October was LGBTQ History Month. In a serious homage to that history, TPT, our local PBS affiliate, released a new groundbreaking documentary on October 16 with viewing parties scattered throughout the Twin Cities.
The documentary, Out North: MNLGBTQ History, available online and on the network’s station, is the “first-ever, full-length film to document and honor Minnesota’s LGBTQ history,” according to TPT’s website. Much of what propels this documentary is the rich, vivid “stories [that] tilt toward the human, lived experience.”
An immediate theme in the film, one in which the film’s directors were quick to stress, was the importance of people of color and Native American voices within the queer and trans community here in Minnesota.
While great strides have been made both locally and nationally for LGBTQ families, this progress has often been at the expense of non-White LGBTQ men in terms of visibility. Out North is the first full-length attempt to address and correct that in a serious, meaningful way.
“Being visible is important work,” said Two Spirit activist, Nicholas “Nick” Metcalf Cetanzi, in the film. Indeed it is. [Two Spirit is a Native American term for someone who feels that their body houses both a male and a female spirit.]
Visibility was a dominant refrain throughout the film — a nearly 50-year history that preceded Stonewall in New York City. The Stonewall Riots are widely seen as the beginning of LGBTQ liberation movements in the United States and (more poignantly for people of color) an event that has largely been whitewashed from them, given how crucial African American and Latina women of color were in the uprisings.
Donna Saul Millen, TPT’s events director, was quick to address to the Cookie Cart viewing audience, noting: “The expectation [is] to educate, enlighten, inform. There is a lot of information in this film that’s just not known. Even people from the community are learning in the film as well.”
Adding to Millen’s thoughts were those of activist and community leader Rosanna Hudgins, whose story was also featured in Out North, when she added, “We preceded Stonewall!” Hudgins’ reference to “we” is the rich activism and network of Minnesota’s LGBTQ community before the New York City Stonewall Riots in 1969. The bold claim was masterfully demonstrated in the film.
When asked about the persistent reluctance of acceptance within many African American households of their own LGBTQ family members, Hudgins was quick to point out the role of trauma in collective Black history and its impact on embracing them.
“[Black] families have been traumatized,” said Hudgins, “and [the trauma of being oppressed] is another piece of that. It’s even gotten into our DNA. So, that’s another process for our healing.”
The film’s reliance on oral traditions from Minnesotan LGBTQ voices added another layer of richness to the telling. Stories were culled from the University of Minnesota’s Tretter Collection — the largest archive of oral, visual and written accounts of Minnesota’s LGBTQ and Two Spirit Communities in the state.
A poignant segment in the film was Andrea Jenkins’ story: her coming out, her gender reassignment story, the pain and eventual acceptance from her mother, her status and eminence and influence as one of Minnesota’s most visible (and influential) African American trans activists and community leader.
At the film’s conclusion, audience participant Amoké Kubat, offering an observation that was surely shared among the room, said, “This was a really important story that needed to be told. There’s history I know with other lenses, but I didn’t know the total history.”
Two hours clearly wasn’t enough time to cover every angle of such a diverse and important community here, but this film has made an honest first effort.
Wilt Hodges welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.