On Wednesday, Nov. 7 at 5 p.m., Katie Barnes ’13 ventured to the steps of the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul, where she had been invited to speak at a rally sponsored by Minnesotans United for All Families, the nonprofit organization created to campaign against the state’s proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
The rally was scheduled to happen regardless of the outcome of Tuesday’s election, but since the marriage amendment was defeated, it was also a victory celebration for the organization.
Barnes was eating breakfast at Perkins one morning when she received an email from a member of OutFront Minnesota, a coalition dedicated to moving Minnesota toward LGBTQ equality, asking her to speak at last Wednesday’s rally. Barnes accepted.
“Later I found out the speaking roster and almost fainted,” Barnes said. “It turned out to be a much bigger deal than I thought it would be.”
Also on the program to speak at the rally were Minnesotans United’s campaign manager Richard Carlbom, State Rep. Karen Clark,DFL-Minneapolis and State Sen. Scott Dibble DFL-Minneapolis, along with other local celebrities.
Barnes’s journey toward her speech at the Capitol began long before Minnesotans United even formed. At St. Olaf, she is one of five coordinators of Gay, Lesbian or Whatever GLOW! and is in her second year as co-president of St. Olaf Queer Support & Outreach STOQSO House, the honor house dedicated to LGBTQ persons and their allies.
Barnes also chaired the Minnesota OUT! Campus Conference, which St. Olaf hosted this October, and served as the Outreach Coordinator for the MN GLBTA Campus Alliance. Additionally, she serves on the executive board for Campus Pride in Faith, a national coalition formed to provide LGBTQ students of faith with resources and support.
This summer, she began volunteering with Minnesotans United, and served as recruitment coordinator for St. Olaf Votes NO. Her involvement with that campaign specifically led to the opportunity to speak at the rally.
On Wednesday, Barnes was accompanied by a handful of friends from St. Olaf, and she was happy to know that there were a few familiar faces in the crowd of more than 1,000 onlookers.
“Before the speech, I was having a heart attack,” Barnes said. “I always get nervous before speaking, but this was a whole new level.” Despite the jitters, Barnes and her Ole peers agree that the speech was a success. Grace Leary ’15 was in the audience.
“Standing among the crowd at the United for Our Future Rally . . . and cheering as Katie stepped up to the podium, I was overwhelmed with a sense of empowerment and pride,” Leary said. Barnes explained a similar feeling of empowerment.
“There was so much energy,” she said. “It was just such an amazing experience, and afterwards, I was so jazzed and excited.”
Barnes’s speech lasted only about two minutes, but she does not doubt that they are two minutes she will never forget. Despite the personal honor she felt at being asked to speak at a statewide rally, Barnes is quick to credit the St. Olaf community for much of both her success and the success of the recent campaign.
“People are baffled by what we have going on at Olaf, so me speaking was not just important for me, but also as a representative of this institution where we do such good work,” Barnes said. “I want to tell our story to as many people as possible, because I think there’s some real merit there.”
She believes firmly in the power of Oles to make the world a better place and has dedicated her time on the Hill to doing just that.
“I try to do my very best to make St. Olaf the safest, most affirming environment it can be,” Barnes said. “I’m truly honored to say that I am an Ole and to talk about what we have going on here. It’s truly extraordinary, and I’m humbled to say that I’ve been a part of it.”
Barnes will graduate next spring with degrees in history, Russian area studies and American studies. After graduation, she plans to attend graduate school to pursue a master’s degree in student affairs. Though her work at St. Olaf is coming to a close, Barnes’s activism is far from over.
“As students, we sometimes sell ourselves short, when in reality we can make such a huge difference,” she said. “This election proved that.” Barnes hopes to see other students follow her lead, working toward making the change she now knows is possible.