Roxanne Anderson: The Great Connector

Photo by Dom Laba

In about three years, the Twin Cities will have its very own LGBTQ community center. 

This development is due largely in part to the work of Roxanne Anderson—a pillar of the Twin Cities LGBTQ community and a longtime local organizer and activist since the late ’90s. 

“I feel like my purpose and path in life is to connect people. I’m a connector,” Anderson says. “This center is the manifestation of that.” 

Forty-four U.S. states currently have at least one LGBTQ center, but Minnesota isn’t one of them, even though more than four percent of the state’s population identifies as LGBTQ. Thanks to an 18-month fellowship through the Bush Foundation, Anderson is leading the charge to build a local LGBTQ center that addresses the incredibly varied needs and interests of the community all in one collective location. 

This will be a change from the current situation, in which local LGBTQ-focused organizations such as OutFront Minnesota, the Minnesota Transgender Health Coalition, PFLAG, the PFund Foundation, Reclaim, and JustUs Health are scattered throughout the Twin Cities. Anderson hopes that these organizations will either fully relocate to the LGBTQ center or open a second location there.

“They all pay a variety of different rents to different landlords who aren’t queer, who aren’t voting for us, who aren’t putting any of that money back into the community,” Anderson explains. “So how can we work collectively as queer organizations to build our own equity? If we own our own building, then we have equity.” 

With one central location comes power. By gathering the assorted LGBTQ organizations, the group will be more able to share overhead and administrative costs like rent, utility bills, and office supplies, as well as volunteers and donors—areas with great personnel overlap between the groups. With an LGBTQ center, a volunteer could give time and a donor could give money to a singular place that would, in turn, benefit the individual mission of each organization involved. 

To determine what the center should provide beyond a hub of the already-existing nonprofit resource groups, Anderson gathered feedback from around 600 community members. During their conversations, several main themes kept popping up: a welcome center paired with a cafe (perhaps a rebirth of Anderson’s beloved Café SouthSide?); a theater and event space for galas, weddings, and parties; a handful of studios for transitional and emergency housing; a community kitchen; a health suite that specializes in queer health care; green space; a rooftop patio featuring a fitness area and raised gardens.

If it sounds ambitious, it’s because it is.

Anderson is aware of the scope of the undertaking and is approaching it with thoughtfulness and care. Recognizing they’ll need a whole new wealth of knowledge in order to pull this thing off, they’ve taken classes at the University of Minnesota in holistic and alternative healing, and are enrolled in finance and nonprofit management courses. Anderson is also touring LGBTQ community centers across the country to learn about possible sustainability models—including a visit to their hometown LGBTQ center in Spencer, Indiana. 

“The town has about 2,300 people in it, but they bring in 3,000 people for their Pride,” Anderson says. “And they have an LGBT community center—this rural town in southern Indiana. I think they have three stoplights.”

The exact location for the Twin Cities center is still in the works.

“People want it to be very centrally located—maybe midtown, maybe ‘midtown’ but across the way [in St. Paul]—somewhere that either side of the river can get to. I think that means it has to be right off [Interstate] 94 somewhere,” Anderson explains. 

Per the fellowship requirements, Anderson has until the end of the calendar year to complete their research and education. Then they’ll turn to funding and development efforts, which they suspect will take another year and a half, considering the size of the project. “Very soon we’ll have a web page where people can find ongoing updates,” Anderson says. “There will be pictures, schematics, and stuff like that.” (Watch for updates.)  

Just because they’re tackling this new project doesn’t mean Anderson has pressed pause on their other community work. Specifically, they are continuing to lift up queer and transgender artists of color through RARE Productions—the Minneapolis-based arts and entertainment production company they co-founded with Rochelle James in 2007.

Anderson doesn’t operate RARE as a traditional label or “manage” artists per se (though they’d like to once the LGBTQ center project is completed). Rather, they use their wealth of local connections and social capital to connect and refer LGBTQ artists of color to resources they need in order to be successful. RARE is supported in part by its fiscal sponsor Springboard for the Arts, a local arts development organization.

“The whole premise of RARE is to help artists find their voice, have some visibility, and be able to have power in their art instead of just being so excited to be asked to perform that you’re willing to show up for $5,” Anderson says.

One project currently being boosted by Anderson is Ayesha Adu’s narrative film “Little Men”; Anderson worked with Adu in applying for grants and paying music license fees, and is co-hosting an upcoming Prince-inspired fundraiser for the filmmaker at Bryant Lake Bowl on July 6.

“Working with [Anderson] is a morale builder,” Adu says. “They have always been there to foster the community in ways that heal, protect, and promote growth. Whether connecting artists or offering the space of RARE to facilitate community events, [Anderson] and RARE are synonymous with the ideas of safety, social justice through the arts, and citizenry.” 

Anderson serves as an advocate for artists who are vulnerable to being taken advantage of. If a gala is raising $150,000 and asking an LGBTQ artist of color in Anderson’s network to perform for $250 when the artist’s rate is usually $500, for example, Anderson will ask that the artist be paid more. 

“With queer artists of color—especially trans artists of color—there needs to be a little bit more of an advocacy push, and sometimes that’s about having really courageous conversations,” Anderson says. “Sometimes it’s saying, ‘Hey, you should put this person on stage for your gala,’ and sometimes it’s saying, ‘Can you think about how you’re spending your money and do that differently?’”

Ultimately, Anderson is in the business of helping queer and transgender artists of color feel seen, heard, and supported through moral support and affirmations, and connecting artists to the equipment and space they require to perform. 

“It’s reminding people that their worth is their worth and it’s okay to demand that,” Anderson says. “It’s very easy for me to look at somebody else and say, ‘You can do this. I know you can.’ And I think that’s what I do the most and the best—acknowledge that people are there, that I see them, and that they’re awesome. If I tell them that they’re awesome, maybe they’ll believe they’re awesome.”