Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

Nonprofit brings joy to the trans community in northern Minnesota

A person smiles with a rainbow flag around them
People celebrate the inaugural Trans Joy Fest in Duluth.
Courtesy photo

It’s Pride Month, and folks across the state are celebrating. This weekend is Trans Joy Fest in Duluth, put on by the non-profit Trans Northland.

Co-directors Ana Kruger and Sean Hayes joined MPR News guest host Nina Moini to share how they’re supporting the northern Minnesota trans community.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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Audio transcript

NINA MOINI: It's Pride Month. And folks across the state are celebrating. This weekend is Trans Joy Fest in Duluth, put on by the nonprofit Trans Northland. Joining us today to share how they're supporting the northern Minnesota trans community are the co-directors of Trans Northland, Ana Kruger and Sean Hayes. Welcome to you both.

ANA KRUGER: Thank you.

SEAN HAYES: Thank you so much.

NINA MOINI: Thanks for being here. Ana, I'll start with you. How does Trans Northland serve the trans community up north? How did you decide that there was really a need for this type of support?

ANA KRUGER: Yeah, it's an interesting question because we saw a need in our community for support groups, for events, for mutual aid, and we kind of started that a couple of years before I joined on. But when I joined on, that need was still very much present, is very much present to this day. And so we support through mutual aid by fundraising for folks. We do support groups and we also do big events like Trans Joy Fest.

NINA MOINI: Do you feel like there aren't as many events and things, and that's what this festival is going to help with, Sean? And what are some of the challenges to serving trans folks in northern Minnesota? It's not just events and meetups, right?

SEAN HAYES: That's right. Yeah, so Trans Joy Fest, in and of itself, is, as far as we know, one of the only events during Pride Month that happens up here in the Northland. For those who are familiar with Duluth Superior Pride, they host our weekend festivities during Labor Day weekend. And so we saw a need for creating space for joy and energy and connection within our trans community and decided that Pride Month was a really great time to host an event like Trans Joy Fest.

And then, with serving individuals up this way, being in a more rural setting, it's a lot harder for transgender and non-binary and two-spirit folks to find community to connect with. And oftentimes, what we know through meeting and connecting with these people all out or all over northwest Minnesota and northeastern Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin, and all these places, is that people really do need that connection. They need to be able to talk with other trans folks, to be able to share their experiences, and to really find the wisdom and advice that is within our community.

NINA MOINI: And Ana, it's not just community, right? There's health care needs, other things that your organization helps people with. What are some of the range of services that you help to put people in touch with?

ANA KRUGER: Yeah, so we do a lot of resource connection. We are in connection with a lot of the local hospitals and providers. And so we are able to help connect folks to doctors, nurses, physicians, all of that who have experience working with trans patients or who are used to that. We also have some resources to law, like legal aid. We work really closely with Gender Justice and Justice North.

And we also do a lot of resource connection outside of just the legal and medical. We do sexual assault advocacy with PAVSA, setting folks there. We also do trainings in the Duluth and kind of Northland area as well. So we kind of offer a lot of different services and connect people to where we can.

NINA MOINI: Sean, I wonder what the feedback is like, or what brings you joy when people say, wow, you've really helped? You know, I've talked to folks who've relocated from other states to come here, and some of them living in Duluth, even. But what's so rewarding about that for you?

SEAN HAYES: Oh, that's a great question. For me and why I continue to do this kind of work within community is because, with my own experience, my own story, I really struggled to find support as I was navigating my own gender identity and sexual orientation and all of that. And so, oftentimes-- I was just thinking about this last night. An event like Trans Joy Fest for little Sean would have been life changing.

And so now to be able to get to do this work, to be able to work within our community and so many different people who have helped to create this event and the other events we host throughout the year, and to be able to see these young kids, as well as elders, and everyone in between, being able to connect and come to an event like that, and connect with like-minded individuals who really value that connection is just-- it's overjoying.

And, the response for Trans Joy Fest has continued to grow every year. This year, there's just so many folks who are talking about coming from the Twin Cities and all around us to really partake and get a feel for what a joyful event and connection area can look like for them. And we would love to see this go everywhere else as well, Trans Joy Fest everywhere. We all need way more joy in our lives right now.

NINA MOINI: Yeah, and I understand it's your third year. It's getting bigger every year. That's so notable that you said people coming up from the Twin Cities when you might normally think of people coming down to the Twin Cities for events. Ana, how many people are you expecting? And what's it going to look like? What are people in store for?

ANA KRUGER: Yeah, so this year, we are hoping for about 3,000 to 5,000 people to come and attend. Last year, we were up to about 2,000. And so we're hoping to kind of double that number. We have so many folks coming up from the Twin Cities and actually down from the Northland, too. I honestly struggle to think of any other trans-specific events, especially in Minnesota, that kind of have the same sort of community that we do here.

NINA MOINI: Yeah, Sean, why did you all want an event specifically for trans folks?

SEAN HAYES: That is a great question as well. And the idea for Trans Joy Fest actually came from the unfortunate experience of us losing a very dear friend and advocate within the community who was a trans leader. His name was Evan. And, so at that time, our community was really, really hurting and grieving the loss of this amazing, wonderful human.

And it was a year later that this idea kind of popped into my head. And I thought, Evan would really, really appreciate that. He really, really deeply cared about helping folks, especially young LGBTQ+ folks, connect into community and to be able to find joy and express themselves as their whole selves in a safe place.

And so, often, I will just think of him and hope that he's smiling down on this joyful event. And for all of those we've lost in the past as well, the trans community really struggles with dealing with a lot of violence and harm and microaggressions, discrimination. And it's so, so vital and important for us to center our joy and the things that make us amazing humans.

And there's just so many different ways that folks are showing that at our event. We'll have lots of performers, music, and show during the day, as well as a vendor fair that will have, gosh, close to probably 60 different vendors now and a bouncy house for kids and arts and crafts. And so this really is an event that is for everyone, allies as well. We want everyone to come out and get to experience some joy with us.

NINA MOINI: Centering joy. Yeah, thank you for sharing that, Sean. Ana, before we go, I'll kick the last question over to you. What are you the most excited for about this weekend?

ANA KRUGER: I think the thing that I am most excited for this weekend is going to be just showing our community, our folks here, that we are present, that we are taking up this space, that we can be happy and cherish that joy. Sean is so good at talking about centering joy and everything. And I really want people to understand that, yes, this is a moment for us to be visible and take up space, but it's taking up space in a way that brings joy and highlights that enjoyment of our lives.

NINA MOINI: Thank you both for being here. Have a super fun weekend.

SEAN HAYES: Thank you so much.

NINA MOINI: Ana Kruger and Sean Hayes are the co-directors of Trans Northland. They're hosting Trans Joy Fest in Duluth this Sunday, June 9, at the Park Point recreational area.

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