Out With Clout

In corporations and churches, in classrooms and capital corridors, these 100 Queers have contributed to the "Good Life" in Minnesota.

Julia Classen

Local queer publications brim with ads for gay and lesbian accountants, attorneys, insurance agents, and other professionals that cater to our community. But few of those folks have stayed in business longer than Realtor Julia Classen. Ten years of easing lesbians and gay men into high-end penthouses and low-budget bungalows have earned Classen a reputation as the Twin Cities leading queer real-estate agent.

Classen laughs when quoted that description. She recalls the early days of her career, when the market wasn't as receptive to queer would-be home buyers, "I'd meet with loan officers ahead of time to weed out discrimination problems," she recalls. "I wanted to be sure my lesbian and gay clients would be treated fairly and wouldn't be asked stupid and inappropriate questions. I did a lot of educating."

Today, Classen, who she says her clientele is half gay men and half lesbians, focuses on making the home-buying process "as hassle-free as possible." Not an easy job. But Classen has proven she knows a thing or two about gay neighborhoods: She lives with her partner of six years in Bryn Mawr -- currently one of Minneapolis' up-and-coming areas.

C. Scott Cooper

Our man on the hill these days, C. Scott Cooper, is no doubt the envy of every political wonk at the capitol as he works his "Jungle Red" cell phone. A hired gun for the GLCAC (now OutFront Minnesota) during the annual legislative session, Cooper bears the burden of safeguarding our inalienable rights while guiding us into the next millennium. The other half of the year, Cooper hits the well-traveled campaign trail, most recently as special-projects coordinator for Skip Humphrey's run for governor. Including his own bid for the House of Representatives in '94, Cooper has spun his way to the U.S. Senate and back as a key player in Sen. Paul Wellstone's two campaigns and in the office during the professor's freshman term on the Hill. Cooper has also stumped for Jesse Jackson, Ann Wynia, Jim Niland, Tom Harken, and the GLBT civil-rights campaign It's Time Minnesota. No "lefty wacko" influence by friends or family are to blame for his detour from Soviet and Eastern European studies into the political arena, though: "It was the social-justice thing," according to Cooper. That and the chance to yak on a sporty red cell phone (with shoes to match).

Debra Davis

"I'm a transgender woman and proud to be able to identify as a transgender woman," says Debra Davis, director of the Gender Education Center. Last month, Davis, previously known to colleagues and students at Southwest High School in Minneapolis as David Nielsen, opened one more closet door and introduced herself to the school community as Debra Davis. Her workplace coming out received national media attention, and according to Barbara Satin, an active member of the local transgender community, has inspired other transgender people: "Debra's action gives courage to a lot of us, and a feeling of hopefulness that this could be an opportunity for people to learn what being transgender means." As director of the Gender Education Center, a transgender support, advocacy, and education organization, Debra has spoken widely about being transgender. Now, she's educating her school community, helping transgender students realize they're not "the only one," and giving all of us the opportunity to move beyond stereotypes and ignorance.

Maggie George

As a consumer-insights manager for General Mills, Maggie George compiles market-research data from sources near and far. But after coming out seven years ago, George didn't need to conduct tests or surveys to figure out that her company wasn't queer-friendly. The openly gay folks she knew were few: "Four of us were standing in the hallway one day and somebody said, 'We should start supporting one another,'" George recalls. Then five years ago, George and a coworker helped found the company's gay and lesbian employee network, Betty's Family.

"I don't think the world will change and become more accepting of gay and lesbian people until more people are out," George says. "And people who are out give other people courage to come out." The South Dakota native syas her involvement with Spirit of the Lakes, a Twin Cities congregation comprised largely of gays and lesbians, gave her the pluck to come out in her workplace. In addition to serving as a co-moderator at church, she's also done work with District 202, the Minneapolis YWCA, and the Workplace Alliance.

The official mailing list for Betty's Family remains small, with just 30 members. But George remains proud of her group's accomplishments: "I have a vision for a world that's more inclusive," she says.

Judy Hanks

Finding a room of one's own is never easy. Just ask Judy Hanks, a 43-year-old mother of two, who has spearheaded the Women of Color Building Project for the past three years in the hopes of creating a space for "queer women of color and their allies" to develop cultural and educational events. The fundraising efforts continue, but Hanks says she wouldn't be against a donated facility: Anyone got a building to spare?

To date, the project has raised $15,000, in part by curating Vulva Riot shows twice a year. Hanks and her compatriots continue to bring down the house with a roster of talented performers -- Felicia Washington and April Andrews wowed us during the March show -- but Building Project organizers have also tried dances and parties to raise awareness and dollars for their cause. This year's Dyke Ball, scheduled for June 26 at Metamorphos Day Spa in Minneapolis, will not only benefit the Women of Color Building Project, it's also likely to be the most multi-culti lesbian extravaganza of Pride.

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