Op-ed: A 13-Year-Old, the Minnesota Governor, and LGBT Rights
In the past few months we’ve heard a lot about bills in certain states that would allow discrimination against gays. Some of the efforts to discriminate are discreet (uh-huh, Indiana) and some are more obvious (hey, Texas!). While all of this has been going on, the great state I live in did something that I think is pretty amazing: Minnesota quietly released a very cool and pretty gay #OnlyinMN tourism commercial.
This would be a good time for all states to, as my teachers like to say, “sit up straight and pay attention.”
Oh, I should probably mention the two gay guys in the ad are my dads, so obviously I think this is a pretty cool deal. But actually there is another important reason why I hope people pay attention to the ad: As states around the country continue to focus their energy in ways that I believe encourage hate, I think it’s beautiful to have a state like Minnesota send such a great message of love and inclusion for all people. It’s like a love letter from Minnesota to LGBT people everywhere, and it is just another one of the many reasons that I think Minnesota ranks as the most awesome state in the country.
Since I'm only 13, I’m not really like a national expert in “state awesomeness” or anything. So I thought I had better talk to someone a lot smarter than me on this topic. I decided to go to the top “state awesomeness” expert directly, and I contacted Minnesota’s governor, Mark Dayton.
When we met, I asked Gov. Dayton lots of questions about what makes Minnesota a great state to visit and to live in, but what I really wanted to understand was what kind of message he thought Minnesota was sending to other states by using a gay couple in such a prominent way to promote tourism.
“Well, Minnesota is just a reflection of the world,” Gov. Dayton said, as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world. “I think it is really important for us to show that regular families — whether gay families or heterosexual families — represent Minnesota. We want to send a clear message to everyone, which we have done over and over again, that Minnesota is one of the friendliest states to the LGBT community and as a state we will protect everybody.”
The governor is proud to tell me about the fact that he has always been a good friend of the gay community. “I started going to the Pride parade, which is my favorite parade in Minnesota, in 1980. And back then there were many people who didn’t want to be seen at that parade, but LGBT rights have always been core to my own personal conviction.”
This made me wonder about why someone like Gov. Dayton would have such different feelings toward gays than some other politicians seem to have. “Do you remember the first time you met someone who is gay?” I asked. “Growing up, my parents had friends who were gay, and neither of my parents or anyone I knew ever identified them differently or made comments about them being gay,” he answered. “These people were just a reflection of the community and that is how I have always viewed it for as long as I can remember.”
It turns out that knowing gay people from a young age was really important to Gov. Dayton’s beliefs. In Minnesota, he explained, we understand that “if you know someone who is gay, you are likely to see what you have in common with them instead of your differences, and you are much more likely to support their rights. We have a long way to go, but we have come a long way. You can pass laws, but sometimes the change in the real world lags behind laws.”
Gov. Dayton told me some things that I already know about firsthand: “The real benefit of equality is that LGBT people can be recognized as regular people like everyone else who have kids and families, go to meetings at school, and they can be involved in those things and they can be visible and have rewarding professional, successful careers without fear of discrimination or limitations.”
The rapid advances in LGBT equality and same-sex marriage in particular have been “one of the most significant advances that has taken place in my time as governor, and one of the things that makes me most proud of this state.”
And that makes me pretty proud that he is our governor.
Sure, I love Minnesota for all of our lakes and rivers and parks, but I feel most proud of Minnesota’s spirit of inclusion. I’m thankful to live in a place where my family can enjoy equal treatment just like everyone else, even when my two dads are doing crazy everyday things like zip-lining, golfing, boating, or driving a tank like you see in the commercial. OK, I can tell you honestly they don’t normally ride in tanks for fun, but they did say it was a pretty cool thing you can try out if you come visit Minnesota.
I hope the ad brings people from around the country to Minnesota on vacation. But I also hope it will help some people see my dads not as gay guys, but as just two normal guys who enjoy all the things Minnesota has to offer just like everyone else. Maybe seeing it will make someone out there who has never met a gay person feel like they have something in common with the two guys in the commercial. And maybe that will help make something that was unknown or uncomfortable for them feel more familiar, and maybe even their attitudes and feelings will change. And if we are lucky, maybe that will be one more step toward making LGBT people safe from discrimination in all states, not #OnlyinMN.
EMMA MEENTS is an eighth-grader who lives in the Twin Cities. She wrote an article for The Advocate last fall about marriage equality. When she is not writing, Emma is reading about fashion, dreaming about acting, and obsessing over Tyler Oakley. Find her on Instagram and Twitter @emmameents10