Remembering Mankato’s queer heroes

It’s been over 50 years since the gay consciousness group received official recognition and became a Registered Student Organization at what was then called Mankato State in the spring of 1973. In October of 1977, Jim Chalgren created the Gay Advisors office, which is now known as the Jim Chalgren LGBT center.

There has been a dedicated queer movement in Mankato going back a very long time and there have been plenty of LGBTQ heroes worthy of being remembered.

But where to begin? It probably goes without saying that there are definitely going to be worthy individuals who wind up being not mentioned here.

First up would be MSC Homosexual. In 1971, a letter to the editor appeared in The Reporter arguing for the destigmatization of homosexuality. The letter wassigned, “A MSC Homosexual, name withheld upon request” and represented the first time (that I am aware of) a LGBTQ Mankatoan stood up publicly for other LGBTQ Mankatoans.

Then there’s Jim Chalgren, whose activism and leadership lead him to being nicknamed “the energizer bunny.” In addition to helping create MSU Mankato’s LGBT center and lead it for 10 years, he also led two efforts to create an anti-discrimination ordinance that would have made sexual orientation a protected category in Mankato had it passed. Neither effort succeeded but they exposed the prevalence of discrimination against the LGBTQ people in Mankato.

Consequences of fighting for the LGBTQ community in Mankato for Chalgren included being rejected by his family, receiving regular death threats and having to live in poverty. His friends have noted that he would serve dry pasta to guests at his apartment.

Along with Jim Chalgren, there is also Dr. Alan Kern, the first openly gay faculty member at MSU Mankato. Kern first came out in a Tomorrow column in 1974. The Tomorrow column was a column Kern started that focused on LGBTQ issues.

While neither ever came out as queer, Mary and Chuck Lofy both deserve mention. Chuck Lofy was vice president of student affairs who supported Chalgren during the founding of the LGBT center while Mary Lofy was the city council member who proposed and fought for an anti-discrimination ordinance alongside Chalgren in 1987.

Following the failure in 1987 to pass a non discrimination ordinance and the resulting exile of Chalgren from Mankato, the LGBT center was led by a series of graduate students up until Jess Crary led a sit-in in 2003 to obtain a full-time director.

The graduate students who manned the LGBT center deserve mention given that they all had to fight efforts from the university and other sources to shut down the center following Chalgren’s exit.

In April of 2003, C. Rhys Gaffer came out during his inauguration as student senate president, as a transgender man. “The awareness I have of myself as a female to male transgendered person is to tell you, this larger group, that it is OK to acknowledge individuality as we work together,” Gaffer said during his inauguration speech.

In coming out as transgender after being elected to president of the student senate, C. Rhys Gaffer helped raise the visibility of transgender people at MSU Mankato.

Jessica Flatequal was definitely a heroic LGBTQ Mankatoan. Flatequal was a passionate advocate who saw herself as a professional lesbian. Famous for wearing brightly colored bow ties, Flatequal fought for LGBTQ students at MSU Mankato all the way up until her death in 2019.

Flatequal knew on a personal level just how important it was to have an LGBT center at MSU Mankato. “I grew up here in Mankato and I actually was a person who utilized this center as a student. For me, this space actually, literally saved my life,” said Flatequal in the video Celebrating 40 years of LGBT – Serendipitous Moments at MNSU Mankato.

Obviously there are many more heroes that are not mentioned here. There are plenty of examples in The Reporter and The Free Press of people who took a stand  for what was right but are only mentioned in passing. Then there are the stories of those who were never recorded in the first place, or who had to remain anonymous or risk social consequences.

I imagine that many listed here would deny they are actually heroes. I still think that everyone here, and many more, deserve to be honored and remembered.

Write to Jeremy Redlien at

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