Out With Clout

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

Vanessa Opperman

Vanessa Opperman is proud of her papa's financial support of gay and lesbian causes. "Even before it was trendy to go to HRC dinners and be good on gay issues, he was interested in those things," she says of her father, former West Publishing exec Vance Opperman. "But my being out and a lesbian has increased his generosity perhaps."

The younger Opperman, in turn, has proven she also has much to offer the queer-rights cause. At 24, she's already worked as an HRC organizer and as a consultant with the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, boosting the prospects of openly gay political candidates in races around the country. Her passion for politics began early: In the eighth grade, Opperman went door-knocking to bolster her mother's bid for a county commissioner's seat. Coming-out added an activist bent to Opperman's political interests: "If we don't have people in office who are good on our issues, we're not going to make any changes," she says.

After graduating from Georgetown and honing her skills in the nation's capital, Opperman recently returned to Minnesota with her girlfriend of one-and-a-half years. (The two met on the Clinton-Gore re-election campaign and spent their first dozen dates at political functions.) She's currently serving as finance director for Skip Humphrey's gubernatorial campaign, but we're betting that someday soon Opperman will be the one stumping for office.

John Rabe

Nirvana, says Minnesota Public Radio host John Rabe, would be a two-hour interview with the Dalai Lama. Or maybe Oprah Winfrey. Perhaps even Howard Stern. The current host of MidMorning on KNOW 91.1 FM, Rabe gets to lob tough questions at his guests, then opens the phone lines for an all-out discussion. "I'm naturally argumentative," Rabe says. "That helps."

The son of a college administrator and a homemaker, Rabe grew up on the U.S.-Canadian border, where he spun rock and big-band records for a small radio station in Sault Sainte Marie. While attending college at Michigan State, he worked as a reporter at WKAR, then moved on to radio jobs in Florida and Philadelphia -- where he met consummate inquisitor Terry Gross. "She can ask extremely basic questions that would sound stupid if anyone else asked them," Rabe says of Gross, his voice tinged with admiration.

MidMorning's daily dose of topics can range from food irradiation to Middle Eastern peace talks to gays in the military, but Rabe says his being gay is as inconsequential as his political preferences when it comes to interviews. "Listeners don't know how I vote or what religion I am," Rabe says. "I don't treat gay issues any differently. I try to be as objective as I can. Perhaps more than being objective, I try to see as many sides of an issue as possible."

Eleanor Savage

"We're the Holstein family," says Eleanor Savage with a chuckle. She and her partner, modern dancer Morgan Thorson, are the proud parents of two black and white American Staffordshire terriers and two equally dichromatic cats.

Fortunately, the rest of Savage's life is more vibrant. She's the 34-year-old producer and originator of the Vulva Riot Cabaret, that staple of the local dyke performance-art diet. A transplanted Southerner, Savage came to Minnesota in 1990 to immerse herself in a job at Theatre de la Jeune Lune (she's since moved on to the Walker Art Center), but birthed Vulva Riot three years later: "It was an alternative to the bar scene," Savage says, "the kind of event that would bring people together to work on issues."

Vulva Riot remains today a prominent venue for fun, frolic, and performance among queer girls of all stripes -- with the emphasis on "all," according to Savage. "The underlying value is that it's a creative space, accessible to everyone in the community, regardless of race, creed, or color." And we've seen enough shows to know that most nights, when the stars are in alignment, Savage's vision comes to fruition.

Dan Spencer

If you've frolicked on the beaches at Key West recently, chances are you may have seen Dan Spencer's work. The 44-year-old architect and his colleagues at the Minneapolis firm of Perkins & Will designed the Key West AIDS Memorial, a palm-tree-lined, granite-slabbed structure that descends into the surf, commemorating individuals lost to HIV/AIDS. "The memorial," Spencer says, "is about providing a place for people to grieve and celebrate."

A principal at Perkins & Will, Spencer has an eye for design detail that's also evident more close to home. He's drafted plans for District 202's new site and for Park House, a day facility for people with HIV/AIDS. He's tinkered with metaphorical blueprints while serving on the boards of the Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus and the now-defunct Lambda Justice Center. His current schemes include working on a committee that hopes to finance and erect an AIDS memorial in Loring Park, and Spencer's firm will likely enter a design in the final competition. Hmm, do we see swaying palms on the shores of Loring's lakes?

Kerry Severson

In addition to electricity, Northern States Power also generates queer energy in the form of Kerry Severson. After coming out publicly while acting as emcee at NSP's June GLBT diversity event three years ago, Severson, an information-technology financial-accounting manager, was pulled aside by the utility's new chief operating officer, who told him the GLBT event had been "the most worthwhile diversity event he'd ever been to." Today Severson chairs NSP's GLBT employee group S.A.G.E. (Supportive Association of GLBT Employees) and serves as co-chair (with Monica Bryand) of Minnesota's nationally recognized Workplace Alliance, a business organization offering executive-management forums, leadership-development seminars, and "how to" information on starting GLBT employee groups. Severson hopes to broaden the educational reach of SAGE to more NSP employees in Greater Minnesota and plans to build more alliances between the Workplace Alliance and other diversity groups. With his remaining energy, Severson, 41, raises award-winning Arabians at his home in Cottage Grove.

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