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.
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.
Gregg White: Back then, being out was scandalous and exciting, and walking into a gay club was almost revolutionary.
Koreen Phelps: It was all in the context of what was going on around us: the civil rights movement, the women's movement, and the antiwar movement. It was like being on a wave and riding it.
Jean Tretter: The big thing was that we got away with it in '72. Nobody got arrested, and we didn't even really get harassed. So it was necessary to step it up a notch, because if you didn't get arrested and didn't even get harassed, you obviously weren't making your point.
Koreen Phelps: In all the time I was active, I got one letter threatening my life, with swastikas and stuff on it, and then at one of the early Pride days I found a little poster with "gays go home" written on it. But I didn't really have problems with the police. Well, there was one incident. Stephen [Ihrig, co-founder of FREE] and I were roommates at the time in a duplex on the West Bank. And the police did come and actually kick down our door. I think they were hoping to arrest us for drugs or anything they could find. But it turns out we were just sitting there watching TV, and there was nothing going on, so we were lucky, really lucky.
Toni McNaron: We were scared; the city was scared. And some people who watched would come and join us or say nice things, and some people were saying very un-nice things, and using not very pleasant language about it. So it was a pretty nerve-wracking thing to do, but you just did it anyway.
Jean Tretter: It was basically leaderless. If there was a leader, it was probably Steve Endean.
Allan Spear, Minnesota state senator, 1972 to 2000: Steve Endean was really the one-man lobby for gay rights for several years in the early '70s. I first met him in '72 at the old Sutton's bar [a popular gay bar at the time in downtown Minneapolis]. He was working as the coat check boy, and he used that job as a base for building his political organization, which was really just him and some of his friends who would help him from time to time. He didn't even get a salary from Sutton's. He charged 25 cents a coat, and Sutton's didn't take any of it. How much money could you make from that?
I started coming out in '72. I wasn't out publicly, but I was going to Sutton's. In '73, Steve appeared at the legislature and started working on issues, and I worked with him. He was almost entirely responsible for getting Minneapolis and St. Paul to pass their gay rights ordinances in 1974. The Minnesota Committee for Gay Rights was really an effort to provide Steve with some backup because he was doing all this alone without any organizational support, with hardly any money, without a real job. We hired Steve to be the executive director. We gave him a salary; it wasn't much, but it was something.
He was also the first person around here who really saw gay rights as something that had to move mainstream, because the early advocates tended to be people on the political left, or countercultural people who came out of the hippie movement. The general tactics were confrontational--demonstrations and all that. I think that was a necessary phase in the early days of the movement, to give it visibility. But Steve really saw that for progress to be made in a steady way, we were going to have to go mainstream, going to have to go political. He was a very mainstream political person who happened to be gay. He was sort of a moderate Democrat, a Humphrey Democrat. In the early '70s, you were supposed to be proud of being gay, against the establishment, countercultural, so Steve really had to counter that kind of view of what being gay was all about.
Robert Halfhill: Within a year or two, the gay leaders with major positions in gay organizations were the type that didn't believe in civil disobedience or demonstrations. They liked within-the-system tactics such as lobbying. I remember we had demonstrations in front of the governor's mansion one year when the gay rights bill had gone down in defeat. That was probably '73. I remember Steve Endean coming around saying, "Well, that demonstration hurt us."
Gregg White: I still think of Steve Endean, who was a friend, as pretty darn radical for the time. He worked within the system, but man, he was in your face and made things go.
Jean Tretter: Whenever we went to the legislature to lobby, we always wore a coat and tie and all that, and we used to call it "legislative drag." And Stephen [Endean] was willing to make those kinds of concessions in order to get what we wanted out of the politicians, which was votes in the legislature or votes in the City Council or whatever. So a lot of people saw him as selling out. Sen. Allan Spear had the same problems--a lot of people saw him as selling out. There was a divide within the community. We were all leftists, but you had the much more radical people and then people who wanted to work within the system. I mean, in those days we talked seriously about overthrowing the entire system.
