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New website aims to promote gay marriage

A Bemidji native was in Duluth this week inviting gay people to come out of the closet on the World Wide Web. The website Great Minnesota Outing was created by Jon Staff as a response to the proposed Minnesota constitutional amendment banning gay...

A Bemidji native was in Duluth this week inviting gay people to come out of the closet on the World Wide Web.

The website Great Minnesota Outing was created by Jon Staff as a response to the proposed Minnesota constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Staff set up four sessions for people to record and submit their stories, including a session Thursday in Duluth. Three other sessions were held in Minneapolis.

The website is set to launch today at the Twin Cities Pride Festival.

Staff, 24, graduated from Bemidji High School in 2006 and continued his education at Harvard College, earning a degree in government. He now works for AeroDesigns Inc., a company in Cambridge, Mass., he helped start that makes zero-calorie "foods" that you breathe instead of eating.

Staff started developing Great Minnesota Outing after hearing about the proposed constitutional gay marriage ban, which will be on the Minnesota ballot in November.

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"I was living in London when I first learned about the issue," Staff said. "I had watched it with interest go through California, Iowa and New York, but it was only when it was on the Minnesota ballot that it became real and upsetting."

He started thinking about what he could do to help and decided just donating money or flying back to Minnesota and volunteering with the campaign to defeat the proposed amendment would be too easy.

"I felt I could do something more, help make something bigger happen," Staff said.

That's when he remembered his own coming out experience.

"I grew up in Bemidji," Staff said. "I went away to college and came out. I admitted it to myself and then told my close friends and then all of my friends and then my parents, which is the pinnacle. You never really go back and tell other people you're gay - the people you only see once a year."

Staff's mom, Diane, said it felt good when her son came out to her and her husband.

"We felt honored that he trusted us enough to share that with us," Diane Staff said. "It brought us closer as a family."

It didn't surprise Diane Staff when her son started Great Minnesota Outing, she said.

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"He's always been so driven and successful," Diane Staff said. "He's such a natural born leader. I'm proud that he's standing up for what he believes in."

Great Minnesota Outing was born as a way to help institutionalize the coming out process to tell all of those people who normally don't get told, Jon Staff said.

"I thought if you could make it easier to tell all of these people, people would support the defeat of the ban if they knew a gay person," Jon Staff said. "It makes it possible for everyone like me to tell everyone."

Great Minnesota Outing asks lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Minnesotans to record a video of themselves identifying their sexual orientation and explaining why they love their state and why it is important to have the freedom to marry in Minnesota.

"That's part of it, but the other part is distributing the videos," Staff said.

Great Minnesota Outing's Nov. 6 goal is to introduce all Minnesotans to one or more people in their community who are LGBT and to help defeat the amendment, Staff said.

"I think if you know at least one gay person, it can make you change your mind and support our rights," he said.

Outside of the ballot issue, Great Minnesota Outing hopes to initiate social change, Staff said.

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"Our more overreaching goal is to change how gay people interact with their community," Staff said. "We want them to take it that step further than just telling their parents. It's easier to stop discrimination if more people know you're gay."

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