Saturday, April 14, 2012

Sharing space with 70 gay men in Bemidji, Minnesota

Minneapolis, Minnesota

While most Minnesotans at least know of one person who is gay or lesbian, most people have never been present in the same room with 70 gay men. The opportunity for that to happen made for interesting and merry mingling between members of the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus and their sold-out audience in Bemidji, Minnesota, March 19, 2011.

Walker, Minnesota, Muskie capital of the nation
For the Chorus, the encounter began with a four hour drive that started earlier that Saturday with a 12:15pm departure by bus from the parking lot of the Ridgedale Shopping Center in Minnetonka, a western suburb of Minneapolis. 

After advancing north through Monticello, Big Lake, Little Falls, Pine River, Backus, and other hamlets, the bus stopped at 3:50pm for lunch in Walker, on the shore of a bay belonging to Leech Lake. The lake, Minnesota’s third largest, is huge, while the town of Walker is a bit less so.

Thirty miles further on from Walker is Bemidji, home of Bemidji State University, 229 miles north and west of Minneapolis. The city boasts 13,541 residents. The campus serves 5,300 students. 

BSU, 5,300 students & 89 acres on the shores of Lake Bemidji
I accompanied the Chorus as one of 15 staff, groupies, and miscellaneous hangers-on. It was my first visit to the city and campus since October 1970, when I was doing advance work there and in Bagley and Park Rapids for Hubert Humphrey’s campaign for the U.S. senate. 

Bemidji State University is situated on 89 acres (with a 240 acre private forest) on the shores of Lake Bemidji (6,400 acres). "Bemidji" is an Ojibwe word for "lake with cross waters." The Mississippi River crosses Lake Bemidji, 30 miles from its headwaters at Lake Itasca.

70 gay men & audience in Beaux Arts Ballroom, Bemidji
A demographically diverse, sold-out audience of 270 rocked the Thompson Recital Hall in a 90-minute program sung without intermission. Many of them came for good music, well performed – it did not matter who was singing it. Music is music, after all, and state budget cuts had recently caused the university to send packing two of its six professors of music.

Afterward, audience members, singers, and sponsors from the Phoenix Gay-Straight Student Organization and Servant Hearts, an organization for marginalized and at-risk youth and adults, visited in the lobby and at the Beaux Arts Ballroom of the student union. 

Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus, March 19, 2011, Lakeland Public Television, Bemidji, Minnesota

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