I-35W bridge, rainbow lighting for Pride Month

How KARE 11 Anchor Jana Shortal Celebrates Minnesota Pride

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The I-35W bridge, lit up for Pride Month
LGBTQ+ // Article

How KARE 11 Anchor Jana Shortal Celebrates Minnesota Pride


What makes Minnesota one of the Midwest’s most inclusive states? We caught up with this award-winning journalist and leader of the queer community to find out what living there means to them.

KARE 11 anchor Jana Shortal with their wife Laura Zebuhr

KARE 11 anchor Jana Shortal with their wife Laura Zebuhr

“I started my authentic life in Minnesota,” says Jana Shortal, KARE 11’s local news anchor, “and Minnesota saved my life.... My introduction to the LGBTQ+ community was here. And it was awesome. It was then, and remains to this day, a very large and diverse queer community.”

In 2003 Shortal, who uses she and they pronouns, was living in Kansas City and struggling with how to come out in an industry that still skews toward heteronormativity and gender binary uniformity. When a news director contacted them and offered them a job in Minnesota, the 26-year-old Shortal packed up all their belongings and never looked back. Over the last six years, they’ve hosted and reported for KARE 11’s "Breaking the News" show. 

Honeymoon Bluff, aerial shot, Grand Marais

A hiker takes in Honeymoon Bluff near Grand Marais / Micah Kvidt

Building connections in the LGBTQ+ community  

The show, which airs on TVs throughout Minnesota every weekday evening, makes Shortal and their work a vital touchstone for communities across the state, as well as for queer communities across the country. The news anchor often finds themselves at the same grocery store and the same parks as viewers, who look to them to make sense of the sometimes senseless world around them. And, thanks to their internet presence, Shortal counts hundreds of people who’ve reached out who are parenting a queer or trans kid.

Shortal takes pride in these conversations — in listening, validating, reflecting, and witnessing. “I’m glad that they can find someone — anyone — that they can reach out to and ask a question. Even though we are interconnected as a globe via the internet, it can still feel really distant and isolating in more rural areas.”

Shortal has, however, visited many schools across the North Star state, noting with excitement that almost all now have gay-straight alliances. Among the many LGBTQ+ experiences to be had in Minnesota, there are now several art-centered queer enclaves around the state, such as Grand Marais and nearby Embarrass.

More recently, when their wife, Laura Zebuhr, birthed their now three-month-old son Isaac, Shortal had a new opportunity to support another, smaller community, that of their own family. And the couple is wasting no time in introducing their baby to the natural wonders of Minnesota. Shortal loves watching Zebuhr instill the love of all things wild in their child. Weekends find the three of them enjoying outdoor activities including watching the migration of birds overhead and hiking one of their favorite parks, the sprawling Theodore Wirth Regional Park, which spans 843 acres in Minneapolis, and features a fishing pier and miles of hiking and biking trails.

Loring Stage performance Pride Minneapolis

Live music on the Loring Stage / Brooke Ross Photography

Pride in parks and each other  

Like many Minnesotans, Zebuhr has a “tremendous love for outdoors and nature” and rightly so. While Minneapolis is a major, cosmopolitan city, it boasts 180 parks, featuring 22 lakes. “Parks are a primary point of pride and celebration for Minnesotans,” Shortal remarks. 

As days get warmer, this year Shortal is looking forward to attending Twin Cities Pride as a family and introducing their son to the LGBTQ+ community. Pride is a massive week-long celebration in Minneapolis and will feature food vendors, artists, beer gardens, a 5K run, and various family activities in Loring Park, the event’s epicenter. 

It's not just LGBTQ+ people who are open-minded here. A testament to a palpable spirit of inclusivity and acceptance, all are welcome to attend the celebrations. Shortal remembers going to the first Twin Cities Pride and wondering how there could be hundreds of thousands of gay people in Minneapolis; someone reminded them, “You don’t have to be gay to go to Pride.”

Skyride at Minnesota State Fair

Get a bird's-eye view of the Minnesota State Fair on the Skyride / Thomas J. Wieland

From summer festivals to winter skiing 

Mixed Blood Theater, located in an old firehouse, has been “using theater to disrupt injustices, advance equity and build community” since 1976. And the journalist can’t recommend St. Paul’s Penumbra Theatre enough for its profoundly moving work. Penumbra’s mission is to create productions that “illuminate the human condition through the prism of the African American experience.”

Festivals of all kinds are central to life in Minnesota, from local summer street festivals to the main event, The State Fair. “The Great Minnesota Get-Together," one of the largest state fairs in the country, features food vendors, livestock, rides, art shows, and live music. Bob Dylan and the late, great Aretha Franklin are among the acclaimed artists who have performed there in the past. 

Jana Shortal alongside a lake from AFAR feature

Jana Shortal looks out at a lake from her family's cabin

Come fall, Shortal and their family head north to a cabin in the woods and take in the turning of the leaves. In the winter they cross-country ski. While Shortal has not yet ice-fished on any of the state’s grand lakes or rivers, they relay this fact with good-humored resignation about its inevitability. After all, ice fishing like many things in this great state speaks to the humble vigor of Minnesota and Minnesotans.

As Shortal notes, the Indigo Girls love to remind us, “‘the Mississippi is mighty, but it begins in Minnesota.’”


AFAR is the world’s leading travel media brand that inspires and guides travelers to have deeper, richer, and more meaningful experiences. We don’t shy away from presenting places as they really are and we celebrate global diversity in all forms. Read more on afar.com.