Tim Campbell, activist/writer: The open mic in Loring Park was the center of the gathering at the end of the march, with everybody vying for attention. It seems like each year for a while there was a question as to whether Allan Spear would show up or not. Karen Clark showed up before Allan Spear did, and she got a very warm welcome.
Allan Spear: The first one I attended was '74. I wasn't quite out yet. I was in the legislature and I had become more involved in gay-related issues. They asked me to speak at the Gay Pride rally, but I was not yet formally out.
A week or so before, I got a call from New York from the media person at the National Gay Task Force, which is now the Gay and Lesbian Task Force. He said that he had heard that I was speaking and he heard that I was gay, and if I came out in my speech on Pride day he could guarantee that NBC would cover it on the national news. He really wanted me to do it, because this would be great national publicity. I was kind of thinking of coming out, but I didn't want to do it that way. I wanted to do it in a more controlled situation than that. I decided not to do it at Pride, and some folks in the gay community heard about it and got on my case about how I missed this opportunity.
There was this whole tempest about whether I was going to come out. I almost did it. I remember the speech I gave. It was always very difficult when I was in that situation to know what kind of pronoun to use--am I going to say we or they? I did lapse into we a couple times. I came out six months later.
Toni McNaron: Tim Campbell was the one that drove people crazy, and I thought he was great. He was this wonderful flamboyant person, very funny, and he had lots of energy. He was the kind of lightning rod whom the press loved to put on the page or the television for two seconds, and he was the person around whom this internal and external argument often revolved. Especially as to the gay men who wanted to dress as women--there were always people who were saying, Please don't do that. Oh, that will just give people more ammunition for what they already think, blah, blah, blah. That was directed more at the men than at the lesbians, but that's consistent with gender politics anyway, because for a woman to look like a man, that's a step up, right? For a man to look like a woman is a thing men can't abide.
Koreen Phelps: Tim was such a wild man. I just saw an article by him in Lavender. Well, his article sounds kind of sane, actually. But in those days, he was sometimes more of a handicap, to be honest with you. He was a real loose cannon. He would show up in all kinds of outfits, not that we were against transgender or cross-dressing--but the thing with Tim, he just seemed to take these positions that were just wild.
Jean Tretter: I always thought that Tim performed a very important function in the community. He took some extreme stances, but I think he also realized that by offering a counterargument to the prevailing conservative positions, he could help move things to the center. He took a lot of criticism for outing Anne Bancroft, but she was in the process of coming out anyway, so I don't know if that was so bad. Also, at the start of HIV, he did the community a service by at least exploring the possibilities of military involvement, which involved experiments with dolphins and pigs and so forth. Supposedly we still have a certain amount of free speech in this country, and sometimes debate isn't even allowed to happen, and Tim always wanted to keep the discussion alive.
Tim Campbell: Often Steve [Endean] was organizing rallies and marches. There was a protest against Northwestern Bell's admitted policy that it wouldn't knowingly hire a gay person. Steve and the group out of the university [an offshoot of FREE] organized that rally and asked me to be the spokesperson. So that's when I was first on TV, and my first public appearance.
And I had no idea what I was doing, but I was kind of the grown-up in the crowd. I had been a professor at the U and was a little bit older than the college crowd. Steve was chagrined that the group elected me to be the spokesperson instead of him, so that's where our enmity sort of began. Steve wanted to imitate the first gay rights organization, the Mattachine Society, who did all their protesting in coats and ties. Well, I came in a coat and tie because I was the spokesman, but nobody else did in the '70s. That was the hippie era. Steve was a lobbyist. Everybody knew that Steve took his marching orders from Allan Spear, and we weren't supposed to say anything radical.
