Thursday, April 18, 2019
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Around the Region: Anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in WI, SD, and IA

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South Dakota
Republican lawmakers in South Dakota have introduced legislation aimed at preventing gender identity and transgender issues from being discussed in the state’s schools, the Argus Leader reports:

South Dakota lawmakers are set to consider what students should be taught about gender identity and whether schools should write and make public their transgender bathroom policies.
The bills come two years after Gov. Dennis Daugaard vetoed a proposal to bar transgender students from using bathrooms that don’t match their biological sex at birth.
The proposals are aimed at freeing up time to teach other subjects and ensuring transparency about policies related to bathroom use, the bills’ sponsor said.
Opponents, meanwhile, said the measures singled out transgender students for discrimination and posed problems for all students in understanding gender identity.
The first proposal, Senate Bill 160, would outlaw teaching gender identity or gender expression to public school students in grades seven and below.
Sen. Phil Jensen, R-Rapid City, brought the proposal because he felt state test scores in math and English were falling and felt more time could be spent in those areas rather than on gender identity.

Iowa
Iowa Republicans have introduced legislation to ban transgender people from using restrooms, We Are Iowa reports:

A group of Iowa House Republicans submitted a bill on Wednesday that with transgender Iowans and the access they have to bathrooms.
House File 2164, if passed, would allow businesses and schools to preserve the men’s and women’s bathrooms to their respective genders. Right now, the Iowa Civil Rights Act allows transgender Iowans to not be discriminated against based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

KCCI has more:

A controversial new bill that would limit the access transgender people have to restrooms in schools and businesses has been introduced at the Statehouse.

Former President Barack Obama issued federal guidelines telling public schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms of the gender with which they identify, but President Donald Trump said states should decide.
About a dozen House Republicans, including state Rep. Sandy Salmon of Janesville, support the bill, saying it protects women, children and students by “preserving access to bathrooms based on biological sex.”
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The bill’s sponsor said it’s an issue of safety, but those in the transgender community claim it’s a form of discrimination.
Kennan Crow, with One Iowa Action, said there has not been an uptick in public safety incidents in restrooms. “It seems rather than increase safety, we’re targeting individuals based on who they are, and that’s not fair.”

The Des Moines Register looks at the odds of the bill passing:

Iowa House Republicans introduced a bill Wednesday that would protect schools and businesses that choose to limit transgender people’s access to restrooms.
House File 2164 seeks to rewrite portions of the Iowa Civil Rights Act, which grants transgender Iowans legal protections against discrimination in education, employment, housing and other public accommodations based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.
Gender identity refers to the gender with which a person identifies internally, while sex is biologically assigned at birth. Transgender Iowans may choose to transition their external appearance so that it aligns with their gender identity.
“What the bill just says is that schools and businesses are allowed to take action to protect women and girls by preserving access (to toilet facilities and locker rooms) based on biological sex,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Sandy Salmon, R-Janesville.
The legislation is supported by a dozen House Republicans as well as Christian conservative organization The Family Leader. But a key committee chairman said the issue is unlikely to survive a looming legislative deadline.
“We’ve got several hundred bills assigned to Judiciary, and we’re going to be looking at all of them,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Zach Nunn, R-Bondurant, noting that he has limited time to advance legislation out of his committee. “At this point, I don’t see that (bill) being in the top tier.”

LGBTQ Day on the Hill was last week, WHO-TV reports:

Iowans gathered at the Statehouse on Tuesday as One Iowa hosted its annual LGBTQ Day on the Hill.
Activists lobbied against conversion therapy and for expanding protection against hate crimes. The day is very important to people like Sophia Stone.
“This is my community, this is my family, and I am going to fight as hard as I possibly can for them,” she said.
Stone demonstrated support by lobbying against conversion therapy, which has already been banned by the American Medical Association.
“It creates such psychological trauma to go through conversion therapy to be told and forced to be somebody who you aren’t,” Stone said.
Conversion therapy is among other legislative priorities like the Iowa Civil Rights Act, school vouchers/school choice, and hate crime protection.
“We’re also lobbying for the addition of gender identity to the Iowa Hate Crimes Code. We know that transgender people and especially transgender pepole of color face violence and murder at higher rates than everybody else in the nation, so we want to make sure that transgender Iowans are safe and secure,” Democratic Representative Liz Bennett said.

Wisconsin
Republicans in Wisconsin have introduced a bill to ban nondiscrimination ordinances that are more expansive than the state’s, the Badger Herald reports:

A Republican-backed bill that would standardize employment laws across the state would also prohibit local municipalities from creating their own discrimination laws and protecting their workers.
Though this bill attempts to make it easier for companies to do business in Wisconsin, in Madison it would mean less protection for employees, Alyssa Riphon, investigator and conciliator for the city of Madison, said.
“The city of Madison has its own discrimination law, which has been in effect for almost 55 years,” Riphon said. “It is one of the most comprehensive anti-discrimination laws in the country and has 28 protected classes. Employment is one of three sections of this law. But we receive the most discrimination complaints in the area of employment and this legislation would essentially gut the employment section of the ordinance.”
Additionally, the bill would eliminate 12 protected classes in the city of Madison.
These classes are certain demographics that tend to experience discrimination and have been protected in the workplace so far. They include gender identity, nonreligion, homelessness, source of income, social security number, physical appearance, political beliefs, student status, domestic partners, citizenship, unemployment status and credit history, Riphon said.

