The Reader would like to welcome everyone who is planning on attending the events for the Duluth-Superior Pride Festival this weekend. This year will mark the 30th Annual Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Allied & Intersex Pride Festival in the Twin Ports. Once again, we have asked members of the GLBTAQI community to share some of their experiences in a special segment we call Voice of Pride. Whether it be to inspire someone going through challenging times in finding themselves or to create further understanding overall, we hope to see a community as a whole where people can be who they are and feel that they belong.  

Em Westerlund
Duluth City Council

Reader: How did you become the person you are today and when did you realize your LGBT status?

Em: I realized that I was gay early in high school, but I didn’t come out until my junior year.  It was a difficult process.  My family struggled to understand what I was going through, and my high school did not have a strong support system for queer youth.  There were also instances of violence including shoving in the hallways, being assaulted in a women’s bathroom, and threats of further physical violence from other students.  These experiences definitely impacted who I came to be.  Equally important in my development as a young person was leaving the region to attend Smith College in Western Massachusetts when I graduated from high school in 2004.  In that setting, I found a strong network of queer and allied students and faculty, as well as a community that was not just tolerant of the LGBTQ community, but embraced it wholly.  I met queer people who were professionally successful, had spouses and children, and who participated in meaningful ways in their community.  For the first time since I came out, I saw that there were other many other folks like me, and the future looked infinitely brighter than it had from my vantage point as a young queer person in Superior, Wisconsin.

Reader: How are things for you now as an out LGBT person?

Em: I think a part of me is still surprised that we live in a time when an out queer person can run for elected office and win in Duluth without couching certain elements of their personal life or political activism.  I find that my spouse and I are generally treated fairly by our co-workers, friends, families, and other members of our community.  The fear of violence or retribution is deeply ingrained, however, and there are still moments when I fear for my own safety or that of my family.  There have been more than a few occasions in the past few years where we have been called derogatory names by strangers, intimidated, and followed.  However, I think it’s important to state that white privilege prevents my family from experiencing the level of fear that trans and queer people of color face.  Our class privilege protects us from the violence inflicted upon poor and homeless trans and queer people.  I want to acknowledge that despite the progress that has been made, there are many communities of queer and trans folks who continue to be targeted with discrimination and violence in our community.

Reader: What is it like being LGBT in the Twin Ports community?

Being queer in the Twin Ports is just being me; it’s a thread of who I am, but it’s not the whole of me.  It’s heartening to see an increase in visibility of queer and trans people in the Twin Ports and the expansion of civil rights to all members of our community.  That being said, there is a lot of work to do.  Some of the folks I represent do not feel safe or accepted in our community.  We still have a lot of work to do to make our community a safer, more accepting place for all people.

Reader: What does Pride mean to you and what do you think makes it important to the community?

Em: Pride is really special to me.  Duluth-Superior Pride is especially important to me because we’re the same age - 30 this year! - and it’s the first Pride I ever attended.  One of the first semi-political actions I took as a young queer person was marching with Together for Youth in the Duluth-Superior Pride parade in 2003.  I remember being terrified and thrilled at the prospect of marching in such a public event.  I overcame my fears and did it, then worried about whether I would end up in the newspaper or on TV.  The rush of affirmation and joy that came through my participation in the parade was just one indication that great things were to come.  It was one of the first moments I remember truly celebrating who I was and taking in the power and beauty of our broader LGBTQ and allied community.  It was empowering and important, and Pride continues to be a source of empowerment and celebration for our community today.

Dennis Kempton
President & Chief Strategist at Mendelssohn & Co. Former Reader Editor

While thinking about writing this last night, I was on Facebook and said to my friend, Danny, “I just don’t really think about being gay all that much these days.”

And it’s true.  That’s my luxury, though, and privilege being a 42 year-old white gay man who’s been out for 21 years.  I forget, all too easily, how difficult it was to come out in the 1990s and I also take for granted how much easier it is now to be out.  It’s not so great for others for reasons both real and imagined.

I used to be an LGBT activist here, in the last two years of the 1990s and into the first two years of the new century.  I also used to be a columnist for this paper writing about LGBT issues.  I’ll take you back, dear reader, to a time when I wrote negatively about Pride.  More than ten years ago, I wrote that Pride was too commercial, too sexual, and that it promoted separateness rather than integration.  I slammed Pride with gleeful exuberance in person and in print.  And I felt damned good doing it.  The mayor at the time, Herb Bergson, expressed his displeasure with my opinion and I went one further in saying I didn’t give a shit what straight people thought about my views of Pride.

What I do know now, as I ease into the maturity and confidence of my 40s is that my views of Pride then were as much a reflection of my unease with myself as anything else.  At numerous intersections of my own journey while living here, I’ve felt disconnected from the so-called gay community, even while pouring my heart and soul into its advancement—as director of the gay men’s center or as co-chair of Pride, itself, in 2001.  These inconsistencies, and my living out of them, have been luxuries given gracefully to me by this community.  I came into my own real adulthood here as a gay man, in the most unlikely of cities, I suppose.  I moved here in my early 20s from the east coast and it took a small Minnesota city by a big lake to teach me tolerance—not just of others, but for myself, too.  It was here that I grew into my skin and this comfort zone I have.  It is here that I’ve publicly expressed so many views, mostly contrary, about being gay, in speeches, columns, and radio programs.  It is here that I’ve fallen in love, had my heart broken, been cut down to size, risen from ashes, and become the person I am today.