Allan Spear: [State Senator ] Nick Coleman sort of came up with the gay rights bill. He was carrying an omnibus civil rights bill and offered it as an amendment; it had not been introduced as a bill. So there was debate on the floor of the senate for the first time. 'Seventy-five was when we started, and again in '77. We put together a bill, and it was pretty much the same bill we eventually passed in '93, except in '93 we included transgender people. Interestingly, I think it was in '75 that Arne Carlson, at the request of Tim Campbell, offered an amendment on the floor to include transgendered people, and Steve and I opposed it. I reminded Arne of that recently, that he had been ahead of me on that. We just thought it was too much weight for the bill to carry. Of course the bill went down anyway.
Robert Halfhill: Every time Tim Campbell would start something radical, Steve Endean was working up the slander machine, badmouthing a demonstration to the people at the bars, saying it's going to be violent and so forth.
Kevin Layton, legal director, Human Rights Campaign: Steve was larger than life. He said what he thought and made no bones about it. He cursed like a sailor, he got along better with men than with women, and he had a lot of rough edges and was brutally honest. But the amazing thing about Steve is that as loud as he was and as big as his mouth was, his heart was bigger. He truly was a visionary.
Tim Campbell: There was a parade at Loring Park, maybe in '75 or '76, that was kind of a turning point. As the parade was about to start, a convoy of convertibles and trucks and cars arrived, headed by drag queens, but including cowboys, and they were from Sioux Falls. This group drove through the park over toward where they saw the parade gathering. They weren't expected by anyone. They arrived out of the blue. And the crowd broke into applause for this convoy from Sioux Falls. But that wasn't the end! Then a convoy showed up from Des Moines, and then from Grand Forks. And that, in my mind, was when Gay Pride went from being a march to being a parade.
Jean Tretter: There have been several years in which Pride wasn't in Loring Park. In '78, for example, when Anita Bryant had been here in April and had helped to successfully overturn the gay rights ordinance in St Paul. The Pride Committee, on the urging of Koreen Phelps and Bob Halfhill, decided to move the Pride festival over to Mears Park in St. Paul.
Allan Spear: The St. Paul ordinance lasted four years and then it was overturned in '78. The local guy who fought to overturn it was pastor Richard Angwin, who was at the Temple Baptist Church in St. Paul.
Allan Spear: Target City Coalition came in the wake of Dade County in 1977. After the victory there, Anita Bryant said she was going to target all of the cities in the country that had gay rights ordinances of the sort that had been defeated in Miami. So that's where Jack Baker and Thom Higgins put together this group called Target City Coalition, thinking Minneapolis would become a target. Minneapolis didn't become a target, but St. Paul did.
Jean Tretter: The Anita Bryant look-alike contests were always a favorite. The drag queens always tried to look as ghastly and yet as much like Anita as they could. They brought humor to a situation that was not very good.
Toni McNaron: My politics, which are feminist, really let me understand that she was a pawn of a lot of white, straight men with a lot of money. And I felt that the gay male vitriol at her was not examined very carefully in terms of gender. That was probably when I began to back off.
Tim Campbell: There was a contingent of women marching in the parade together, and in front of them was a contingent of drag queens who tended to kind of run around and mix in with the feminist group. And the women's group got very mad and asked the marshals to tell the drag queens to stay in their own sections. Oh, they were mad! They didn't want those drag queens anyplace close to them.
Jean Tretter: In those early years, it was not unusual to see a handsome guy along the sidewalk and yell out, "Ditch the bitch, make the switch!" It was a less, shall we say, politically correct time.
Ann DeGroot, executive director, OutFront Minnesota: Separatism was a more common thing in the lesbian community in the '70s. A lot of women had worked in the mainstream antiwar movement and in the civil rights movement, and now they wanted just to work with women--some because they had had negative experiences and some because they just wanted to do feminist work. So when, all of a sudden, drag queens were promoting a stereotypic image of women, as feminists we were saying, This isn't the only image of women and in some ways it's damaging. Now the conversation has changed dramatically and people who are transgender are out in a variety of ways, and we're not just talking about drag queens anymore.
