On Sunday, while Minneapolis was out in rainbow, glitter, and leather to celebrate Pride, a different parade of sorts was gathering near the Capitol steps in St. Paul.
Freedom March, a self-described “group of Christians who have been delivered from LGTBQ lifestyles,” set up shop under some white tents and got ready to testify. Its leadership, as indicated on its website, is composed of “former homosexuals” and “former transgenders” who have since left those identities behind through “the power of the blood of Jesus.”
“Freedom March is not about suppression,” the site says. “It’s about FREEDOM.”
There was a decent crowd assembled to hear music, prayer, and testimonials, including one person in particular mingling in the audience: Minnesota state Sen. Dan Hall (R-Burnsville). Photos from the event and the livestream appear to show him hanging out, chatting folks up, and at one point, wearing a Freedom March T-shirt. (He also hyped the event on Facebook.)
Hall has never been shy with his opinions on the queer and trans community. Back in 2012, he got into a little hot water for seeming to insinuate that if you weren’t for an amendment banning gay marriage, you weren’t for America.
“Why is it you never see an American flag where you see a Vote No for the Mn #Marriage Amendment sign?” he asked. He later said he hadn’t technically called anyone “unpatriotic,” but not before others had some choice words for him—among them “douchebag.”
In 2013, he quoted Mel Gibson’s very homophobic father to make his case against letting gay people get married:
“Tolerance is the last virtue of a depraved society,” he tweeted. “When an immoral society has blatantly and proudly violated all the commandments. HGibson.”
But that was a long time ago. The amendment died, and same-sex marriage has since been adopted across the United States. It’s now generally less acceptable to be patently against gay people—and increasingly less so for trans people. Times have changed. Has Hall?
Hall didn’t respond to interview requests, so it’s hard to know for sure, but his Facebook presence hasn’t evolved much since 2012. On June 10, he posted an article about a study claiming there is “no evidence people are born gay or transgender,” and quoted a section that implies queerness may just be the result of being messed up by childhood sexual trauma.
Two days earlier, he gave a shout-out to the Minnesota Family Council, which once had to apologize for equating same-sex marriage campaign efforts with propaganda in Nazi Germany. It was a “wonderful thing,” he wrote, to have “friends” like the Council who “encourage and support your positions and legislation at our Capitol.”
Back in April, he posted an article called “Liberal Washington State nixes radical LGBT sex ed bill after massive parental outrage.”
“This is where things are going if you don’t voice your opinion,” he wrote. “Your children and grandchildren will be taught the proper way of having homosexual sex. The Minnesota House Democrats have a bill that would stop any kind of youth counseling against homosexuality.”
The bill he was referring to is actually germane to his presence at Freedom March. It involved outlawing attempts to counsel gay children into not being gay, and trans children into not being trans—at least until they’re 18 and can make that kind of decision for themselves.
The bill fell in the Republican-dominated Minnesota Senate after a gut-wrenching debate and much hand-wringing on both sides. A few Republicans said they left the Capitol that day “sickened” after voting against it.
There’s plenty of reasons to feel a little nauseated. “Conversion therapy” or “reparative therapy,” which has been rejected by mainstream medical and mental health organizations for years, has not been known to be very effective. It has, however, been known to lead to depression, anxiety, drug use, homelessness, and suicide in youth.
At Freedom March, an organizer took to the stage to offer a word of celebration for the defeat of this bill “in the name of Jesus.” This event, he said, was a “victory lap.”
“And I have to tell you, this was a miracle,” considering it happened in “liberal Minnesota.”
He threw out a thank you to members of the Minnesota Family Council operating a booth in the back, and spared a word of acknowledgement for Hall.
“He was instrumental in helping to shut this down,” he said.
He invited Hall to come up on stage and join him, but the senator had already left.
“But he was here,” the organizer clarified with a laugh. “I just want to acknowledge that he was here.”