Every year following our Pride celebration in Fargo-Moorhead, I post a pictorial diary with minimal commentary. It is intended to be a fun “puff” piece, a colorful and happy distraction from the reality that fossil fuel oligarchs are killing the planet, Trump and his co-conspirators are killing American democracy, and the MAGA minions are trying to kill all the rest of us.
We will get to the fun part shortly, but I am beefing up the commentary this year. In 2021 and 2022, most of us were just happy to get back to holding Pride (and Trump no longer in the White House); i.e., some semblance of normalcy. However, the toxicity that we are bombarded with daily in the media has real effects on real people. So…I am spending some time describing how this has manifested in a small “border state” metro region and how folks are attempting to deal with it.
Fargo, ND (pop 126,748) and Moorhead, MN (pop 44, 668) occupy a semi-integrated metro region that is divided along the Red River: We are a smaller “Twin Cities” on the Western side of MN. Although winters are brutal— with temperatures ranging from 10 degrees above to 40 degrees below zero from late December through February—summer days are generally warm without being too hot. We also get 15-16 hours of daylight. In some ways, Fargo-Moorhead is both “nowhere” and “everywhere”—a small regional metro area in the upper Midwest. A microcosm of America.
On May 18th, a couple of Council members from our church attended a presentation entitled “Protecting Places of Worship.” Ironically, churches are often targeted for “religious” reasons—they are religious minorities like Muslims or Jews, or they are “open and affirming” Christian churches who publicly welcome members of the LGBTQ+ community. We heard from both local attorneys and prosecutors from the U.S. Dept. of Justice about the difficulty of prosecuting “hate crimes” (it is often easier—and you get longer sentences—just to charge a “regular” crime). We also got to meet the Fargo-based Supervisory Special Agent and other folks from the Fargo FBI office as well as the Cass County Sheriff and Fargo Police Chief. Members of law enforcement emphasized their commitment to (1) crime prevention and (2) protecting the free exercise of religion—ALL religions.
Next we heard from local faith leaders about steps they had taken to secure their places of worship. In April of 2021, the Fargo-Moorhead Islamic Center was defaced with hateful graffiti. When the news got out, so many community members rushed to help clean up that law enforcement had to stop them so police investigators could process the crime scene. The Islamic Center has now installed cameras, along with a strategy of community education about the Islamic faith. They even invited the perpetrator to come worship with them. A Rabbi at Temple Beth-el reported having to involve the FBI after receiving a bomb threat a couple of years ago. The perp was identified and charged. Some Christian pastors of open and affirming churches have received hateful phone calls (including our own), but most do not rise to the level of actionable threat.
The final part of the presentation was from folks at CISA (Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency), which is a branch of Homeland Security. They provide a lot of free resources for “infrastructure” institutions (schools, churches, businesses, transportation, and community centers) to draft plans and upgrade security. Because we are in MN, our congregation will have to deal with a different CISA regional office than the folks in Fargo, but we were invited to attend the Fargo follow-up events. On July 11th, I attended a CISA-sponsored “active shooter” seminar. The CISA folks were sensitive to the paradox of presenting your organization as “open and welcoming” to the public while fortifying it for security.
The message from all of the law enforcement and security folks was that they genuinely wanted to “partner” with the community because they “can’t be everywhere.” A few of us on the Council are meeting with a CISA representative later this week to do a security assessment of our church. If someone had told me even ten years ago that church leadership would involve attending a program on security and dealing with an active shooter, I probably would not have believed it. Yet, here we are.
We all want to feel safe in our communities. We also like to think we are safe in our houses of worship, which for most of us are places of sanctuary. There is a certain degree of uncomfortable angst in thinking about security and preparing for the worst. It is too easy to assume that “it can’t happen here.” Until something does.
Three days following the CISA active shooter seminar, our community was traumatized when a shooter targeted a traffic accident, killing one police officer and seriously (but not fatally) wounding two other officers and a bystander. The shooter was not involved in the accident, but lived nearby and seems to have been following police communications. The shooter was killed by police, and he turned out to be a naturalized citizen originally from Syria. He had no prior run-ins with law enforcement other than a single traffic ticket a couple of years ago. The police determined that the shooter took advantage of the accident to “ambush” the police, finding 1,800 rounds of ammunition, a grenade, explosives, and other firearms in his vehicle. The guy had been practicing at a local shooting range earlier that day.
The FBI raided the shooter’s apartment, evacuating everyone from the building before they went in to search. A friend from church who lived in the same building had just been discharged from an overnight in the hospital. She arrived home “starving,” only to be told she could not go in. Fortunately, she was able to spend the night at the home of a family member, but some of the other residents had nowhere to go. The FBI has been tight-lipped about motive, but apparently they have found no “manifesto” or connections to known terrorist groups. The guy appears to have been the proverbial lone wolf, but something suggests we may not have the whole story yet. Both ND and MN declared a period of official mourning for the fallen officer, and “Back the Blue” signs are popping up in yards on both sides of the river.
