Friday, May 19, 2000

Transition: Jim Chalgren, 1951-2000

(Transitions article published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #130, May 19, 2000)

PHOTOS: (Jim Chalgren 3) Jim Chalgren at the Atons 1994 Halloween party. His costume represents the human-faced incarnation of Anubis, the Egyptian god of the underworld and judge of the dead.

(Jim Chalgren 2) Chalgren was known as the “Energizer Bunny” because he just kept going and going and going.

(Jim Chalgren 1) Chalgren reading the invocation at the recent Atons Officer Installation ceremony held at Bravo in Minneapolis.

James “Jim” Eric Chalgren, was born on July 15, 1951 in Mankato, MN. He passed away at age 48, surrounded by family and friends, on April 23 (Easter Sunday) at Fairview-University Medical Center in Minneapolis.

After attending Prescott College in Prescott, AZ for two years Chalgren was a Summa Cum Laude graduate of Mankato State University, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology. He became a counselor on the faculty of the Counseling Bureau at Mankato State while working on his Master’s Degree, and was also the director of the Mankato State University Alternative Lifestyles office. He began working toward his Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota when poor health forced him to stop.

He was one of Minnesota’s first well-known gay activists. In 1977 he started the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Center at Mankato State University (now called Minnesota State University, Mankato). In 1985 he was instrumental in the founding of The Aliveness Project, which has since become recognized as a model community-based services provider for those living with HIV.

In 1987 the killing of two gay men near Mankato inspired him to start advocating an equal-rights ordinance for Mankato which would have protected gays and lesbians from discrimination in employment, education, housing and other areas. (The ordinance was ultimately voted down by the Mankato City Council.)

Over the years he was also involved in the Names Project (the AIDS quilt), gay pride parades in Minneapolis, and AIDS walks. As an artist, writer and poet he was a contributor to many gay publications including The GLC Voice, Gaze and Lavender. He also held the title of “Mr. Gay Minnesota, 1983.”

Chalgren was fascinated with Egyptian artifacts and history. He was a long-time member, both full and associate, of the Atons, a Minneapolis leather/levi club; on their web page ( his name is listed as “Jim Anubis Chalgren.” Chalgren held the position of Egyptologist for the club, whose name and insignia are derived from ancient Egyptian ruler Akhenaton. He was also an active member of The Cavern Dwellers.

The fact that Chalgren passed away on Easter Sunday, one of his favorite holidays, was significant in many ways. He was a member of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Mankato and had been active in Integrity, an Episcopal organization for the GLBT community; he found value in Christian theology and the concepts of life, death and afterlife symbolized by the Christian Easter celebration.

But Chalgren also found valuable symbolism in other belief systems such as Buddhism and the beliefs of ancient Egypt. Rabbits were symbols of fertility to many ancient cultures, a belief that has become traditionalized today as the Easter Bunny. Chalgren, a long-time AIDS survivor who came back from the brink of death many times, became known in some circles as the “Energizer Bunny” because he just kept going and going and going. (On at least one Halloween and for at least one Pride parade he donned a bunny costume.)

Finally, April 23 was also the feast day for Chalgren’s patron saint, St. George (colloquially known as the “dragon slayer” and also the patron saint for people suffering from diseases spread through sexual contact). A reinterpretation of the legend of St. George and the Dragon provided the motif for the sermon at his memorial service, which was held in Mankato at St. John’s Episcopal Church on Thursday, April 27. Chalgren was remembered by a friend as a “Renaissance Man” who somehow found time and energy to involve himself in an amazing number of causes, and he was remembered by a niece as “the most spiritual man I ever met.” After the service Paul Rozendaal, former president of the Atons, summed up the feelings of many when he said “I will always be glad that I knew him.”

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