Robert Halfhill: I know they had a dispute in the committee about whether or not to include "lesbian" in the name of the program. At that time, I supported it. I think it was that year that [Jack] Baker said that saying "gay and lesbian" would be like referring to "animals and horses"--that is, lesbian is a subgroup of gay.
Kim Hines, actor/playwright: I wasn't out in the '70s, so I can't speak to the '70s, but I remember in the '80s most of the people planning and doing everything were guys. And women complained at that point, but it was like, Maybe you can help blow up balloons next year.
Jean Tretter: Especially back in the early days, Pride was a way of displaying your wares to a whole bunch of people who were similarly interested, and not just the guys. That was very true of women, too. There were always sex parties surrounding [Pride], usually private invitation parties or bathhouse sex parties. Generally, the picnic was seen as the cruisiest event at Pride. Even so, Pride was still considered to be a political event.
Koreen Phelps: Really, the sexual part of it was probably not so big as just the idea of meeting people. I know during that time especially the men were freer, more sexual. But it wasn't the sex so much as the social contact. People didn't have a place to meet each other outside of the bars. That was a big, big issue. So when we provided something that seemed kind of normal, going to a dance, going to a picnic--people just loved that.
Michael Dahl, writer/performer: I probably didn't go to Pride things until the late '70s. At that time, I sort of watched from a distance. I would sort of go afterward, because I didn't want people to think I was [lowers voice] gay. So it would be like, Hmmm, nice day, what's going on in the park?
Jean Tretter: There were always problems with the police. Whenever you're in a bigger group like that, though, you're less likely to be accosted than when you're alone. But the police generally did harass marchers.
Robert Halfhill: I joined Target City in 1979. So I believe '80 was the first year we applied for the block party. We went to see [City Councilperson] Jackie Slater, and she said, well, you don't want to have it there [on Hennepin between Fourth and Fifth streets], you'll be subject to assaults and everything--like she was doing us a favor by not letting us have a block party. So it was too late to sue and try to get the block party that year. We filed the suit the next year. We got Judge [Miles] Lord, and he decided in our favor.
But we asked to have Hennepin Avenue closed down for the block party for four hours, and he gave us an hour. They had closed Hennepin Avenue before for events--there were several precedents--but we were the ones having trouble. It really became a big problem for the City Council. You'd be surprised how emotionally invested people were about not letting us block off Hennepin Avenue. [City Council President] Alice Rainville said, "We don't want Minneapolis to become the San Francisco of the wheat belt."
Jean Tretter: In '82, the lesbians decided to have their own festival in Powderhorn Park, so we called it The Year of the Big Split.
Koreen Phelps: I understand why it happened. I understand that the lesbians felt that they were outnumbered and dominated by the men. But at the time I pointed out that we were just a very vulnerable, small movement, and we couldn't afford to separate ourselves like that. I was really against it. It didn't happen everywhere. For some reason it happened very strongly here.
Toni McNaron: I thought that was a good idea for those women to do. That made a lot of sense. It got people's attention, and some gay men really got it and began to try to say something different.
Brad Theissen, editor, GLBT Press: You could look at any history of the gay community nationwide, and that rush between '75 and '80 was heavily dominated by coming out, by booze, by cocaine. The party was really over in '81, and that's when I came on the scene. I was a DJ at the Gay 90's at the end of the initial coming-out party, transitioning into the early days of the AIDS crisis, when a lot of the people who were admittedly cokeheads were some of the first people who were dying.
In '86, we did that Pride where MAP [Minnesota AIDS Project] was a huge part of it, and that really started setting the tone for what the community was in for in the next five or more years.
Lorainne Teel, executive director, Minnesota AIDS Project: The tenor was one of constant death. It was one of not knowing your status, not knowing if you wanted to know your status--because there were no treatments available. And it was one of incredible sadness, as people continued to die at such young ages.
