News Anchor Jana Shortal and wife Laura Zebuhr fell in love in Minnesota.
What makes Minnesota one of the Midwest’s most inclusive states? We caught up with this award-winning journalist and leader of the queer community to find out what living there means to them.
“I started my authentic life in Minnesota,” says Jana Shortal, KARE 11’s local news anchor, “and Minnesota saved my life.” Shortal’s typically direct reflection on moving to Minneapolis and coming out sums up their gratitude for the state they call home and how welcoming it can be. “My introduction to the LGBTQ+ community was here. And it was awesome. It was then, and remains to this day, a very large and diverse queer community.”
In 2003 Shortal, who uses she and they pronouns, was living in Kansas City and struggling with how to come out in an industry that still skews toward heteronormativity and gender binary uniformity. When a news director contacted them and offered them a job in Minnesota, the 26-year-old Shortal packed up all their belongings and never looked back. Over the last six years, they’ve hosted and reported for KARE 11’s Breaking the News show.
The show, which airs on TVs throughout Minnesota every weekday evening, makes Shortal and their work a vital touchstone for communities across the state, as well as for queer communities across the country. The news anchor often finds themselves at the same grocery store and the same parks as viewers, who look to them to make sense of the sometimes senseless world around them. And, thanks to their internet presence, Shortal counts hundreds of people who’ve reached out who are parenting a queer or trans kid.
Shortal takes pride in these conversations—in listening, validating, reflecting, and witnessing. “I’m glad that they can find someone—anyone—that they can reach out to and ask a question. Even though we are interconnected as a globe via the internet, it can still feel really distant and isolating in more rural areas.” Shortal has, however, visited many schools across the North Star state, noting with excitement that almost all now have gay-straight alliances. Among the many LGBTQ+ experiences to be had in Minnesota, there are now several art-centered queer enclaves around the state, such as Grand Marais and nearby Embarrass.
More recently, when their wife, Laura Zebuhr, birthed their now five-month-old son Isaac, Shortal had a new opportunity to support another, smaller community, that of their own family. And the couple is wasting no time in introducing their baby to the natural wonders of Minnesota. Shortal loves watching Zebuhr instill the love of all things wild in their child. Weekends find the three of them enjoying outdoor activities including watching the migration of birds overhead and walking in one of their favorite parks, the sprawling Theodore Wirth Regional Park, which spans 843 acres in Minneapolis, and features a fishing pier and miles of hiking and biking trails.
Like many Minnesotans, Zebuhr has a “tremendous love for outdoors and nature” and rightly so. While Minneapolis is a major, cosmopolitan city, it boasts 180 parks, featuring 22 lakes. “Parks are a primary point of pride and celebration for Minnesotans,” Shortal remarks.
As days get warmer, this year Shortal is looking forward to attending Twin Cities Pride as a family and introducing their son to the LGBTQ+ community. Pride is a massive week-long celebration in Minneapolis and will feature food vendors, artists, beer gardens, a 5K run, and various family activities in Loring Park, the event’s epicenter. Excited to see what advocacy groups such as Outfront will bring together this year, Shortal’s family and families like theirs can also expect Drag Queen Cookie Decorating with It Gets Better.
And it’s not just LGBTQ+ people who are open-minded here. A testament to a palpable spirit of inclusivity and acceptance, all are welcome to attend the celebrations. Shortal remembers going to the first Twin Cities Pride and wondering how there could be hundreds of thousands of gay people in Minneapolis, when someone reminded them, “You don’t have to be gay to go to Pride.”
Shortal is also anticipating the return of the vibrant Twin Cities theater scene. Mixed Blood Theater, located in an old firehouse, has been “using theater to disrupt injustices, advance equity, and build community” since 1976. And the journalist can’t recommend St. Paul’s Penumbra Theatre enough for its profoundly moving work. Penumbra’s mission is to create productions that “illuminate the human condition through the prism of the African American experience.” Coming up in June don’t miss Penumbra’s Ashe Lab festival, a celebration of Black artists coming together via choreography, sound, and story to remake the world.
Festivals of all kinds are central to life in Minnesota, from local summer street festivals to the main event, The State Fair. “The Great Minnesota Get-Together," one of the largest state fairs in the country, features food vendors, livestock, rides, art shows, and live music. Bob Dylan and the late, great Aretha Franklin are among the acclaimed artists who have performed there in the past, and Diana Ross will grace the Grandstand stage in August.
Come fall, Shortal and their family will head north to a cabin in the woods and take in the turning of the leaves. In past winters they've cross-country skied. While Shortal has not yet ice-fished on any of the state’s grand lakes or rivers, they relay this fact with good-humored resignation about its inevitability. After all, ice fishing like many things in this great state speaks to the humble vigor of Minnesota and Minnesotans. As Shortal notes, the Indigo Girls (who will be returning to play with the Minnesota Orchestra this year) love to remind us, “‘the Mississippi is mighty, but it begins in Minnesota.’”
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