Cardboard Piano brings story of gay Ugandans to the stage

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Cardboard Piano by Hansol Jung at Park Square Theater has a lot going for it. Stellar performances make the theatre vibrate with emotion and energy as Ansa Akyea, Kiara Jovanne, Adelin Phelps, and Michael Jemison tell this hard story. The plot centers around Chris and Adiel, two teenage girls who fall in love in war torn Uganda in 1999. Tragedy strikes right before intermission, and Act II focuses on Chris reuniting with the man who (arguably) caused the tragedy. They’re in 2014 now and both grapple to find the piece of chosen family they left in each other when anger and spite took over. It is definitely an emotional script, and I think the stories of gay Ugandans are crucial right now. Nonetheless, I had mixed feelings leaving the theater.

Cardboard Piano tries to tell sympathetic stories of all of the characters involved, but it misses a lot of marks. Chris as the main character, a child of white missionaries who come to Africa to build and open a church there, is frustrating. If we’re going to tell stories of Africans (and we should!) they should actually be about Africans. Furthermore, the young boy who turns on Chris and Adiel so suddenly is a traumatized thirteen year old who has been forced into performing terrible deeds and is now being tortured for failing to comply any longer. The fact that there is initially no understanding or compassion for the brainwashing and torture he has endured is problematic at best. So much of this script hinges on the Western savior complex and promises to comfort Western hearts when things start going awry. That’s a problem when we’re wanting to talk about lesbian Ugandans or victims of torture or child soldiers. The end of the second act does change this format up, and when we finally get to pieces about rebuilding and forgiveness, you will probably tear up even if you have the same trouble with the rest of the script that I did. There is a powerful message in the end about chosen family and how trauma binds people together–but that alone isn’t enough to save this piece.

None of that says anything about Park Square’s production quality though. From a set, sound, and lights perspective this show is darkly beautiful, haunting even in the literal sunnier second half. A simple set, some well-timed sounds, and a beautiful light design go a long way to keeping us engaged. The script itself isn’t all bad. The character work is phenomenal and even when I wanted to scream at a character, I knew they’d find their footing again. That’s powerful character writing. What’s even more powerful, and basically sells the show, are these performances. Ansa Akyea is one of my favorite actors in the Twin Cities. He’s a complete chameleon on stage and that’s especially present in this show as he switches characters halfway through. Adelin Phelps is always a joy to watch, and Michael Jemison fits perfectly with these performers. The real breakout performance though is Kiara Jackson who plays Adiel in Act I and Ruth in Act II. These characters are wildly different people, right down to their ages, and I bought every second of Jackson’s performance and wanted more.

This is the part where I recommend the show to you, or not. That’s a tough call in the case of Cardboard Piano. If you, like me, are sick of dead or miserable LGBTQ+ characters on stage, this is not the show for you. This play definitely falls into the trope of making death and misery seem like the punishment queer people face when they try to be happy. However, a lot of other LGBTQ+ people were there that night, and not all of them agree with me. That’s great! Art is subjective to taste, always, even when as a reviewer we try to be as impartial as possible. It is a hard show that I’m not sure pays off–for me. However, if you like new stories, enjoy the emotional pull that the aforementioned trope does genuinely bring, or are just a really big fan of really stunning acting (and don’t care about much else), you’ll probably love the show.

If you do want to see Cardboard Piano, it’s running through February 18th at Park Square Theater in St. Paul. Tickets and more information are available at their website.

Westboro Baptist claims it’s coming to protest Owatonna churches, Super Bowl

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Image via Larry Barthel. Maple Grove counter-protest. Learn more about his work at Triquetra Productions.

The virulently anti-LGBTQ Kansas church, Westboro Baptist Church, is threatening to come to Minnesota this weekend to protest four churches and a high school in Owatonna and to protest the Super Bowl in Minneapolis. The group often lobs threats of protest at communities then fails to show up.

The group says it will protest in Owatonna on Feb. 4 against “sissy, snowflake career preachers” at Bethel Church, Trinity Lutheran Church, St. Joseph Parish, and Sacred Heart Catholic, and against the Super Bowl on the same day which the group considers to be idol worship.

People in Owatonna are pushing back. A group is organizing to create a human wall to block out the protesters. Trinity Lutheran’s pastor, Todd Buegler, in a letter to church members to return love for anger.

If we are protested this weekend by people who only know anger, let’s give them something to protest:
a people who know, experience and live out God’s love every day
a people who are confident in God’s claim on our lives
a people who welcome all into our community
a people who return love for anger
What are we going to do this weekend when Westboro Baptist Church comes to protest?
We are going to be ourselves.

