New Indigenous and LGBTQ+ Voices That Will Represent Minnesotans

At the state capitol, there is a historic slate of LGBTQ+ candidates and Native candidates. Here are parts of our conversations with some of them.

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Alicia Kozlowski

Alicia Kozlowski (photo by Sarah Whiting)

My pronouns are they/them. I am running for Minnesota House in district 8B, which is in eastern Duluth. I am running as a native person, as a Mexican American person, as a two-spirit, nonbinary person. I grew up, in the midst of Duluth, in a lot of the struggle that so many of our communities face, and that we shouldn’t have to be facing — housing insecurity, food insecurity, poverty, addictions, mental health. Every bad thing, dropping boxes on our doorsteps. It is the aunties and the grandmas, the tías who stepped in and made sure that my existence mattered, my humanity mattered.

It is how I was able to graduate high school, first in my family to be a graduate from college, and have the audacity to become a graduate of the Master of Business Administration program. Every space I have been in has been marked by being the first for Duluth. Voters wanting to fundamentally change the face of power. We have never been represented by somebody like me, with this voice, with the communities that I’m bringing along and bringing in.

I grew up not seeing anything about our people. Our stories started in 1492, if we were in anything. So I think what a really beautiful moment we are in, if we can hold off and withstand and help folks to to meet this moment with curiosity rather than fear.

At the state capitol, there is a historic slate of LGBTQ candidates and Native candidates. We are not making that same ground for Latinos. But we will be at least replenishing the ones that we are losing. Because I look around at our community — we have a housing crisis, right? In 2020, my mom died of homelessness and addictions and battling the jail system.

I look around and I see the impacts of climate justice and how we need to invest in green infrastructure and climate resiliency and adaptability. We can have a green economy that helps to lift everybody up in our economy.

My mom had walked into the Duluth city council and said, “If you don’t give us a seat at the table, we are just going to tear the table down. We are gonna cut it up and make it a sweat lodge.’ I think about that a lot — we are taking our space because we actually are this space — or we are going to create it in other places. So let’s work together. We are the ones out there doing the work, seeing things that folks don’t even see for our communities, coming up with solutions. That is the power of having Black and brown and queer representation at historic rates.


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Leigh Finke

Leigh Finke at election night celebration

I am running for the Minnesota House of Representatives in district 66A, which is St. Paul, Falcon heights, Roseville, and Lauderdale. I am mom of two children. I come from advocacy, activism, journalism, filmmaking and policy. I worked in renewable energy policy for a number of years. I am running to be the first trans person elected to the Minnesota legislature. I am running because of an increasingly hateful and violent anti-trans movement that is taking place across the country, including here in Minnesota. It is essential for everyone to have a voice in our government.

With fellow LGBTQ+ representative Athena Hollins

As a trans person, and as a person who has knocked on a lot of doors this year, I can tell you — not everybody wants everybody’s voice heard. I hear quite regularly, how can you expect to represent me if you are trans and you care about all these trans issues? It is a very hard thing to hear, I’ll be honest, because I have never been represented by a trans person, and yet somehow they have managed to represent me.

It is necessary, not just to get representation, but to allow new representation to actualize change. So not only do we need to get the first Black women into the Senate, but then the Senate really needs to make space for what that representation means going forward. Having a trans woman arrive in the House, and then having that person affect no change for her community, doesn’t really add any true value. So not only do we need the representation, but we need the space to make the change that we are trying to bring. Otherwise, we are just there for show, and I am not going to be there for show. We are there to make change.

There is a lot of fear. There is a lot of worry that people who are different somehow are not going to manage the interests of people — the dominant gender, and racial majorities.


Clare Oumou Verbeten (photo by Sarah Whiting)

Clare Oumou Verbeten

I am running for the Minnesota Senate in District 66, which includes parts of St. Paul, Roseville, Falcon Heights, and Lauderdale. I am running to advance racial justice and build a community that safe for all of us. I am running because I am sickened by police brutality that we have become known for. My district includes Falcon Heights, where Philando Castile was shot and killed six years ago. Of course, a worldwide reckoning on race was sparked by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and many other many other names and lives that were taken in our state. I think that is just the tip of the iceberg. We have the worst racial disparities in the country — in education, in income, in housing, in health care. We can do so much better.

My work has really been about fighting for better systems of justice in our community. My work at the city of St. Paul, leading our racial equity framework to eliminate disparities in our city, working to elect progressive candidates across our state, volunteering with a local school district to make sure schools are fully funded and our students and families have the resources that they deserve. I really want to transform our systems. Because until we do that, we are going to continue to have these same outcomes.

Those of us who are marginalized in some way, whether we are women or LGBTQ, we are used to being in this space of being told no and being underestimated. There are systemic barriers that have kept us out of these positions of power, right? But for me, being a Black woman, being a queer woman, also being young — this Minnesota Senate is not the youngest place — I am used to fighting for my worth and rights.

I often talk about my mom and my ancestors and the people who brought me here to this moment when I talk about why I am running. I think it is really important to start with that grounding of where you come from and who has brought you here.

