Susan Jennerjohn, a recent transplant to a Minneapolis suburb from Iowa, is a mother of 3 and grandmother to one. She’s a retired special education and kindergarten teacher of nearly 40 years, and super volunteer for Minnesotans United for All Families.
Lavender Magazine: You’re a straight woman, with no gay children. Why did you decide to get involved in this campaign?
Susan Jennerjohn: The process I went through to becoming an active supporter of same-sex marriage was gradual. I can think of a few experiences that stand out in my mind.
I was working full time and raising three kids so was involved in their activities and church. We had no contact with the LGBT community and I guess we just assumed that there weren’t gay kids at school. In hindsight, that seems pretty ridiculous.
Two of my children had close friends who came out after going to college. Unfortunately, neither of these young people felt comfortable coming out while in high school. Here were two young people in my personal experience that couldn’t be honest about their sexuality. Those kids could have been my kids.
Around this same time a new teacher came to my school. One of the first times we visited, I noticed she didn’t have on a wedding ring, but was talking about her kids. Being recently divorced, I thought I had found a friend or at least a kindred spirit. But then, she told me she wasn’t divorced. In fact, she was gay and she and her partner of over 15 years had adopted two children. She kept her personal life somewhat under wraps because a few staff members were not accepting.
LM: So, it was the personal relationship that really motivated you?
SJ: Yes, the more I thought about her life, the more I realized how much we shared in common. A dedicated teacher, a caring parent, a middle class woman, someone who needed to lose weight, involved in her church, caring for older parents, close to her siblings… you get the drift. But unlike me, she constantly felt she had to be on guard about her personal life.
She informed me of the organization One Iowa – I volunteered there and am so proud of the work we did to make sure all loving and committed couples have the opportunity to marry each other if they chose to.
LM: How long have you been volunteering with MN United?
SJ: It’s been a few months now. I’ve got a regular schedule and look forward to seeing the team! I manage the front desk; do data entry – whatever I can to help out.
LM: What do you enjoy about your volunteer job?
SJ: The thing they don’t tell you when you retire is that you don’t see your friends every day any longer! Minnesota is still pretty new to me – this is a great way to meet new people who share a common goal and similar values.
The staff and volunteers at MN United are friendly and welcoming and really value the time that you give. I know the work I’m doing here is making a difference. And most importantly, I know that I’ll be a part of a historic victory and even prouder to call myself a Minnesotan.
LM: What lessons learned as a teacher guide your volunteerism at MN United?
SJ: A teacher has to be pretty flexible when teaching children. When a squirrel is playing in the tree outside the classroom window or the repairman comes to fix the faucet, it’s pretty hard to keep a reading group going.
Volunteering also requires flexibility. When the folks at MN United asked me to change an existing plan, they made sure I was comfortable with my new task. I am amazed at the level of organization at MN United, especially since they have been together such a short time.
LM: What advice would you give to others that are interested in volunteering?
SJ: Just look for what interests you – the need is there. I volunteer a few hours each day — three times a week in an elementary school and two times a week at MN United. I will miss working with the folks at MN United after we defeat this constitutional amendment.