Craig Carnahan, former director, Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus: We had 120 members of the chorus, so there were 40 to 50 guys in each section, and we published the names of the members in every program. When I left, which was 4 years ago, my sense is that the largest group in the program was the list of men who'd died.
Jean Tretter: We saw ourselves as a dying community, but after the national march on Washington in '87, that changed quite a bit. We got to Washington, and suddenly we saw all these gay groups from Alaska, and from Kansas, Minnesota, Puerto Rico. We were able to look behind us and see thousands upon thousands of other gays in the streets who were not sick and were not dying, and that weekend was just electrifying. It brought people back to being more hopeful.
Ann DeGroot: A lot of the gay men that came out pre-AIDS said they didn't really know any lesbians until after that time. It was a pretty separate community up until AIDS became an issue, and then lesbians started working with gay men and came to the aid of gay men. Then, all of a sudden, women were showing up to do stuff with the Minnesota AIDS Project or Aliveness Project and helping men that they knew. So the community really started coming together. I remember when OutFront started in 1986, and several people at our first board meeting noted that this was the first organization where lesbians and gay men were working successfully together.
Ken Darling, writer/activist: By the time I became an activist, people like Tim Campbell and Bob Halfhill had already been activists for 10, 20 years. I had a huge amount of respect for them as pioneers, but I also thought that some of their tactics were outdated and really not appropriate for where the movement was. I still think that. In 1990, I was saying that we're at a different point than in 1975, and the tactics that we employ need to be more focused on mainstream acceptance of homosexuality--understanding that gays are just like everybody else. And all we're looking for is equality. And that is now widely accepted as what the gay rights movement is. We've had great progress in that direction in the last 15 years.
In 1990, believe it or not, that was sort of a controversial notion of what activism should be. Before that, gay rights had been seen as more a part of an inherently radical movement, affiliated with leftist politics. In '96 or '97, I wrote that this is the year that gays became normal--that gays are now normal and that everything we do is now premised on that fact. We are now in that phase of the gay rights movement of really expanding our normalcy into complete acceptance and even assimilation--you could argue.
Robert Halfhill: The gay movement has gotten not only more conservative, but just less political, period. I remember one year, probably in the early '90s, I walked through the Pride festival and saw all those booths out there for different companies and so forth, and I felt like I was walking through a corporate theme park. It's been that way ever since.
Lisa Albrecht, writer/academic: It didn't really start getting the corporate sponsorships until the early '90s. But even in the mid-'80s, when I moved here, I was surprised that there wasn't political education involved. The most we seem to get is a tent with Jean Tretter putting out his historical display, buttons, and paraphernalia, and that still doesn't feel like political education to me. I was managing editor for a number of years of a publication called Evergreen Chronicles, which has since gone to gay heaven, but we used to do a reading every year, so at least there was some kind of cultural event outside of this social ball. I feel disappointed that it's become simply a party. I also feel like in the coordination of it, there's a real lack of attention to GLBT communities of color.
Kim Hines: I always went to Pride hoping to find more black people that are part of the GLBT community, and the number of new people that I met was very small. So I think that might have been one of the reasons I stopped going, 'cause hey, I see white people every day. And there's such a diaspora when you're talking about the black GLBT community. Usually Lavender will run some little article or ad about the people who help pull Pride together, and there are so many years where there's not a person of color, or there's one. That tells me everything I want to know.
Leigh Combs, performer/activist/host of KFAI's Fresh Fruit: It really changed for me and a lot of dykes when Dyke Night started 14 years ago at the Walker. But also in 1993 after the March on Washington, the Lesbian Avenger thing came back here, and we had our first Dyke March. The Dyke March is noncommercial, it's visible, it's just a cool, empowering thing. I still go to the park, and I still watch part of the parade, but for me that's where it's really at.
