Staffs snub ‘Soup’ event

Minnesota’s U.S. Senators’ offices declined to greet GLBTA students.

by Bryce Haugen

Congressmen, mayors, state legislators and the University president welcomed approximately 1,500 college students of diverse sexual orientations to campus this weekend with letters in a sold-out conference’s program guide.

But an unambiguous sea of white filled the pages allotted to Minnesota’s U.S. Senators, who declined to send their greetings.

Organizers of the 15th annual Alphabet Soup Conference – named for the ever-changing array of acronyms assigned to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and allied groups – expected a snub from the state’s socially conservative senior Sen. Norm Coleman, a Republican, said co-director Mike Grewe.

However, some queer supporters of Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a self-declared ally, expressed disappointment at her office’s refusal to extend the typically generic, mostly symbolic salutation to visitors from across the nation.

“When she was voted into office, the people who voted for her were under the impression that she would be supportive of the GLBT community,” said Grewe, an officer and former co-chairman of the University’s Queer Student Cultural Center. “I honestly think that Amy Klobuchar is an ally, and part of being an ally means you make mistakes.”

Klobuchar’s chief of staff, Sean Richardson, said Monday that the senator would be glad to send future welcome letters. But in her first month in office, Richardson said, she received thousands of requests and simply didn’t have the resources to respond to them all.

“It was really a matter of manpower,” he said.

Conference co-director Luciano Patiño called that excuse “completely unacceptable.”

“The GLBT community was instrumental in getting her elected,” said Patiño, a 2006 Carlson School of Management graduate. “That her office couldn’t take a few minutes to write a letter of support to some of those people is offensive.”

Grewe pointed to Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim congressman, who sent a letter despite a media firestorm in his first weeks in office. Organizers said they plan to press Klobuchar for a more satisfactory response to what Grewe described as “an unnerving signal.”

Though a staffer issued the refusal in late January after at least four separate requests, “ultimately, it’s (Klobuchar’s) responsibility,” Patiño said. “In the end, it’s her office.”

Coleman’s decision was perceived completely differently, Patiño said. “It’s not as personal.”

Messages left Sunday and Monday at the St. Paul and Washington, D.C. offices of Coleman, the only Republican asked to write a letter, were not responded to.

An assistant to openly lesbian state Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis, said the legislator believes Klobuchar’s intent “was in no way malicious.”

State Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, an openly gay legislator who counts the U.S. Senator as a friend, echoed those views, but noted that some queer groups voiced concerns over the senator’s “somewhat quiet stance” on GLBT issues during last year’s campaign.

“There’s a perception problem that she has to deal with right now,” said Dibble, who, along with Clark, penned a welcome letter and spoke at the conference. “I’ll advise her to deal with that.”

Karl Kerr, an officer for the University’s Campus Conservative Cultural Program, said he doesn’t see any reason for the senators’ refusal to send letters, but thinks it’s unfortunate some students are offended.

But Patiño said the concerns warrant an explanation, though queer students will likely continue to strongly support Klobuchar.

“It’s unfortunate that this happened,” he said, “and there’s a temporary feeling of hurt.”