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Local gay rights pioneer Lenny Tweeden passes away at 68

Tweeden opened the first gay bar in Fargo, and helped proclaim June as pride month in the city

City Commission candidate Lenny Tweeden (center) makes his closing remarks Wednesday, June 6, 2018, seated between candidates Arlette Preston and Michael Williams during a candidate forum hosted by the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber.
City Commission candidate Lenny Tweeden (center) makes his closing remarks Wednesday, June 6, 2018, seated between candidates Arlette Preston and Michael Williams during a candidate forum hosted by the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber.
Erin Bormett / The Forum
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FARGO — Coming out as gay can be a very difficult process for some still today, and a secret many refuse to share.

Not Lenny Tweeden, however, one of Fargo's pioneer gay rights activists. After more than 40 years of supporting and fighting for LGBTQ rights, Tweeden passed away at the age of 68 on Aug. 3 after struggling with an illness.

“It’s a loss to all of us to have that voice diminished; it’s been a gain for all of us to have that voice exist,” said Fargo City Commissioner John Strand.

Tweeden opened Fargo’s first gay bar in 1983 called My Place.

“It was the first time that gays and lesbians actually had their own space in Fargo, not just an area where they were ‘tolerated’ in an otherwise straight bar,” said Larry Peterson, coordinator of Red River Rainbow Seniors oral history project.

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Tweeden, who grew up in Fargo, also approached then Mayor Jon Lindgren to convince him to declare the first Gay Pride Proclamation in Fargo’s history.

“In the ‘80s, when we did the first proclamation, I got tons and tons of mail and not just from Fargo, and many were thankful, but many were surprised that there were any gays in Fargo, and there were many,” Lindgren said, adding he remembered a day when Tweeden and about a half a dozen men came to his office.

"Some of them were not out, and they were very, very nervous," Lindgren said.

Soon after, the former mayor issued the proclamation and June 1984 became Fargo's first month of Pride.

“The first year, the public was stunned. And the second year, (1985) we had a city commission meeting in the Civic Auditorium because there were so many people there, about 500 people,” Lindgren said. "To say it was controversial would be an understatement. It was like a bomb going off."

Lindgren added Tweeden's efforts over the years will never go unnoticed. “Tweeden was a groundbreaking person in the community and he did things that will remain for many decades."

Tweeden ran for Fargo City Commissioner in 1988 and in 2022, and for mayor in 2010, Peterson said.

“Over the years, you could always count on Tweeden having some sage advice that was advocating for ordinary people,” Strand added.

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Frank Hunkler, who worked with Tweeden more than 40 years ago, still recalls those early moments when the Fargoan became a prominent voice and gay rights advocate in the area.

“The main thing I’d say about Lenny is that in the early days and especially in the early to mid ‘80s, he just started to be very important in all the things that we were doing as a gay community. That’s the main thing, he was just helpful in everything," Hunkler said.

“When we got Lindgren involved, he just came to life through that, and the rest is history,” Hunkler concluded.

Tweeden challenged North Dakota's anti-gay marriage laws by applying for a marriage license with his husband Wayne, Peterson said. He also organized a group of North Dakotans who supported same-sex marriages.

"His energy and his commitment to social justice will be missed by many of us,” Peterson said.

Tweeden's funeral arrangements are being coordinated by Boulger Funeral Home, according to his obituary.

Related Topics: FARGO
C.S. Hagen is an award-winning journalist currently covering the education and activist beats mainly in North Dakota and Minnesota.
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