The group last made an appearance in Minnesota last June in Maple Grove drawing a large counter-protest.

Spotlight on the Arts: Gabriela Santiago

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On February 16th and 17th, Patrick’s Cabaret and Gabriela Santiago take over Strike Theater with Revolutionary Jetpacks: Reclaiming the Future(s), a guaranteed fabulous night of drag, hip-hop and poetry told through a Sci-Fi lens. This show wants artists on the edge of culture to imagine and claim the future and have invited artists like Queen Drea, SEE MORE PERSPECTIVE, Wolf Valencia, Stephani Maari Booker, Khary Jackson, and House of Larva Drag Co-Op (Featuring Cicada L’Amour) to do so. The event is curated by playwright Gabriela Santiago who has worked with Patrick’s before. I was eager to learn more about Santiago as an artist and human, and thrilled that she took some time out for The Column.

Hello! Please introduce yourself to our readers.
Hi! My name is Gabriela Santiago; I go by Gabby and use she/her pronouns. I’m a multiracial and bisexual writer and performer in mediums ranging from poetry to stand-up, but my first and truest love is speculative fiction. I’ve had short stories published in venues including Lightspeed’s People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction! issue, Nightmare’s People of Colo(u)r Destroy Horror! issue, and Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet. I’ve performed locally with Patrick’s Cabaret, Raw Sugar, Mother Goose, and at the OUTspoken and Not-So-Silent Planet open mics.

How would you describe your work to someone who’s never seen it?
An attempt to break orbit. Consolation for finding out magic isn’t real. Body horror, body horror, and more body horror. People who desperately want to say things but can never quite get the words out. Enough pop culture references to trip over, and at least one thinly veiled reference to Elisabeth Sladen per plotline.

Also, Edgar Allan Poe once described his short stories as attempts to distill a single emotion to its purest form, and that’s something I think about a lot as I write.

What produced or published works of yours are you most proud of?
Probably “As Long As It Takes to Make the World” and “None of This Ever Happened,” the two short stories I wrote for POC Destroy SF and POC Destroy Horror. “As Long As It Takes to Make the World” is a story I wrote as a gift for my grandfather, set on a futuristic version of the family farm in a universe where nanobots have run amok; because it was specifically written for a very gentle soul, it was a departure from my usual style, which as I may have mentioned, contains some body horror. Also, it was my first story that I completely rewrote, as in, maybe three paragraphs survive intact from the original first draft, which was also a completely different genre. So that was a big step for me in terms of letting go of past attempts and moving forward.

“None of This Ever Happened,” on the other hand, is a story that basically wrote itself once I put all my heart and soul into it (rather literally, since the very reliable narrator who is definitely not hiding anything, especially about a rock with the word ‘EAT’ scratched into it that she definitely didn’t take into her apartment. Why would you ask about that–that’s me). I’m proud of how many themes I juggled in that story and how many of my darlings I killed. Editing has always been the hardest part of the process for me, but I ended up cutting about 1,300 words at my editor’s request, and the story was stronger for it.

Plus, they’re my first pro sales, so yay external validation!

What drives you to create theatre and to write?
It’s all about communication. I’m convinced writers are the most inarticulate people in the world. Like, I’ve written an eight thousand word story about wendigos and capitalism just to say “the sensation of breathing through pain.” Eight thousand words to say that! Because I don’t really know how else to communicate with people other than through story, whether written or performed. Childhood does not seem very far away to me, and I still remember that paralyzing feeling of being so tangled in thoughts and emotions that I did not have the vocabulary to communicate to adults or make them take seriously. Whether in person or on the page, storytelling the best method I’ve found for connection with other humans.

I tend to focus on speculative fiction like sci-fi and fantasy and horror because I feel that the imagery and metaphors of those genres are just so much more potent than any other. Being a high schooler in a small town realizing you’re queer doesn’t feel like just being a high schooler in a small town realizing you’re queer. You feel like the freaking Phantom of Opera lurking in the shadows! Alienation is like being from another planet. Love is a magic spell.

How does your identity affect how or what you create?
Being mixed-race and bi has definitely influenced me in that I’m interested in characters and worlds that are liminal, that exist on the edge of or in between boundaries and binaries. I like complications and things that don’t quite fit. I like works that acknowledge complexity and consequences.

I’m really excited about your next project! What can you tell us about Revolutionary Jetpacks at Patrick’s Cabaret so far?
It’s a science fiction cabaret! Six different acts take on the question of, “Given that the Trump administration is currently trying to write marginalized and oppressed peoples out of the future, how can we write our own futures?” through a science fictional lens that might be dystopian, utopian, or anywhere in between (the technical term for that would be heterotopian, but somehow that just seems wrong for Patrick’s Cabaret!). I’m really excited about the talented performers whose acts we’ve got lined up: from Afrofuturist tales to Xicanx Futurist hip hop to a drag act featuring “astro-queers,” this show is all about reclaiming, remixing, and rewriting the future for ourselves. Because being able to reclaim your vision of the future can be a way to reclaim your power and your voice. And if that vision also has some jetpacks–or some lasers, or robots, or spaceships–well, come on. Those things are super cool.

