How the Twin Cities Pride fest helped turn Minneapolis into the San Francisco of the wheat belt

At some point during the 2004 Twin Cities Pride festival, perhaps as the Psychedelic Furs are dusting off "Love My Way" for tipsy block partiers, or as you wander through the sea of vendors and corporate sponsors in Loring Park, you might marvel at how far the thing has come. Last year, an estimated 400,000 people--a gathering greater than the population of Minneapolis--attended the multi-event festival, making it the third-largest Pride celebration in the nation. That figure also represented an increase of some 399,950 over the first local Pride march 32 years ago. Then, there was no organizing committee, no budget, and no thought of a parade permit. There were just a few brave souls who walked down Nicollet Avenue carrying Gay Power and Gay Pride signs, confounding passersby as they took into their own hands the advancement of the Twin Cities' fledgling gay liberation movement.

What follows is an anecdotal history of Pride and the local GLBT activism associated with it, as recalled by some of the players and some of the observers.


Courtesy of the Tretter Collection/U of M libraries


Koreen Phelps, activist/founding member of FREE, Minnesota's first gay-rights organization: My first memory of doing anything outside in public is these picnics we did around September of '69. I think one was in Riverside Park, and one in Loring Park as well.

I remember I was going to speak on a portable mic. It was kind of dark--it looked like it was going to rain. A few of my friends formed a semicircle around me because they thought there might be some kind of violence. I really hadn't thought about it until then. I really did think people would like us! We were in our early 20s, and we were not afraid, because we were so naive. We figured: People don't know who we are because everybody is hiding. So we'll just stand up, say who we are, people will see that we're good people, and everything will just fall into place. Of course it didn't happen that way.

Jean Tretter, activist/historian: I had just gotten out of the Navy. I'd met Steve Endean, who was trying to start the Gay Rights Lobby here in Minnesota. Most of the other major cities were already doing something to celebrate and acknowledge the Stonewall riots, so we wanted Minneapolis and St. Paul to be on the map. The first Twin Cities Pride was in '72, though I don't even know that we gave it a formal name. We probably used the term gay power more than gay pride in that particular march. There were about 50 of us, and we had a picnic in Loring Park, and then afterward we marched down Nicollet Avenue. About half of us marched down. The other half stayed in the park with money, because they felt sure we were going to be arrested.

Robert Halfhill, activist: They did a leaflet for Gay Pride that was shaped like an airplane, so people could throw them away and get away real quick if the police came.

Jean Tretter: We planned it in, like, two weeks, because there really wasn't anything to it. We just talked to people at the bars who we thought were maybe brave enough and out of the closet enough. You know, it was a real fearful time. It wasn't something that you talked about publicly. People still used false names when they went to the bars. We started out with maybe 25 people walking down Nicollet toward Fourth Street. People kept dropping out along the way and going back to the park. By the time we got to Fourth Street and crossed over, there were maybe 10 of us left, and we just walked down the other side of the street back to Loring Park. We had a few signs. We weren't harassed at all. Mostly we got a lot of very confused looks. In '72, people didn't know what gay power or gay pride was.

Gregg White, activist: I think the first Pride parade I saw was the first one in the Twin Cities. I didn't participate. I was still in the closet at the time. There were about 20 people participating, and my memory is about 30 cops "protecting" them.

Jean Tretter: I dated a police officer at the time. Very cute strawberry blond guy.



Toni McNaron, writer/academic: They weren't festivals; they were marches.

Jean Tretter: A protest march was the most natural and logical thing to have. That was what you did in those days.

Koreen Phelps: In all the early things, it was much more male. As we went along, more women got involved. But initially, it was often all men and me, which did not make me popular with the feminists around.

Toni McNaron: There came a time when I sort of stopped going, because it seemed like the gender balance had gotten out of whack again. There were a lot more gay men than lesbians. And the nature of it changed. It became a much more festive, spectacular, fun kind of thing, so the politics of it shifted as the appearances shifted. But there were always the motorcycle lesbians and there were always some very brave queeny men who were willing to do that. It was very exciting, partly because there was an element of insecurity.

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