I'll never forget the year that the Dyke March was just women, and [City Council member] Gary Schiff, who was not an elected anything then, stood with his partner on the side holding a sign that said, "Cocksuckers for Muffdivers." That was the coolest thing, and they knew at that time that the way they could show respect was to stand on the side. They could march now.
Eleanor Savage, curator, Dyke Night: The festival in the park has never been the essence of Pride for me. The Dyke March, which was started in 1993 by myself and some other people, has felt a little more vital, a little more political. And just because of who I am as a person, I'm much more interested in that than in entertainment.
Ann DeGroot: Steve Endean lived to see the Human Rights Amendment pass here in '93. I remember him calling to congratulate us. [Endean, who left Minneapolis in the late '70s and founded the Human Rights Campaign Fund, later the Human Rights Campaign, died of AIDS-related complications in August of 1993.]
Lisa Albrecht: The whole target-market group thing, I think, is a rip-off to make money off us. The size of the parade and its commercialism has made me less interested in it probably in the past five years or so.
Barb Weiser, Amazon Bookstore Cooperative: I understand why they need to do that, because it takes a lot of money to put on Pride. I think it's unfortunate. It's two-sided. It's great the corporations recognize there's a huge gay community and that it's important to address them. On the other hand, independently owned businesses are the ones who really support the gay community, because it's our community.
Scott Mayer, former senior manager of community relations, Target Corporation: While it might be somewhat awkward for a corporation to sponsor a march, I think it's really appropriate for a corporation to sponsor a festival. We've gone from the days in which a corporation wouldn't want anything to do with Pride to a time when corporations are interested in identifying with the community.
Debra Davis, transgender activist, executive director, Gender Education Center: My favorite Pride, of course, was when I was grand marshal in 2000 and riding in the parade with my granddaughter down Hennepin Avenue. She was five or six at the time and it was wonderful. She would be in the back seat with me up on the top of the convertible, and wave to people, and we had a bubble machine, and we were sitting on a rainbow blanket, and she just thought it was the greatest thing in the world.
Kim Hines: Pride has that male emphasis, the amount of partying and drinking and the parade. And when the paper covers Pride, they always show pictures of some of the flamboyant transvestites or queens [See cover--editor]. You very rarely see any representation of women, or it's very minimal. So I've always thought that it was very male oriented, male dominated. And I don't want to be part of the planning committee, so that's fine. But you know, there is a certain aesthetic that's going to be more attractive to the gay population than to the lesbian population.
Debra Davis: I knew Ashley Rukes very well. She was a sweetheart. And she was very visible as an active transgender person in the Pride celebration. I remember a Friday night at Loring Park. We were marking the booth spaces with a tape measure and cans of paint, and she had physical problems, and she was there on her three-wheel bicycle as she always was--she wasn't feeling well, and she didn't walk well, but boy, she was there, involved and doing things. She was just an awesome woman.
Jim Kelley, president, GLBT Pride/Twin Cities: I still think it's a political event in that it makes a huge statement when you have that many people supporting the GLBT community. People complain about so many different things about it. It's just too corporate, or it's just too much of a party and it doesn't make enough of a political statement. Then there are the people who say that it's too political already and the parade is just one politician after another, and that's not really saying anything about the community.
So a lot of those issues were reasons that I had gotten involved--hearing those things and thinking that I had something to add to that. I think that the involvement of the corporations is really important for a couple of reasons. It's an acknowledgement that they've really changed in the last 30 years. So many of them now have nondiscrimination policies, domestic partner benefits, and they should be acknowledged for that. Then people say, yeah, but they didn't support us years ago. Well, they've finally learned, so should we punish them for finally having caught on? They're supporting us, they're coming to our festival. They're helping pay the cost of doing this and that's a good thing.