How did you come up with this idea for a cabaret? What do you hope is created or happens that is unique for an audience that has seen a lot of shows at Patrick’s?Patrick’s Cabaret has done science fiction cabarets before, and I’ve wanted to curate one for a while now. What crystallized my vision and made me decide to finally apply was what’s happening in real life. After the 2016 election, I dove into reading (well, deeper into reading, I already had about twenty books checked out from the library) like my life depended on it. Science fiction, fantasy, and horror gave me the language to talk about what I was feeling and fearing, and gave me the symbols and structures I could use to construct a shaky little idea of hope. So I decided to send in a proposal for a science fiction cabaret with an emphasis on postcolonialism, transformative and remix culture, and highlighting marginalized voices.

I hope the audience will be exhilarated by new possibilities for the genre, refreshed by validation of their own experiences and emotions, and challenged by previously unconsidered perspectives. And I hope it gets them thinking and moving to create their own futures.

How is this event different than other work you’ve done? Is there a common thread in it to your other work?
I’ve performed with Patrick’s Cabaret before–my one-woman pieces “The Three Bisexual Women You Meet in Fiction, Who Are All Actually the Same Person” in the Bisexual Cabaret and “The Epidemiology of Fan Love” in Science Friction, and various in-progress works for the Calof Series and Raw Material, but this will be my first time actually curating the event: articulating the theme; choosing and supporting performers; trying to decide whether to host the show as a Starfleet officer, the Doctor, or Ms. Frizzle… It’s a big responsibility and I’m honored to be chosen, and to have so many amazing local artists be interested enough in my vision to apply for a spot in the show.

That’s great, Gabby! How can we grab tickets to this show?
There’s a couple different ways to get tickets to see the show! You can get advance tickets online at RevJetpacks.bpt.me or 1-800-838-3006. Those are ten bucks plus a small service charge. If you want to avoid the service charge, you can buy them directly from any of the featured artists for $10 (and all that money goes directly to that artist, so that’s a great way to help support them and their work). There will also be tickets for sale at the door of Strike Theater on the nights of the show, on a sliding scale of $12-20.

Awesome! You can learn more about the event right here, and there’s a Facebook event as well. Revolutionary Jetpacks will be at Strike Theater on February 16th and 17th at 7:30 P.M.

MN Supreme Court’s Stras confirmed to Appeal’s Court

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Minnesota Supreme Court Justice David Stras was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Tuesday to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. Stras, who was appointed to the Minnesota Supreme Court by former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, in 2010. His appointment by President Donald Trump has come under criticism from LGBTQ advocates.

Sharon McGowan, Director of Strategy at Lambda Legal, released a statement today on the confirmation of Stras.

“While the President has been hard to pin down on many issues, he has been clear and consistent about his intention to fill the courts with ultra-conservative judges who intend to erode and undermine important constitutional guarantees relied upon by LGBT people, women and other communities,” said McGowan. “This is the thirteenth court of appeals judge that the Senate has confirmed since Trump took office, and Senators McConnell and Grassley show no signs of slowing down the unprecedented pace at which they are packing the courts with Trump judges. The damage that is being done to our judiciary cannot be overstated, and will be felt for generations.”

Stras’ confirmation had been stalled when former Sen. Al Franken declined to submit a “blue slip” for Stras. Senate decorum had deferred to Senators from the home state of nominees. If two blue slips aren’t returned, then the nominee doesn’t get a hearing. Senate Republicans abandoned that norm in the case of Stras. He’s the first judge in 80 years to be confirmed without both blue slips, according to the Hill.

Lambda Legal notes that Stras has an anti-LGBTQ record as a judge. The group wrote:

For example, Justice Stras has suggested that U.S. Supreme Court inappropriately “ventured” into addressing constitutional issues regarding marriage equality, dismissing constitutional protections for LGBT people as “social policy.” In that same 2008 article, Justice Stras expressed doubt about the core holding of Lawrence v. Texas, the 2003 ruling that struck down Texas’s sodomy law as an unconstitutional deprivation of liberty. Justice Stras seemed to dismiss the well-established fundamental rights of liberty, privacy and self-determination at the core of the ruling when he noted that sodomy bans violated privacy rights, at least “according to the Court.”

Stras also ruled in favor of Christian conservatives when the name of the failed 2012 anti-gay marriage amendment was in contention.

Stras was confirmed by a vote of 56-42. Sen. Amy Klobuchar for Stras’ confirmation. Sen. Tina Smith voted against it.

