Queer in the Twin Cities

Eight important local LGBT leaders

Next weekend, more than 100,000 people will watch a parade on Hennepin Avenue and raise high a universal symbol of gay liberation: the rainbow flag.

"The rainbow flag really helps people be able to show who they are," says Monica Meyer, executive director of OutFront Minnesota. "To come out, and have some kind of symbol around that."

In 1972, Gilbert Baker finished his term with the Army, settled in San Francisco, and bought a sewing machine. He had no money but wanted to dress like David Bowie, so he figured he'd go the cheap route and make his own glam rock clothes.

Mike Kooiman

Pretty soon, word of Baker's skills spread, and he started getting requests to make banners for antiwar and gay pride marches. One day in 1978, Baker had a brainstorm: a rainbow flag, with each color representing an aspect of the gay community.

Baker and his friends spent hundreds of hours in San Francisco's Gay Community Center, washing 1,000 yards of fine cotton, slicing it into strips, and dyeing it eight vivid colors. Baker's friends ironed the fabric until it was smooth, then Baker pieced it all together with his sewing machine.

In June 1978, Baker and his friends hooked a 60-foot-by-30-foot flag to the pole at United Nations Plaza in the city's civic center, and watched as the wind unfurled the rainbow flag for the first time.

"To see the immediate reaction of the people was incredible," Baker recalls. "People just took one look at it and we owned it, just instantly."

Baker was inundated with requests for rainbow flags. Thirty-three years later, he's still making them.

"Flags are about power," Baker says. "This isn't just some artsy-craftsy thing—it has a meaning and a purpose. And that purpose is to identify ourselves as beautiful."

Jennifer Pritchett


Rocking a T-shirt that reads "Masturbation Not Mass Destruction," Jennifer Pritchett faces a wall of candy-colored dildos and vibrators.

"I've given this to everyone in my family," she says lifting one the shape of a coffee bean. "My cousins, my mom, my grandmother..."

Her grandmother?

"Yeah," Pritchett says nonchalantly. "My grandma's first vibrator at 78 years old. She loves it."

Prior to 2003, sex stores in Minneapolis all had the classic porn-palace look: sticky carpets and creepy back-room video booths. They sold the kind of dildos Pritchett keeps in a jar marked "Toys We Don't Sell."

While she was an undergrad at Minnesota State University-Mankato, Pritchett was just starting to explore her bisexuality. Not really knowing what she was doing, she simply went online and picked out some toys.

When she began experimenting with anal beads, she felt a terrifying sensation: a tiny snap. One of the balls had broken off inside of her. Mortified, she had no idea what to do next.

"I felt really alone in that moment," she recalls.

Although she managed to get the bead out herself, she never forgot the day that a cheap sex toy nearly sent her to the hospital.

"I don't want anyone else to have to feel that way; straight or bi or queer or gay or lesbian," she says.

The incident inspired her to create Smitten Kitten, the first store to focus on nontoxic sex toys. Her wares are all painstakingly researched to make sure they're nonporous, non-phthalate plastic, and well-made.

"It's queer-owned, but it's not just for queer people, it's for everybody," Pritchett says. "Someone once told me, 'You bring sex out of the closet for straight people too.' That's the point."

James "Andy" Anderson


James "Andy" Anderson leans forward in the Saloon's back office and scrutinizes the paperwork he must fill out to host the Pride Block Party.

It's Monday: vendor day. Right on schedule, a woman named Jenny pops in to the back office to collect the pull tab money. It goes to the Aliveness Project, which helps people living with AIDS.

"It's about $1,000 per week," Anderson explains.

Unlike his business partner, John Moore, who frequently dances among the revelers, Anderson is a rare presence in the nightclub.

Anderson never planned to go into the bar business at all. But four decades ago, Anderson's life took a dramatic turn in Loring Park.

Anderson and Moore were college students at the University of Minnesota, checking out men in the park, when they saw a young man running for his life.

The pursuers rounded a bend and disappeared. Anderson and Moore fled, but as they ran they heard the sound of a beating, and the victim's screams of pain.

Later they saw the victim's dead body being carried away. They looked for weeks for a newspaper article, but it never hit the press. They never even learned the victim's name.

"For me, it was an important moment in my growth with coming to terms with my own sexuality and identity, and having the courage to try to find some solutions," Anderson says. "Things had to change."

In 1972, Anderson attended Minnesota's DFL caucuses, and was nominated as a delegate to the state DFL convention. The last night of the convention, he stormed the stage demanding the DFL recognize gays as a legitimate part of the party. He still remembers the headlines describing the party: "Dopers, Fairies, and Lesbians."

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