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Uptown VFW is coming to Pride, whether the old guard likes it or not

The Uptown VFW has what most of its fellow clubs don't: youth, diversity, and a robust membership. Also: a booth at Pride.

The Uptown VFW has what most of its fellow clubs don't: youth, diversity, and a robust membership. Also: a booth at Pride. Star Tribune

About two weeks ago, Uptown VFW member James McCloden announced to a room of officers at a state convention that his branch had an exciting new opportunity. For the first time ever, they were going to host a booth at Pride.

This announcement was received with, for the most part, silence.

Spokesperson Jennifer Mead isn’t exactly surprised.

“Don’t Ask Don’t Tell only ended seven years ago, and the military is kind of slow to accept new things,” she says.

But this kind of a frosty reaction is exactly why the Uptown VFW is hitting up Pride in the first place. The VFW has been around since 1899, founded by Spanish-American War Veterans. It’s an old organization, and it has a problem with change. Mead says the average member is 70.

“The new [veterans] aren’t joining because, for the most part, it’s an organization of straight old white men,” she says The Uptown branch is trying to look more like the actual military: younger, more diverse, and more queer.

“We want everyone to know.” 

The VFW has good reason to be a little more open. The Uptown VFW has achieved what the vast majority of its fellow clubs have not: a robust membership. They’re constantly raking in awards for their growing numbers. Mead placed the tally at about 500, 90 of them active.

Moreover, the organization at large doesn’t have long to start reaching out to everyone. Wait too long and any sort of olive branch starts to come off as disingenuous. And many branches are struggling mightily. 

“The organization honestly doesn’t have that much longer to survive,” she says.

The booth will be around all day Saturday and Sunday if folks want to stop by and get a T-shirt or some sunglasses. Mead is hoping they’ll be able to find a few veterans who might have interest in joining the ranks.

Their one regret: they missed the boat to be in the parade. Maybe next year.