Around the Region: Sioux Falls mayor joins Mayors Against LGBT Discrimination

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South Dakota
Sioux Falls Mayor Mike Huether has joined Mayors Against LGBT Discrimination, the Argus Leader reports:

Mayor Mike Huether has signed on to a national campaign to bolster anti-discrimination efforts for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.
In a news release Thursday, Sioux Falls City Hall announced Huether is among 275 mayors from 48 states and Washington, D.C. to join Mayors Against LGBT Discrimination, a bipartisan coalition of municipal leaders dedicated to securing nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people in all levels of government.
Heuther is the first mayor from South Dakota to join the coalition.
“Protecting people equally and fighting against discrimination are American values, South Dakota values, and yes, Sioux Falls values,” Huether said in a statement. “We have made gains in this effort, but we also have more work to do to ensure equal treatment for all people living in and visiting our great city.”

A post on South DaCola gave the news a half-hearted applause with the title: “It only took 7 years and 8 months, but Mayor Huether now supports LGBT rights”:

Okay, that isn’t fair. He did try to monkey around with some executive orders a few years ago. While I think it is great he signed on with this program, I will also say it is easy to support controversial social issues when you have one foot out the door. That’s Mike, always ‘Getting stuff done’.

North Dakota
Fargo-Moorhead has a new gay pastor, the Fargo Forum reports:

It’s a group not fully accounted for, yet growing: openly gay pastors.
In the past two years, Fargo-Moorhead has welcomed two.
Pastor Joe Larson was called to lead St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Fargo in June 2016, becoming North Dakota’s first openly gay pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
On Sunday, Jan. 20, Pastor Robert Drake was officially installed as the first openly gay pastor of Moorhead’s First Presbyterian Church.
Both pastors are married, Minnesota natives and second-career pastors, meaning they previously had other professions. Drake, 48, was a carpenter and construction foreman, and Larson, 61, worked in social services.
They believe this is where God has called them to serve, but their journeys here differ, largely due to a changing political environment that in recent years has become more accepting of those identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and/or queer.
“The reality is within the church there has always been LGBTQ pastors,” Larson said. “Sometimes they led secretively closeted lives. It’s just a different perspective where a church makes the conscious choice to call someone like us.”

Iowa
A judge has allowed an anti-LGBTQ Christian student group to return to campus after the University of Iowa revoked the group’s registration, the Press Citizen reports:

A federal judge has ordered the University of Iowa to temporarily reinstate a conservative Christian group as a registered student organization, saying the university is denying the group its freedom of speech rights.
Business Leaders in Christ sued after the university in Iowa City revoked its campus registration in November, citing the group’s denial of a leadership position to a gay student who wouldn’t affirm a statement of faith rejecting homosexuality. The university says it respects religious rights but doesn’t tolerate discrimination.

According to The Gazette, the group is thrilled that it’s allowed to return to campus despite violating the University of Iowa’s non-discrimination policies:

A previously-barred University of Iowa student organization was among more than 160 involved in an on-campus recruitment fair Wednesday after a federal judge on Tuesday forced the university to allow it to participate.
Business Leaders in Christ, which UI administrators deregistered in November following accusations it discriminated against an openly gay member, looked like other groups showcased at the Iowa Memorial Union fair — with banner, cookies, and members fielding questions.
“We’re Business Leaders in Christ,” Jake Estell, president of the group that goes by BLinC, told one student who lingered near his table. “We just host a bible study basically every week and we talk about how the bible interacts … Would you like a cookie?”
“I am here for a cookie,” the student said.
More than halfway into the two-hour fair, Estell said 12 people had signed up to receive more information about the group, which is hovering at 10 members right now. He thought maybe six of those would materialize into actual members.
“We are definitely excited and thrilled to be back in this setting,” Estell said. “This is definitely where we are most comfortable.”

Around the Region: Anti-LGBTQ student group sues University of Iowa

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Iowa
Controversy continues at the University of Iowa as a Christian group sues after the University revoked it’s status as a student group following anti-LGBTQ discrimination. KCRG has reactions from LGBTQ community members on campus:

Alex Bare is the Outreach Director for Spectrum UI, the first LGBT university club in the United States. He says what Business Leaders in Christ did wasn’t right.
“The sole reason he didn’t get that position was for his identity. A fully qualified person in all other pursuits yet because of that aspect of his identity they were denied that position,” said Bare.
Business Leaders in Christ says the University isn’t allowing it to honor its beliefs, that intimate relationships should only be between one man and one woman in marriage.

Religious right gadfly Franklin Graham weighed in on the university’s decision. The anti-LGBTQ evangelical Christian website Christian Daily reports:

In a Facebook post, Graham talked about how the University of Iowa had revoked BLinC’s license to operate and activity fee funding after an openly gay student had complained about being kept from a leadership position. The evangelist sided with the Christian student group and applauded its members for standing up for their faith despite the accusations of discrimination thrown against them, the World Net Daily relayed.

“The school said they were discriminating. The group said that anyone can become a member, but leaders must affirm a statement of faith that upholds God’s standards, and the Bible says that homosexuality is sin,” Graham said in part on Facebook. “I’m proud of these courageous young people for being faithful to Biblical truth. Pray for them as they have challenged the school’s religious discrimination with legal action.”

