Northland Allies, a new group embracing the LGBTQ community, hit the ground running over Labor Day weekend. Members sold vintage T-shirts from a booth at the Pride Festival in Bayfront Park, raising $450 for the Duluth Superior Pride Committee.
They marched down Tower Avenue handing out stickers during the Pride Parade. Later that day, they took on grilling duties at a family picnic in Billings Park.
“We’ve done a lot in a short period of time,” said founder Jan Ashmore of Moose Lake.
The group formed this spring and launched its Facebook page in late July. One of the main goals of Northland Allies is to help local programs that support the LGBTQ community.
“We don’t want to duplicate any services that are already out there,” Ashmore said.
Instead, they hope to enhance them by establishing a group of volunteers who can help where they’re needed.
“I think that will be kind of neat, to see how we can work together to maybe make some bigger things happen than we would independently on our own,” said allies member Amanda Ashbach of Hermantown.
Blake Sawle, co-chair of the Duluth Superior Pride Committee, called the formation of Northland Allies fantastic.
“It’s an amazing feeling knowing that we have that support, that we have another group out there spreading love and spreading our message and showing that hate can’t win,” said Sawle, of Superior.
Northland Allies also plans to hold “embrace” events of its own, including a holiday party for members of the LGBTQ community who aren’t able to go home. The events can help connect participants to ongoing resources and support.
“I’m kind of curious to see where it all ends up going,” Ashbach said of the group.
Initially, members considered joining a Minnesota-based allies group, but they wanted to be more inclusive.
“We determined very quickly that we really wanted to do something that was for the whole Northland,” Ashmore said.
Northland Allies crosses borders to embrace the entire northwest Wisconsin, northeast Minnesota region.
“We’re all in this together,” said member Carolyn Phillips of Superior.
Many in the group have a loved one who identifies with the LGBTQ community. They’re moms, dads, siblings and friends.
“I’m a huge advocate especially for kids that don’t have anybody,” Phillips said. “I have kids in the LGBTQ community of my own and I just want to be a mom that is out there supporting other kids too.”
Some are looking for a way to make a difference. Ashbach’s daughters were very involved with their high school’s Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) club.
“They both had ways to be more involved and be advocates and as an adult, I didn’t feel like I had those same opportunities,” Ashbach said. “I’ve been kind of waiting for some sort of way to participate more actively.”
Ashmore, a social worker for Carlton County Health and Human Services, has a son who identifies as gay. Although she is supportive, he has had to struggle for acceptance at times. As the Moose Lake woman met and got to know others of the LGBTQ community, she heard stories from those who didn’t have a family member or ally backing them.
PHOTOS: Duluth Superior Pride Parade
“It’s just really important, I thought, to make sure that there was some kind of support in our community that can provide that reassurance to people in the community that they are loved, you know, that it’s OK to be who they are,” Ashmore said.
“To think that someone’s on any journey alone is heartbreaking, so I’m glad we have the group,” Phillips said.
Having a family member in the LGBTQ community is not a prerequisite to join Northland Allies. Everyone is welcome. It’s a chance to turn words into actions.
“It’s one thing to say, ‘Love is love.' It's one thing to say you support something,” Sawle said. “But when you show up and you’re there, a physical presence, it really shows that much more support for the community and it really makes the community a better place.”
While Northland Allies is currently a social group, Ashmore said she is in the process of applying for nonprofit status.
Visit the Northland Allies Facebook page, call 218-348-8141 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.