Lisa Albrecht: The other thing that makes me sad is the GLBT movement has kind of remained single-issue in its politics, so there's this celebration marching up Hennepin Avenue without any attention to a war going on right now, or an economic crisis in this country right now. The focus tends to be more on social partying. And the Pride committee tends to be predominantly white and more interested in gay-male stuff. Now I also know thousands of people come from all over the Midwest who don't live as privileged a life as many of us live here in the Twin Cities. They are either closeted or not able to have as large a community. So I understand the need for somebody from rural South Dakota to come to town that weekend and party, yet at the same time, why shouldn't there be a constellation of events that are doing political education?
Craig Carnahan: I moved here in 1980. I grew up in a very small town in South Dakota and in a generation where being gay was something you really had to keep a secret. People lived in fear of being discovered. There was a lot of trauma over potential ramifications for relationships with family and bosses and housing and everything that impacts your basic quality of life. So to come out of that environment and move to a city and see the number of people that would come to the festival in plain view and openly celebrate who they were was incredibly inspiring. It blew all kinds of dust out that closet door for me.
Jean Tretter: GLBT culture and history certainly aren't going to be taught anytime soon in public schools, so where else are young GLBT people going to get it? We can't just expect that every young lesbian and gay who grows up is going to seek out their history. It's a good thing they don't have to suffer what people had to suffer in the past, but they also need to know about that history, about that previous suffering, or they're going to end up taking the community right back to where it was. The more assimilationist you become, the more likely you are to fall back, to become indifferent, to say everything will be okay. And it won't be. Because the haters, the people who despise us, are always going to be there, just like we're always going to be here.
Ken Darling: There are always these backlash arguments and part of that is the nature of activists--you see it in the opponents of the gay rights struggle too. They love to talk about how they are under siege. It's a way to rally the troops. And they're absolutely right, I mean, we can't afford to just sit back and presume that just because we are on the right moral side of this argument, we are going to win. But this backlash notion, I've been hearing that for 10 years! There's always a backlash, and rather than calling it backlash you call it resistance. It's absolutely not true that the gay rights movement is moving backward, or that this defense of marriage amendment and all of that are somehow going to slow the progress of the gay rights struggle. Absolutely untrue! Those are the futile gestures of opponents who not only are losing, but who know that they are losing.
Michael Dahl: When you are in the parade, especially the first time, it's overwhelming. It's such a feeling of acceptance and community. I know those are such clichés but it's amazing. It's amazing.
Ann DeGroot: I remember about three years ago I was in the parade and I looked around and thought, I can't believe this, because I remember when it was 200 of us scraggly homos walking down Lyndale.
Jean Tretter: In some respects, I'm kind of sad that the kind of radicalism we had in the '60s and '70s is gone. Wouldn't it be nice if we were out in the streets marching against Bush? But we're still there, we're still accomplishing the goals that we wanted to accomplish, we're just doing it in a slightly different way. And we're known for being able to give parties, so why not give the best party possible and invite everybody to see what a great party it is?
Tim Campbell: Gay Pride is not the grassroots activism that it was, but in another sense it's the flowering of what the grassroots activists wanted.
Jean Tretter: When you think about it--I mean, at the first one, maybe 25 people marched, and today it's actually the largest parade in Minnesota, with almost 500,000 people expected--that's quite a difference.
Jim Kelley: The earlier Prides were more about personal transformation and taking personal risks, whereas now it's almost a group transformation. All of our events we try to do in such a way that anyone who comes can be totally relaxed, and there's no need to hide who you are. You can wear what you want, hold hands if you want, all of those things that you should be able to do in the general public--just like the straight population does. It sets an example of what the world could be. And hopefully people can come and experience that, and take it back to their general life and say, I need to change things; this is the way that I want to live all year round.
Special thanks to Jean Tretter, whose extraordinary collection of GLBT literature, art, and artifacts is housed in the Special Collections and Rare Books section of the University of Minnesota's Elmer L. Andersen Library.
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