Wisconsin
A Wisconsin university has been named one of the best schools fr LGBTQ students, WQOW reports:

The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire has once again been named a top spot for LGBTQIA+ students.

According to BestColleges.com, UWEC is the best college in Wisconsin for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex and asexual students. Though the recognition isn’t entirely new for the campus.

In May of 2017, UW-Eau Claire came in third in the nation on College Choice’s 2017 “50 Best Colleges for LGBTQ Students” list.
Some credit the accolades to things like the school’s Gender and Sexuality Resource Center and the “Coming Out Day” celebration held every year on the campus mall.

“It’s important for us, as an institution, to be able to say, ‘Regardless of what’s going on in the country or around the world, you can come here and you can thrive, not just survive,'” said Christopher Jorgenson, the director of UW-Eau Claire’s Gender & Sexuality Resource Center.

Art Shanties, a unique winter event with lots of queer artists

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Twenty-one teams of visual artists, fifteen groups of performing artists and one frozen lake are teaming up for another great year of the Art Shanty Projects starting on January 20th at Bde Unma lake, commonly called Lake Harriet. This annual event features one of the most eclectic displays of art and Minnesota community that exists. Artists involved each build Shanties designed after or inspired by the fishing huts we see pop up all over the frozen lakes this time of year and create whatever they want inside the shanty and in the artist-filled lake community. In addition to the art itself, the Art Shanty Project allows and encourages visitors to interact with the artists in a comfortable, low pressure setting. This is the first year the project will be in Minneapolis directly (as opposed to St. Paul or a suburb) and that means there are public transit options, making the event more accessible to low income art lovers or those who are simply without cars. Additionally, Metro Transit is providing FREE rides for the first weekend. Several LGBTQ+ artists are involved this year too, giving Column readers even more to get excited about.

One such artist is Angela North, an oil painter who likes to break out of her box for events like The Art Shanty Projects. This year she’s taking part in The Tomb of the Unknown Minnow, an artistic space full of irreverence and religious iconography who’s basic idea is to pay tribute to the minnows who die in the bait bucket before getting to sacrifice themselves for the greater fishing good. Says North of the Shanty, “ I am very excited about this Shanty and the irreverent sacred nature of the thing. It may convert the worthy fisher people to a new religion.”

She goes on to say “We have already built the shanty. It is beautiful and we are now working on the religious iconography that will adorn the inside and outside, along with an entire lore of the minnows plight and journey into existence.”

Playwright and filmmaker Sami Pfeffer is also creating a Shanty this year, partnering with Anne Grinager (a professional professional timber framer, boat builder, and carpenter) for Phone Valet. Phone Valet offers, according to Pfeffer, “a selection of 16 ‘analog apps’, creatively re-imagined substitutes for functions normally delineated to smartphones. For example, participants are encouraged to embark on a treasure hunt through the Maps app, create a flipbook for YouTube, request a song from on-hand musicians through Spotify, or check out a film camera instead of snapping photos digitally.”

Pfeffer continues, “These ‘apps’ allow participants to be present with each other, and the other Shanties, in new and radical ways. Or rather, in old and radical ways. For example, we live in an age when we can take photographs without asking permission. In fact, we can take photographs without even revealing that we are using a camera. So how does an analog device alter our relationship with our subject?”

If this concept seems familiar, it’s because it did premiere at Northern Spark in 2017. Since Northern Spark runs just one night in the summer though, the project has been tweaked due to weather, sunlight, and the learning process that debuting a new artwork entails. The original Phone Valet insisted that people part with their phones for the duration of checking out the project, something that made many people feel anxious or ashamed for various reasons. While Pfeffer is directly interested in shame and vulnerability in art, that doesn’t mean they want participants to feel shame while engaging in the art they create, so actually valet-ing one’s phone has been cut from the project. Phone Valet is using a smaller Shanty than some other projects, providing an intimate encounter with the experiences we took for granted before smart phones.

In person engagement is a common theme in this year Art Shanty Project among queer artists. Real life couple Nat Locke and Ana Begej are creating Team Engine where they will facilitate cooperative games. Says Locke “I actually consider myself an educator first and foremost, but I can include education in a broad definition of what art is. I like to design experiences. In the absence of time and resources for creating the kinds of experiences people usually think of, I’ve found that games can help us learn and experience quite a lot in groups so they’ve sort of become my educational medium of choice. I’m specifically interested in what we can learn about ourselves and how we work with others by playing together.” Those games include racing on four-person skis and trying to find unknown game partners throughout the bustling lake. Locke adds “The Team Engine is sort of the fusion of our love of Art Shanties and our desire to bring these games to a wider audience. Hopefully we’ll get to use it off the ice in the coming years, too!”

