Lesbians share experiences of living in Duluth

A timeline chronicling moments in gay rights history. Page through with your left and right keyboard arrows.

Openly gay women were asked to write letters in to LakeVoice. In the letters they describe their experiences of being a lesbian, discrimination they may or may not have encountered, and the overall attitude the community holds towards them. This is what they wrote:

A letter from Carla Blumberg:

I have not experienced anything in Duluth that I knew at the time was anti-gay discrimination.  Soon after I moved there with my then partner we separated and I got together with my current partner.  Because both of us had been in long term relationships, there was some negative feeling about us in the lesbian community. For the first ten or so years almost all of my social contacts were with straight people.  I now have lesbian friends and feel more or less comfortable in that group. What I have noticed in the larger community is a pretty dire under-utilization of feminist principles.  The town is run by guys and for guys.  It is considered normal that downtown boosterism includes and supports the businesses of a group of men one of whom is a known sexual predator.  The mayor is a crony of those men.  The story of how the women who built the Women’s Building were treated by the men in the Catholic Diocese is dismal and shocking.  Local political women are expected to support local political men of their party but the reverse is not true. When I first moved there from Texas I thought, “wow – this is really different.”  But after I lived in Duluth for a while it became apparent that it was pretty much just the same in terms of who was in charge.  It’s not completely clear what needs to happen next because the attitudes and discrimination are so subtle – not at all overt.  I try to chip away when I think I can do some good and encourage others to do the same. It was a straight woman politician who provided the major support for Kerry Gauthier during his debacle.  That woman is a friend of mine and even though I thought Kerry behaved like an idiot, he deserved better from his colleagues. I was proud of her for doing what she did.

Carla Blumberg, At Sarah’s Table owner


Carla also wanted to include a video she made, further describing her experiences:


A letter from Barbara Neubert:

My partner Mary Ann and I were in the planning stages in 1991 and still looking for a space for a coffeehouse and bookstore, when a coffeehouse rumored to be owned by a lesbian opened up on 16th ave E. in Duluth, Minnesota.  We were looking East as well.  This was before there were coffeehouse's everywhere and we were not sure that we could compete with another coffeehouse within a 3 mile radius. However, an ideal spot opened up on Superior Street, above the Lakewalk overlooking Lake Superior. The rent was manageable, the landlady was friendly and we were underemployed so we signed a five year lease.

I did not want a lesbian bookstore. I intended to be a woman's bookstore owned by a lesbian, but immediately the rumors had us labeled as a lesbian bookstore. We were accepted by out of town tourists and college and university employees, but Duluthians were more apt to peek in and some of their comments, as they looked through the door, led me to believe, they just wanted to see what a lesbian looked like. We maintained a friendly demeanor throughout, but attempted to discourage other lesbians nuzzling each other in what they perceived as a lesbian friendly establishment. I was trying to make a living in an environment I believed to be unaccepting of my lifestyle and theirs. And we lived in a Scandinavian environment where physical contact in public was discouraged for everybody, even straight people.

In order to support our business, my partner and I began cooking with a crock pot and microwave. This brought in a few more regular Duluthians while the lesbian coffeehouse down the block which catered to lesbians soon went broke and closed. One day the lesbian police arrived from the University of Minnesota, Duluth's diversity program to inspect, what they had heard, was a hostile environment for lesbians. We were interrogated as they drank their coffee. Thank goodness there were no other customers in the place because sensitivity to the problems of small business ownership was obviously missing from the conversation. We were also questioned by the real police when a lesbian was murdered on the Lakewalk. The police detective was very respectful. We had no information on the person except what we read in the newspaper. By the questions he asked, I think he had our business mixed up with the lesbian coffeehouse that closed.


Barbara Neubert; At Sara's Table owner

P.S. Except that we have been used for tours for gay and lesbian students, and we have events for gays and lesbians including monthly meetings, At Sara's Table Chester Creek Cafe has never generated the kind of curiosity that my original coffeehouse did.


Adeline Wright is the owner of Adeline Inc. and is an openly gay woman in Duluth. She wasn't able to write a letter, but earlier this February she agreed to an interview. Listen to her story:


If you'd like to submit your own letter, email lakevoicenews@gmail.com with your experiences being an openly gay woman in the Twin Ports area.

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