Although Fargo-Moorhead seems to be a relatively “unified” place, we were starkly reminded of jurisdictional differences following the state legislative sessions. North Dakota passed a number of “anti-trans” bills that (in my view) criminalize expression and are unconstitutionally vague and overbroad. The ACLU is likely ready to challenge once someone has actually been charged under the new laws.
A trans friend reported a meeting with the Fargo police, who assured everyone that they would not be looking to charge anyone solely under these new laws unless the infraction was accompanied by some other violation (kind of like seat-belt enforcement). An LGBTQ friend (who dresses in conformity with her gender and would probably be OK) says she is “scared” to go into Fargo. Another trans friend says she is thinking about emigrating to Iceland. LGBTQ friends say it is not the Fargo police they are worried about, but the otherwise unidentifiable nut jobs primed for years by hateful messaging.
In late 2022, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) started a series of Town Halls with LGBTQ advocates and open and affirming churches in Fargo about creating a network of “safe spaces” for people to go, and ways to get them connected to medical care. Some of the discussion seemed reminiscent of the underground railroad to help escaping slaves. One woman said she had thought about leaving, but then realized, “This is just what they want—for all of us to leave.”
The latest of these ELCA-sponsored Town Halls kicked off Pride weekend with a presentation by Rev. Nicole Garcia, the Faith Work Director at the National LGBTQ Task Force. Rev. Nicole is also a transgender woman and Franciscan Sister. She described the origins of her own family’s Catholic faith—which although it was founded in colonialism, it has connected her faith works to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Rev. Nicole described how we had to be “rooted” in our own faith in order to do interfaith work. She acknowledged the courage needed by all of us to keep “doing the work,” especially in places like North Dakota, Georgia, Louisiana, and the Carolinas (where she was headed next).
Rev. Nicole also spoke about the triumph of following your call over fear. She has given instructions to her loved ones that if she was ever “found hanging in a jail cell, you know I did not do this to myself.” But she would not let the hate of others stop her from the work of love she is “called to do.” She expressed a certain compassion for those who hate her and other LGBTQ persons, and how “their lives must be filled with fear.” In a world of increasing need and decreasing resources, she urged us to avail ourselves of the resources the Task Force provides. We were privileged to have Rev. Nicole join us for our local Pride weekend and preach at the interfaith service on Sunday.
In contrast to North Dakota, here in MN we are now officially a “sanctuary” state, both for abortion and transgender medical care. Because of the hostile legislation in North Dakota, Pride celebrations (at least the big, public ones) were held on the Moorhead side of the river for the first time this year. Don’t know if I feel any safer—bad guys can cross the river just as easily as the rest of us. But the whole point of Pride is for everyone to be themselves and have fun. It is a time when we give ourselves permission to not think about the hate and dysfunction in the rest of the world.
It is always interesting to see how Pride evolves, and this year we experienced a completely new venue. On Saturday, the weather was picture perfect—low to middle 70s and partly sunny/cloudy. According to early reports, we had a record turnout for Pride in the Park. It could be that the venue was larger. It also could be that more people are showing up in solidarity.
Island Park—our former venue in downtown Fargo—with its huge shade trees and meandering paths—could be a park almost anywhere in the USA. Bluestem—usually used as a concert and performing arts venue—occupies a large, open, hilly, grassy area along the Red River, where the prairie look and flavor is much more obvious.
Many of the churches that have participated in Prides past were also there again this year. After witnessing the Christian iconography on January 6 (where it shared space with Nazi, Confederate and White Supremacist flags), I now understand how “good” Muslims must have felt after September 11th. How do you explain to those that do not share your faith that terrorists do not represent its teachings? I believe it is vital for churches (of any faith) to publicly announce that they are open and affirming—not just for the practical purpose of letting potential members know they are welcome in a faith community, but to counteract the hateful messaging that comes from others who purport to share our faith.
Local colleges and universities also put in their regular appearance
New this year were more commercial vendors selling “stuff”
(most of the faith-based and non-profit organizations give stuff away)
Even Target was there, proudly displaying its corporate “wokeness”
that so alarms the Christo-fascists
Also new this year: Star Wars and Indigenous!
A new source of regional grants
A number of new booths were promoting books and reading
—other targets of the culture wars
The following folks have attended almost every Pride
Five gentlemen from the Gay Men’s Chorus sang at a memorial service for one of our LGBTQ members earlier this week. Although they don’t look angelic, wait until you hear them sing!
Pastor Joe hams it up
Pride would not be complete without all of the pets dressed in their rainbow regalia
This adorable Shetland sheepdog makes it to most Prides
This year she was joined by a buddy with a painted face
On Sunday, it rained the whole afternoon on the parade. Although the rain didn’t dampen spirits, I wasn’t able to get as many photos—between an umbrella in one hand and a bucket of candy in the other. We were not allowed to “toss” candy this year (more rules in Moorhead), but could “gently drop it or hand it out.”
This lovely person kept their outfit together
in spite of the chilly rain
Our MN State Senator and Chief Meteorologist at KVRR Rob Kupec
put in a supportive appearance in spite of the rain
I will conclude with the awesome Rev. Nicole Garcia and her encouragement
for us to keep loving each other and be strong enough to follow our calling