Several other LGBTQ+ artists are involved, including Jeremy Bue, Claire Swanback and Ari Baum-Hommes, to name a few. This means that no matter where you are on the ice, you’ll likely run into some friendly faces from the larger queer community, and know that your viewpoint is represented somewhere. Another exciting, inclusive feature this year is the Welcome Hut, created completely by University of Minnesota College of Design students. This part warming hut, part information hub run by students means that in addition to the seasoned artists and educators we’ve talked about, new and emerging artists have a substantial hand in making this event happen. Says event organizer Lacey  Prpić Hedtke, “I love being a part of this project because I see how much of an impact the shanties have on artists, performers, volunteers, and visitors. It happens at a time of winter where people are starting to get stir crazy, and every year after visiting the shanties I’ve thought, ‘Oh yeah, this is why I live in Minneapolis–we’ve got the coolest public art around!’ It’s a great chance for people to get outside in the winter, onto a frozen lake. The majority of people who attend the event don’t usually attend art events. I love that it’s accessible to people in so many ways.”

The Art Shanties take over  Bde Unma/Lake Harriet near the Bandshell starting on January 20th-February 11th, 2018. The On Ice Program is open Saturdays and Sundays from 10am-4pm during those weeks. The Art Shanty Projects On Ice program is public art; that means free to all. The Shanties do accept donations on the ice, and the overall project has a new membership program people can join. You can find out more about that program as well as the Art Shanties themselves on the Project’s website.

Around the Region: Trans student receives $800k settlement after school-based discrimination

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Wisconsin
A transgender student who was discriminated against by the Kenosha Unified School District has won a $800,000 settlement from the school, Kenosha News reports:

The Kenosha Unified School Board has settled a lawsuit with a transgender former student who said the district discriminated against him, including monitoring trips to the boys restroom.
The board voted 5-2 Tuesday night on the $800,000 settlement in the case of Ash Whitaker, a former Tremper High School student who graduated in June.
Whitaker, born a female, identifies as a male. He filed the suit alleging staff had monitored him, making him wear wristbands singling him out from other students.

Voting in favor of the settlement were School Board President Tamarra Coleman and board members Mary Snyder, Daniel Wade, Rebecca Stevens and Mike Falkofske. Casting dissenting votes were board members Gary Kunich and Tony Garcia.
In August, the district filed a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking that it overturn a 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in May, which had upheld U.S. District Court Judge Pamela Pepper’s injunction allowing Whitaker to use male-only restrooms at Tremper. While he was attending the school, the injunction allowed him to use boys restrooms throughout his senior year.
The settlement withdraws the district’s petition to the Supreme Court.

The Transgender Law Center released a statement about the settlement that includes this quote from Whitaker:

“I am deeply relieved that this long, traumatic part of my life is finally over and I can focus on my future and simply being a college student,” said Ash, who is currently a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he plans to major in biomedical engineering. “Winning this case was so empowering and made me feel like I can actually do something to help other trans youth live authentically. My message to other trans kids is to respect themselves and accept themselves and love themselves. If someone’s telling you that you don’t deserve that, prove them wrong.”

A new grant will help train Milwaukee County employees to better serve transgender and nonbinary survivors of sexual assault and domestic abuse, the Wisconsin Gazette reports:

Cream City Foundation announced Jan. 8 a grant awarded to support assessment, training, technical assistance and consultation efforts between FORGE and Milwaukee County Community Access to Recovery Services (CARS). The program specifically supports a year-long, thorough assessment and training effort that will enable and empower CARS providers to feel confident in their ability to reach out to and serve trans and non-binary individuals.
“FORGE is a national leader in providing dynamic trainings for providers who work with transgender survivors and loved ones who have experienced sexual and domestic violence,” said Cream City Foundation president and CEO Brett Blomme. “This grant allows FORGE to bring this assessment and training expertise to southeastern Wisconsin. A special thank you to the Milwaukee Gay Sports Network for helping to underwrite this partnership grant.”

“We, at FORGE, are excited about the opportunity to more intensively work with CARS to support their network of providers to better serve trans/non-binary individuals and loved ones in the Milwaukee area,” said Michael Munson, FORGE’s executive director. “Trans community members in Milwaukee have limited options for culturally competent and cost-accessible mental health/substance abuse services.”

Iowa
A Christian student group is suing the University of Iowa after the university revoked its registration after the group discriminated against a gay student, the Associated Press reports:

The University of Iowa is caught up in a legal fight with a conservative Christian student group that denied a leadership position to a student who is gay.

The case pits a university policy barring discrimination based on sexual orientation against the religious beliefs of a 10-member group called Business Leaders in Christ. The group sued after the state’s flagship university in Iowa City revoked its campus registration in November.

The group says its membership is open to everyone, but that its leaders must affirm a statement of faith that rejects homosexuality. The university says it respects the right of students, faculty and staff to practice the religion of their choice but does not tolerate discrimination of any kind.

The group, founded in the spring of 2015 by students at the university’s Tippie College of Business, met weekly for Bible study, to conduct service projects and to mentor students on “how to continually keep Christ first in the fast-paced business world.” The group’s loss of registration as an on-campus student organization means it can no longer reserve campus meeting space, participate in student recruitment fairs, access funds from student activity fees or use university-wide communication services.

