The current administration continues to roll back legal protections for transgender folks, demonstrating the ongoing threat faced by those who don’t fit the either/ or structure. Compressing safe space for those with non-binary sexual and gender identities is what energizes Kathy Hermes, who works at Lutheran Social Service in Duluth. 

Hermes directs Together for Youth in Duluth, a support group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, two-spirit, and allied youth (LGBTQ+). It’s a safe space for people aged 14-20 to connect with peers and resources to help them navigate life’s challenges. 

The group started about 22 years ago, due to concerns about what kids faced in schools. Hermes believes the group is as much needed now as it was back then. “They are still not safe in schools in Duluth,” she says, adding, “and they face 24/7 online bullying.” 

Hermes points out that the people who are “out” in schools today are kids. “Very rarely, unless it’s a large school, are there truly ‘out’ teachers,’” she says. She hopes that will change, because when teachers feel free to be ‘out’ it will be safer for kids. 

Hermes worked as a life sciences teacher at Marshall High School in Duluth for nearly 20 years. She left that job due to the “institutional homophobia and transphobia” she witnessed and experienced. 

“I finally had to admit to myself that I didn’t feel safe as a queer person working where I was working,” Hermes divulges “My emotional and psychological safety was compromised all the time.” 

Because of her experiences, Hermes made it her mission to help LGBTQ+ kids carve out safe space and find allies. “Informed by my own experience as a queer person,” she says, “I’m motivated to change conditions for these creative, normal, beautiful people who don’t deserve all the roadblocks they face.” 

Part of Hermes’s job is to provide basic educational community outreach — which she playfully summarizes as “It’s OK to Call Us Queer and Other Things to Know About Us” — in settings like workshops, churches, and schools. 

Lutheran Social Service started offering learning modules aimed at improving cultural understanding of oppressed groups. “The idea is to get Lutheran congregations to expand their minds and open their hearts,” she says, citing lesson examples like “My Neighbor is Muslim.” 

Hermes has been working on a new module, which she hopes will be released in the next few months. “My Neighbor is Transgender” will serve as a sort of “LGBTQ+ 101.” If it gets favorable use with Lutheran congregations and others, she hopes to create a more in-depth part two. 

She also intends to expand services to youth on the Iron Range. Together for Youth has been active in Virginia over the past two years. Hermes notes that outreach to smaller communities, where kids are more isolated, is critical. Her dream is to secure funding to purchase a vehicle to serve as a mobile safe space with resources to connect to LGBTQ+ kids and allies in rural areas. 


Editor's Note: Please see the Letter to the Editor in response to inclusivity work done at the Marshall High School that Kathy Hermes left several years ago.