A Community of Unity: Rochester PrideFest


Photos courtesy of GLCS of SE

With such a large and well represented GLBT community in the Twin Cities, it can often feel like Pride month is every month. However, in smaller communities throughout Minnesota, Pride month plays an important role in the GLBT community for its ability to put their voices in the foreground.

Rochester has been celebrating its PrideFest since 1997 when it was established under Mary Wallace and Darrel Waters and hosted in Central Park in the heart of Rochester. Although PrideFest wasn’t originally recognized by the leadership of Rochester, current mayor of Rochester Ardell Brede commissioned a Pride Proclamation which made PrideFest an annual community sponsored event.

Ken Tollefsrud, chairperson for Gay Lesbian Community Service of Southeastern Minnesota (GLCS of SE MN), ensures that the event runs smoothly, legally, and operates in an educational, informative, and inclusive manner. Additionally, Tollefsrud and the rest of GLCS of SE MN is responsible for the events and vendors of Rochester PrideFest. “I recall several years ago we brought down the Tretter Panels from The Tretter Collection in Minneapolis. I really enjoyed this event. It is numerous panels that show the history of our LGBTQA community and the struggles and successes,” says Tollefsrud.

A popular event this year is the Rochester Girls presentation of Dragagonza on July 21 at the International Event Center by Rochester International Airport. This event is a tradition that was initially separate from PrideFest but has unofficially become the “kick-off” of Rochester PrideFest every year. Some other events that this year’s PrideFest will feature include Drag Queen Dunk Tank, country music performed by Branded, a local Rochester band, and a Canvas and Chardonnay event on July 20. “We are also working with a local LGBT-affirming coffee house Café Steam and a local artist by the name of Sapphire McKnight to create a limited edition Pride coffee mug using our PrideFest theme. Our new venue [Soldiers Memorial Field Park] and dates [July 21-23] are welcome new additions as well. After last year’s success, we determined that we had outgrown the space downtown at the Peace Plaza and wanted to get back out to more open family-friendly green spaces,” Tollefsrud says.

Although Rochester is much smaller than the Twin Cities, it still boasts the same amount of pride. “Our Pridefest is more simple, more in-sync with the original intentions of the purpose of gay Pride and PrideFest events. Granted, we don’t carry the expensive headline acts of some larger PrideFests, but we do remain true to the original purpose of gay Pride in celebration. The true reason to celebrate Pride is to reflect on our history and past, remember our struggles and accomplishments, and to continue to remain visible in the community. We still have a lot our work ahead of us,” says Tollefsrud. Many who attend Twin Cities Pride also enjoy Rochester PrideFest for its change of pace but similar Pride values.

Tollefsrud reports that Rochester PrideFest increases consistently each year. With 2,400 attendees last year, people are anticipating large crowds from Rochester as well as surrounding communities. “It is because of this larger attendance that we determined to move to a larger area where we can grow,” he says. The majority of attendees are high school juniors and seniors and other young adults, but several families, senior citizens, and all ages in between attend Rochester PrideFest.

While everyone has multiple reasons why they like to attend Rochester PrideFest, Tollefsrud says the unity is one of the main reasons he enjoys participating in the event so much. “The sense of unity and community—it is nice to see our community and the allies we have in support. With the struggles that the LGBTQA community has faced these last couple of years as a major focus of the event, it is nice to get back to the unity and support of our community. I enjoy attending many area PrideFest events as it reminds me that we are not alone. We are a voice and an active group that will benefit our local, state, and national communities,” says Tollefsrud.

While you may not live in Rochester or be familiar with its community events, Rochester PrideFest is a safe, fun and inclusive environment where people of all genders, sexualities, races, backgrounds, etc. can come together to celebrate their differences. Come to Rochester PrideFest and experience a united community that is proud to have pride.

Rochester PrideFest
July 21-23, 2017
Various locations and Soldiers Memorial Field Park
Rochester, Minnesota

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