Manitoba
Manitoba’s decision not to register gay couple’s marriage in 1974 was not discrimination, the Human Rights Commission ruled last week, the CBC reports:

A Manitoba human rights adjudicator says the province’s vital statistics bureau was not discriminatory for continuing to refuse to register the marriage of a same-sex couple in the 1970s.
Chris Vogel and Richard North got married in a Unitarian church in 1974. When they went to register the marriage at what is now the Manitoba Vital Statistics Agency, they were denied based on the fact they were both men.
The pair fought the decision in court, but the judge at the time declared the law had not “intended to recognize the capacity of two persons of the same sex to marry.” The judge then declared Vogel and North’s ceremony as a “nullity.”

The couple took the case to the Manitoba Human Rights Commission in December 2015 for review.
In his decision dated Jan. 8, 2018, adjudicator Robert Dawson said being a human rights adjudicator, he has no right to overturn the judge’s decision from 1974.
“I adopt the [Manitoba Vital Statistics Agency]’s submission that the sexual orientation of the complainant was not, and is not, a factor in its rejection of [North’s] application for registration. In other words, the respondent has refused to register a marriage that a court has ruled to be a nullity.”
Even though the laws have evolved since 1974 to allow same-sex marriage, Dawson said he does not have the power to overturn the judge’s original decision. He then urged North and Vogel to take further action.

Around the Region: Data suggests that South Dakota has lowest per capita LGBT population in the nation

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Regional Data
The Williams Institute is out with the annual estimate of LGBT population by state. In our region, Minnesota had the highest percent of adults identifying as LGBT at 4 percent. Wisconsin had 3.4 and Iowa had 3.2. North Dakota had 2.4 percent, and South Dakota was the nation’s lowest with 2 percent. The national average is 4 percent.

Iowa
Cedar Falls will get its first LGBTQ community clinic, KWWL reports:

UnityPoint Clinic will be offering health care services for the LGBTQ community in a clinic that is focused on providing a comfortable and welcoming environment for people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer.
The clinic will operate out of the current UnityPoint Family Medicine Clinic on Prairie Parkway in Cedar Falls. The clinic is set to open Jan. 3rd. Patients can schedule appointments between 5-7 p.m. on the first and third Wednesday of each month.
Services provided by the clinic will include:
Emily Ball, a nurse practitioner at the clinic, says this will be the first of its kind in the Cedar Valley. The only other LGBTQ clinic in the state is in Iowa City at the University of Iowa.
“We just felt like we needed this local,” said Ball. “We didn’t want patients to feel like they had to travel a couple of hours, several times a month initially, and a couple times of year, we wanted everyone to find those services here.”
Ball says the goal is to make members members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community feel comfortable coming to the doctor.

Wisconsin

Madison Commons profiled the Gay Straight Alliance for Safe Schools, which is training teachers to better understand the needs of LGBTQ students:

Shawn Fredricks, a former health and physical education teacher at Beloit Memorial High School in Beloit, described always separating her students between boys and girls.
Though she considered herself a pretty accepting person, Fredricks said until she went to a training hosted by the organization Gay Straight Alliance for Safe Schools (GSAFE), a Madison based nonprofit advocating for LGBTQ+ youth, she was not aware about how much she did not understand about identity.
“I would say ‘boys over here and girl over there’ without giving it much of a second thought,” she said.
The small staff at GSAFE has been training Wisconsin educators for the past decade in creating a safe and supportive educational setting for students who do not fit into gender conforming labels.
In the past five years, the educational sessions shifted its focus to highlight the experiences of transgender students as well as LGBTQ+ students of color.

Brown County in northeast Wisconsin — and the home of Green Bay — is considering a gender identity nondiscrimination law , the Green Bay Press Gazette reports:

Brown County officials are scheduled this week to consider ways of protecting transgender persons from discrimination.
One plan would require that county employees and job applicants be treated equally and without regard to their gender identity or status as a transgender person.

Aaron Linssen (Photo: Bill Gellerman)
The county’s Executive Committee will take up the idea at 5:30 p.m. Monday in the Northern Building, 305 E. Walnut St., Green Bay.
Another measure, by Supervisor Aaron Linssen, would include gender identity as a protected class in the county’s housing code.
Linssen cited recent action by De Pere to prohibit landlords, employers and businesses from discriminating against transgender persons.
“My constituents in De Pere voted to make anti-discrimination their law,” Linssen said in an interview. “I think it’s the right time.”

An historic Madison property may become the city’s most prominent LGBTQ official landmark, the Wisconsin State Journal reports:

The era ended when Clarenbach sold the house in June 1987.
But three decades later, a coalition has created the Clarenbach House Project to seek city landmark designation for the property.
“If we fail to celebrate that time and forget to honor the hard work which went into expanding civil rights we are in danger of taking them for granted, and when we take something for granted we are exposed to the risk of losing it,” project chairwoman Leslie Schroeder said.