, weirder, more liberal, more radical, or more like what a home is supposed to be. If the Six of Swords is showing up and you hate where you live, think through that for awhile. What’s keeping you there? What are you losing? And is it that trade-off worth it?

Another queering of the Six of Swords comes after a move, after a change, or after that bittersweet transition. I mentioned earlier that this card is swirling with the healing and emotions promised by the symbolism of water. As LGBTQ+ seekers we often find ourselves at a place in our lives that is actually pretty good, yet we still don’t feel “right” or like we think we should. The Six of Swords then calls us to go on a metaphorical healing journey so that we can appreciate where we are. I don’t know any LGBTQ+ people who don’t deal with pain from our past or struggle with the trauma of living in a queerphobic society or both. There are years on end we deny our reality, and even if everyone and everything else in our life is perfect, there is likely some long-term damage we ended up with. This Six then comes to push(or row) us to something warmer, calmer, and better—but we have to be willing to take the journey first. Are we willing to cut out the things that still hurt us, be they internal or external? Are we able to dive into our own depths and revisit the pain we try to suppress so that we can truly overcome it? Those choices are ours to make, but the Six of Swords promise we will reach a better place if we take that on.

The Six of Swords does have more straightforward, practical applications as we queer it, but the message is still the same. If your employer doesn’t offer health care that covers your transition needs, it might be time to move on. If your chosen family has done nothing but quarrel for two years, it might be time to assess your need for them. If your relationship hurts you more than it supports you…well, you know. These are never easy answers, and the Six of Swords doesn’t promise any anyway. What it does do is encourage you to go on that journey anyway and promise that over time, you’ll be content with the result.

As a final note, a queer Six of Swords does show up when you are already on the journey sometimes, as in, when you are already in that boat in the middle of a body of water and not sure where you’re going. Look ahead, not behind in these cases. Remember why you are moving, or healing, or venturing out on your own. Allow the sudden spike in your emotions to exist so that your queer identity and your choices as a human can be affirmed and nurtured by your healing. This card affirms that you’re not wrong to feel sad or uncertain. Your feelings and experience are valid. Yet this journey you are on can take you so much further than you ever thought. Trust that more and better is coming—because it is. Eventually that Swords logic will cut through the confusion and hurt and it will fall away as you walk towards brighter shores.

Be sure to check out the full Queering the Tarot series.