Seeking community in Alexandria: Inclusion Network and LGBT group work to create inclusive atmosphere, promote education
Resources for those in the LGBTQ community in Douglas County are limited, but there are a few.
One such resource is the Inclusion Network, a group dedicated to including all members of the community.
"Everybody should be welcome, should be accepted as they are, respected," said president Debra LaDoux. "You can disagree and have differences of opinion, but you still respect the other person and accept them as they are. You need to include everybody if you're going to have a strong community."
The Inclusion Network meets the first Wednesday of each month. The group plans events to educate people about diversity. Last year the group brought in Ellie Krug, a lawyer from the Twin Cities who is transgender.
"She did a session for lawyers in town, a session at the college for students and one in the evening," LaDoux said. "We're talking about maybe getting her back."
As the president of the group, LaDoux feels it's important that Alexandria and the surrounding communities be welcoming to all people. However, she says, this isn't always the case.
"There was a young couple that got married this summer, they were a lesbian couple," she said. "They ended up leaving town because they didn't want to raise their son in this community and have him go to school with two mothers. This community lost a vital young couple and one who was planning to start a new business because of how they thought their son would be treated. It's a pretty sad commentary on the community."
According to LaDoux, the idea is to educate the community to take away fear of the unknown.
"It's a lot easier to hate somebody you've never met," she said. "But if you actually meet someone from another religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and get to know them, it's a little harder to start labeling those people."
If interesting in becoming a member of the Inclusion Network or with ideas for events, contact LeDoux at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another resource in the area is the LGBT and Allies group. However, this group has been on a hiatus and will resume in April 2018.
The group was organized by Kathy Hodges, a licensed pastor with First Congregational United Church of Christ in Alexandria. About 50 people attended the first meeting in fall of 2016.
"Our church is a welcoming community," she said. "We believe that all people in their glorious diversity are welcome. As such, we started a LGBT and Allies group last year. We had a great turnout."
According to Hodges, about half the group were members of the LGBT community, while the others were allies.
"There are people in our community that are supportive of our transgender and our LGBT brothers and sisters and they do need a place to feel safe," she said.
The group was interested in learning more about transgender issues, which Hodges says is necessary.
"I think that is something that our community needs more information about," she said.
Once the group resumes in April, Hodges hope is that it continues to grow and gain a steady membership — for the sake of those in the group, but also for the sake of the community.
"It's hard for any marginalized group to feel comfortable unless there are support groups in place," Hodges said. "We will lose valuable people from our community that will go to St. Cloud or Minneapolis just because there is community there. I know of a few transgender people who have left this community, not necessarily because they were afraid, but because there was no sense of community here."
According to both LaDoux and Hodges, there are ways for people who fall outside of the male or female gender to be shown they are heard and accepted. Some states in the U.S., such as California and Oregon, have given the option "X" as a gender on forms such as driver's licenses. Some other countries, such as Pakistan, have done the same.
"If other religious nations can struggle with and yet come to an understanding that these are our people and their rights and dignity should be respected, then as a community we should be able to do the same," Hodges said. "We're just all people."
To be added to the LGBT and Allies group email list, contact Hodges at email@example.com.