Jessica Flatequal In Glimpses

It was titled “Farewell Buddy,” and several hundred of her buddies from the University community and beyond took part in the celebration of life for Jessica Flatequal at the Verizon Civic Center April 13.

Organizer, advocate and inspiration. Jessica Flatequal. Photo courtesy LGBT Center.

Flatequal, director of the LGBT Center since 2004, passed away April 9 from liver disease. Known for strong commitment to LGBT and women’s rights, infectious humor and an ever-present bow tie, Flatequal’s life was indeed celebrated—with tributes, songs and, in the end, a video of her urging the gathering to join her in crooning and dancing to Abba’s “Dancing Queen.”

Much was said about the global and personal effects of her work at the Minnesota State University, Mankato, inspiring countless students to be themselves, community groups to be more inclusive and government leaders to work on behalf of civil rights for all.

TODAY sought out, from those who knew Flatequal well,  recollections of small moments that loomed large, times that quietly or privately demonstrated the personality, thinking and wit that was clearly one-of-a-kind.  Below are some of those thoughts. 

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(Jessica and I) met about 20 years ago. I was a school teacher who was going to run for Congress. Tilting at windmills, most people thought. But she called and said “Tim, we have Pride Festival. It’s down at Sibley Park and you need to set up a card table down there and meet people.” And we did. Our entire campaign team (of four) were on hand.

To everyone  who would walk by, Jessica would say “Come here, come here, come here—meet our next congressman, he’s for a lot of good things, and marriage equality….meet our next congressman, he’s for a lot of good things and marriage equality….” And I remember thinking: She believes in us more than we do right now. I said, “We better work a little harder here, we better do a little more.”

Because the expectation—and you could always get it out of Jessica—was if it’s the right thing to do, why would you not do it? And if it’s the right thing to do, why would you not put your whole soul into doing it? And if it’s the right thing to do, why would you not do it with joy? That impacted me.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz

 

Jessica was a genius at convincing me that I was the only person for the job, whether it was hosting a LGBTQ Trivia Night or stage-managing Pride Fest. After many years as stage manager, I took a hiatus. This past Pride, I returned to the committee and Jessica welcomed me back with, “Where have you been, anyway?”

Esther Marcella Hoffmann
Mankato Writer, Performance Artist

 

One of the first questions that she asked me after Tim was elected and we got going—it was still the Bush years and we’d never run a race without Jessica—she said to me: “I just have to ask, don’t you just want to swear more? Can you even swear? Swear for me. I haven’t heard you swear ever I don’t think.”

We build meaningful relationships by doing meaningful work together. That’s how Jessica and I began, in a park, having a Pride Fest with not that many people to begin with that’s grown into a really big celebration. She included me all along the way, and I’m just so grateful for that.

One of the last conversations I had with her was about being an ally. Because there’s not always a right way to do all of that, right? And hard questions that sometimes you just ask in your own head, I knew I could ask Jessica. Those are the conversations I’m really going to miss. And she told me some really powerful things—about myself and about what it means to be an ally. Those are sacred treasures to me.

Gwen Walz
Minnesota First Lady

 

Mankato Pride was moving from Sibley to Riverfront Park. It was a new venue with lots of moving parts and community expectations were high. Driving in to Riverfront Drive, I saw the American flag flying proudly. I stated that it would be awesome if the pride flag flew beneath it and would we need get permission for that to happen. Jessica didn’t skip a beat and explained, “Do it and ask for forgiveness later.” We climbed through the bushes, unwrapped the cord from the pole, and hoisted up the pride flag. Every year since, the pride and American flag have waved in glory celebrating everyone to Mankato. It is a reminder that no one is free until all are free.

Gregory Todd Wilkins
Associate Director, Centennial Student Union and Student Activities
 

 

Jessica and I painted a few times together, and when we did she was always so kind to me, even though I’m a total novice. In fact, the first time we painted together, she went with me to one of those wine and paint nights at a local restaurant, even though she kind of hated those things. There’s no creativity in them, she said. You just copy someone else’s work. But I wanted to go, and was nervous to paint without that guidance, and Jessica went with me because that’s what she did; she supported people.

Professionally, it was absolutely amazing to have an advocate in the administration to fight for the things that needed to be fought for, to make sure that students were at the center of the conversations. Having Jess on your side was a huge win for you and your cause.

When she entered the room, she was brimming with life and laughter and silliness and creativity and passion and conviction. It is an absolute tragedy that we no longer get to be near that light.

Laura Schultz 
Director
Minnesota State Mankato Violence Awareness and Response Program

 

Every autumn, at the beginning of the school year, Jessica would enthusiastically attend President Davenport’s convocation address at the University. Most people would simply say “I’m going to convocation.” She would have to sing “Connn-Vo-Cate good times, Come on!!” Every. Single. Year.

And after convocation, when most people were enjoying the complimentary refreshments of juice and donut holes, Jess would nosh on what she liked to call Mav Balls. Jess wasn’t most people, and I think we can all agree on that.

Brian Wollum, Minneapolis
Director of Advising at Anoka-Ramsey Community College
Former LGBT Center Program Adviser

 

Music was always at the center. We met at a live show in the 80s. We were instant friends. We fell in love with concerts…The Indigo Girls, The Judds, Melissa Etheridge, Madonna and many, many more. … We were friends through high school and college and we learned guitar and sang harmonies together. Our very first live performance as “Jenn and Jess” was at the Coffee Hag.

In 2006 I came to Mankato from Minneapolis to see The Indigo Girls. Of course, Jess was there with her partner Maria. We screamed at the performance in front of us and we sang all the words. Afterwards we talked about life. And Jessica brought up my college career. I had only 21 credits to finish. She looked at me and said, “You should finish! You can do it buddy! We can help you navigate how to make it happen.” Jessica lit a fire in my belly. I signed up for classes as soon as I could. Well. She was right. She and Maria helped me navigate the road to my graduation. I did it. I graduated with honors. And…five months after graduation, I bought The Coffee Hag.

Jessica was the first person I called with the news. She responded with a resounding “Yay! That’s awesome buddy! It’s perfect for you!” I came back to Mankato. Jessica will forever be a catalyst in my life. She reminds me every day to be who I am, by being who she was. She was the kind of friend that cared as much as family does. The kind that’s always there no matter what. The kind that shows up. Jessica was my buddy. My friend. A sister of my heart.

Jenn Melby-Kelly
Owner, Coffee Hag
Mankato City Council member

 

When she would greet you it wasn’t just “Hi.” There was always this connection, eye contact, a smile. You felt like the only person in her world at that moment.

Wilbur Frink
Director, Open Arts Minnesota

 

Jess and I have been pals since college, in the early 90s, at Minnesota State Mankato. She is by far the funniest, wittiest friend I have ever known. She had a phenomenal capacity for empathy and care. There is a line in a Maya Angelou poem “Looking at me, ought to make you proud!” That is how I always felt in Jess’s presence, proud of her advocacy for others, proud of her passion for social justice, proud of her drive to make our community, state and country a better place for all. She met people where they were at, had compassion for them, and encouraged them to be more loving and open. All of us who love her have big shoes to fill. We all need to step up, take action, put in time and sweat to make our world more loving and welcoming to all. It is time to roll up our sleeves.”

Beth-Ann O’Halloran
Product Specialist
Capstone Publishing

The world is a little less gay because she died, but a lot more gay because she lived.

Maria Bevaqua
Chair, Gender & Women’s Studies
Jessica’s Wife

‘Farewell Buddy’ brought together hundreds to celebrate the life and work of Jessica Flatequal April 13. Photo by Joe Tougas.