Chris Kluwe fires up 'Vote No' crowd at Hell's Kitchen fundraiser

Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe performs with his band Tripping Icarus (top, bottom) and is joined by Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak on stage (middle) at a Hell's Kitchen "Vote No" fundraiser Thursday night.
Photo By: Darwesh Singh
“It’s the fact that there are certain American citizens that pay taxes, that serve in the military, and that are not allowed to benefit under the same federal laws as everybody else. And that’s discrimination. Clearly discrimination.”

It’s 10:30 p.m. on a Thursday in downtown Minneapolis. Do you know where your Minnesota Vikings punter is?

Chris Kluwe and his hard rock band, Tripping Icarus, helped rally the troops at a packed Hell’s Kitchen fundraiser for Minnesotans United for All Families late into Thursday evening. The restaurant/bar joined forces with the outspoken Vikings punter for what Hell’s Kitchen general manager Tony Perella called, “a nice way to wind down before the busy weekend ahead.”

The free event helped solicit donations for the same-sex marriage advocacy group heading into this week’s final, crucial campaign stretch, but mainly served as one more opportunity to have voices opposing the amendment heard. Minnesota voters decide Tuesday if marriage in the Minnesota Constitution will be defined as between one man and one woman.

“It’s an issue of basic human freedom,” Kluwe said. “It’s the fact that there are certain American citizens that pay taxes, that serve in the military, and that are not allowed to benefit under the same federal laws as everybody else. And that’s discrimination. Clearly discrimination.”

The scene at Hell’s Kitchen was one of notable diversity. Waitresses decked in rainbow gear served colorful “Vote No” cupcakes while mingling with drag queens and business-casual patrons enjoying drinks at the bar. Citizens from all races, backgrounds, age groups and sexual orientations were present, many wearing “Vote No” T-shirts, stickers and hats in support of their cause.

Minneapolis residents Claire Selhart, 66, and Susan Laroff, 64, enjoyed a spot on the dance floor before Kluwe’s band took the stage for a 45-minute set. Selhart, who is in a 37-year lesbian relationship, and Laroff, who has a gay brother, were glad to see Hell’s Kitchen contributing positively by holding the lively fundraiser.

The South 9th Street restaurant has long maintained a strong connection to the LGBT community, Perella said. When other LGBT clubs and restaurants closed down in the Twin Cities, Hell’s Kitchen hired many of those employees and earned their community support, Perella said. After the Marriage Amendment was placed on the ballot, Hell’s Kitchen also spoke out against it.

Even when an individual threatened to boycott the restaurant, co-owner Cynthia Gerdes wrote a public letter in response, which caused visible efforts to ramp up even more.

“We refused to be bullied,” Perella said, while regarding the issue as “not one that’s political, but one of basic civil rights.” He also said that the issue “supersedes a lot of business politics,” and that the number of customers at Hell’s Kitchen has increased since supporting the “Vote No” movement.

Kluwe, who has become one of the most discussed public figures in Minnesota — (and even nationwide) — because of his opposition to the amendment, proved to be the big star of the evening. However, he wasn’t alone in his celebrity. Also present was Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, who arrived on stage to a loud roar from the crowd.

“I want you to think about 30 other states that have put people’s rights to vote,” Rybak said before Tripping Icarus performed. “It’s one of the most anti-American things I can think of.”

As a prominent athlete in Minnesota, Kluwe said he believes he has the obligation, like any other American citizen, to speak up if he sees something wrong – “and try to educate people about why it’s wrong.”

“If I was in that position, I would hope someone would speak up for me,” he said.

Kluwe also advised teenagers looking to become more socially aware and active to “not be afraid to talk to people. On a lot of these issues, you can just talk to people and just have a conversation, and that can bring a lot of change.”

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