Re-reading my old columns about Pride made me connect with the lava-hot growing years I went through here sometimes seething in anger at the injustices I felt inside and for others struggling with acceptance within and without.  I spent so much time in anger writing about sticking up for the femme boys among us and the others that didn’t fit in that I never quite realized that in doing so, I was trying to figure out who I was too, while my readers and others in this community patiently let me figure it out.  And I thank them for it, all these years later.

In 2001, I assisted the Duluth City Council in writing the first-ever resolution supporting Pride.  This was before the proclamations and before mayoral receptions on Pride weekend.  As a community, we fought Mayor Doty’s veto of that resolution.  Look at where we are today.  These days, I have the luxury and the gift of hindsight.  My journey as a gay man, from my 20s into my 40s has been filled with as many contradictions as the gay community itself.  But, Pride remains constant.  We need it, now more than ever.  And if history and circumstances call for it again, I have at least one more good fight left in me.  That’s the least I can do for a city and community that helped prove to me how important all of this is—even when I outright rejected it.  Tolerance includes that, as well.  And Duluth has it, in spades.

Happy Pride.


Kevin Raivala
Health Care Worker

Growing up in a society that fixates heavily on the personal differences of others can be a story that many, if not most, from the GLBTAQI community may know all too well. Such as myself, coming out at the young age of 15 years old as a gay man, I quickly came to understand that I was different than most and it was somewhat of a hard fact to accept as we feel we don’t fit the “normal” status we come to learn as we age. In our fast paced world, I came to eventually appreciate that I had to embrace who I was and be proud of being different and unique regardless of anything else. I feel that the experiences that I went through had an integral part of shaping who I am today.

Looking at the issues that the GLBTAQI community has faced and overcome in the past and present, I believe we are taking strides in the right direction and hope for the day where sexuality isn’t an issue but rather we realize that love has no labels and that GLBTAQI rights are actually in fact ,human rights. We in the Twin Ports have somewhat of a small community and I believe the diversity that we all share with each other has been more welcoming as each year passes us by. Pride is greater when we’ve had to work hard for something as this makes the achievement meaningful, which is something I believe the Twin Ports has excelled at in recent years. Our local pride festivities are about being who you are, sharing those experiences with others, and celebrating one another. GLBTAQI pride isn’t about pride in being gay, its pride in being yourself. At the end of the day love is love and everyone should accept and appreciate everyone for who they are. Hopefully we can continue to move in the right direction for the future and make the world a more welcoming and safe place for everyone. If all goes well we can all look back on the past someday and be proud of what we achieved and make the world a better place in the process.

Josie Ramsay
Health Care Worker

Reader: How did you become the person you are today and when did you realize your LGBT status?

Josie: I was a child who lived in a Catholic household in a small town in northern Minnesota. I was raised to be a “man of God” and aspired to be a Catholic priest. However, as time went along, I realized that this was not who I was inherently. I was a girl inside, and the nights and tears that I spent wishing for this to be physically manifest were innumerable.

I felt alone and hopeless. I couldn’t be me. I had to be this other self, this “man”. I created him and played his role for years. However, when I went to nursing school in 2012 after the death of my brother in 2011, I realized that I couldn’t help anyone else if I couldn’t even help myself realize who I was. I came out to my nursing class and my parents and friends as a gay man. My reception was very loving and accepting. I became a nurse and moved to Duluth, taking a job as an LPN at Benedictine Health Center.

As I went on in life though, my “girl” self had become a woman and she made herself manifest. I began going by Josie in 2015 to my friends and coworkers. I graduated from RN school and transitioned to living as a female. The support and love speaks volumes to the beauty of Duluth and its people.
Reader: How how are things for you now as an out GLBT person and what feelings do you have about it?

Josie: I feel so much more at peace. I can go to work or out to shop or out with friends and feel like I’m me and I don’t have to pretend. However, there are still times when I face ridicule and judgement. These are when my friends are my backbone and my strength. I am able to define my existence for the first time in my life and I’ve never been happier.

Reader: What is to be LGBT in the Twin Ports community?

Josie: Moving to Duluth from the Iron Range was one of the best decisions I ever made. I was told by more than one person on the Range that I couldn’t transition, that I’d only be seen as a freak.

In Duluth, everyone for the most part has supported me and been there for me. When I have encountered the odd hater, the groundswell of support and backlash against the said person is overwhelming. This community is amazing. I have met other trans people for the first time in my life and couldn’t be happier. I feel like I belong.

Reader: What does Pride mean to you and what do you think makes it important to the community?

Pride to me means being who you are and not being afraid to celebrate that and others. I think pride is living your truth. This enables community members to not hide “in the closet” and to weave their own tapestry into the fabric of the Twin Ports community.

Arranged by Paul Whyte and Jordan Bissell