My mom had to completely start over when she immigrated from Senegal to this country, learn a new language and build a new career, and raise my sister and me. My mom is going to be damned if we lose our right to abortion access. And that fight and that push to stand up for yourself and your community, and to find those people who are going to have your back, that is all I know.

I think so many of us can relate to that — really strong people in our life who have been through so much, are so resilient, and bring people along with them. I think that is the way that we all plan to lead in the legislature, really clear on our values. And we are going to assemble the team to make it happen, because it is our lives at stake. 

If we are going to have a true democracy, we need people of all walks of life to be in office. That includes different racial identities, different gender identities, different sexual orientations. Those things that make up who we are as people really do impact the way we experience the world.

There has never been a Black woman in the Minnesota Senate in our 164 years of statehood. I plan to get elected this year alongside my sisters Zaynab Mohamed and Erin Maye Quade and Farhio Khalif. We are going to bring a perspective to the table that has ever been there, openly talking about racial justice and police brutality and the impact that has had on Black women and Black mothers. We have never been there to fight. So yes, we need to increase that representation. But it is not just increasing it for some random reason. We as a government should reflect the community that we serve. And right now, we do not reflect our community. So we are part of changing that and building a true democracy.


Ellie Krug

Ellie Krug (photo by Sarah Whiting)

I am running for school board for Eastern Carver County Schools District 112. It is a school district with about 9200 students, approximately 1500 educators, the largest employer in Carver County, — a county that went for Trump in 2020 by six points. But it is a county in in some respects turning purplish.

I was volunteering in the schools last spring, speaking to LGBTQ students, both in an alternative high school as well as middle schools. My message for them was about being worthy, that they mattered — an affirmation. Somebody came to me and said, ‘Ellie, there are four seats open on the school board this fall. We think you should run as a school board candidate. I heard a lot of things about the fact that I am transgender, and how that might be a lightning rod and how I might be the subject of a lot of negativity. But it was also important to me that me running would send a great message to the LGBTQ community out here in Carver County, not only the students, but also adults, that they mattered. And so I decided that I would do it.

I happen to be hopelessly idealistic. I am a student of Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy — I was alive when they were alive, 11 years old when they were murdered. And they taught me before they went, like they taught a billion other people, that we all have an obligation to make the world a better place. And that is really the underlying reason why I’m running. The school district here is doing an incredible job — they graduated 99 percent of their seniors. I also want to get help get them get ready for things that are coming, like book bans, attacks on LGBTQ students, and other kinds of marginalization.


Brion Curran

Brion Curran
Brion Curran

I am running for state house in 36B. I have been in nonprofit human services for the last 20 years, serving folks with developmental disabilities. I was a police officer in Minnesota as well. I was a deputy sheriff in 2018. Like Leigh mentioned, we have some severe gaps in representation. When I was asked by a close friend who is running on the Senate side, ‘would you consider running for House?’ I realized I have never really seen anyone like me run for office before. Maybe I could be that person for someone else. If we just start opening those doors and opening conversations, and really sitting down together, I think we will find we have a lot more in common than we do that is different. That is a big part of why I am running.

Especially in the last couple of years, the proposed legislation that we have seen across the nation is not only alarming, it is downright disgusting. It is not who we are as people. That is not how folks want to be represented. And for me, in my journey as a queer person, my life philosophy is to allow people to come to know me as a human being.

My wife and I are members of our local American Legion, a place where you might not guess that a lesbian couple might go to hang out. But it is like a family. What has really been touching over the years is to hear folks actually look us in the face and say, ‘Thank you for coming here. You have changed minds, and you have changed opinions. And we see you and we trust you as people and we care about you.’ And before I start to get teary-eyed, that is really for me where those connections happen.

We can certainly do a lot to focus on specific issues regarding bigotry and discrimination and racism. At the same time, for me it is just showing up as your authentic self and letting people feel that genuineness from your heart. I think that is really where we start to make a difference.

There is a lot of negativity out there. I try not to buy into it. It doesn’t get me down. A lot more people are supportive than are the loud voices out there. They are louder, but we are a whole lot mightier.


Indigenous Candidate Erika Bailey Johnson did not win her race against a Republican incumbent

Erika Bailey Johnson

I am running for Minnesota House and I am in the Bear Clan. My Ojibwe name is Butterfly Woman and I live in rural Bemidji. I have a real responsibility to connect people to the earth. I was part of the governor’s committee for pollinator protection. I am really dedicated to seeing the voices of youth elevated. They already can see the future — they already have the answers — they just are not being listened to or are not at the table.

Even my youngest son, the way they talk about gender is not something I grew up with — this fluid conversation. It is so different and it is so beautiful. There is a lot of turmoil in between big changes. I want to be part of getting us on a better path.

When they mention the critical race theory, I ask ‘can you tell me more, what does that mean, in schools, to you? What are you trying to have done or not done?’ I haven’t been able to find anyone that can even explain what they are talking about. I come from an entire conservative family, so I have grown up with it.

I have been thinking of creating a new party called the Evolve party. That is the one thing that is constant throughout all time is that we change and we need to figure things out and get better. Why can’t we all do that together?”