SECOND 25 YEARS OF PRIDE: 1998-2022
Things were looking up for LGBTQ people in the 1990s. Although discriminatory legislation was being passed, like the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996 under President Bill Clinton, support among the American public continued to grow. When Ellen DeGeneres declared, “Yes, I’m Gay” on the cover of TIME in 1997, following the same revelation from her sitcom character, many people felt as though tolerance had been achieved. Only the most tech savvy people had an email address at this point, and the original indestructible Nokia cell phones were clipped to every dad’s waistband. The Who, The Rolling Stones, No Doubt, and Metallica all played shows in Minneapolis in 1997, and Ozzfest was held at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. Titanic became the highest grossing movie of all time.
Largely due to the gay pride movement, American society was slowly becoming more accepting of gays and lesbians. As this acceptance continued to rise, more LGBTQ couples wanted to start families and adopt children. Although some single parents and couples were able to adopt before this time, in 1997, New Jersey became the first state to officially allow same sex couples to adopt. But due to the federal definition of marriage being between a man and a woman, many states simply required prospective adoptive parents to be married, which excluded same sex couples. It wouldn’t be until Obergefell v Hodges in 2015 – nearly twenty years later – that same sex couples across the country were able to marry and adopt in the way heterosexual couples have always been allowed.
The Twin Cities Pride theme in 1998 was “Liberty and Justice for All,” a statement of inclusion with a patriotic nod. Grand Marshalls included Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbian and Gays (PFLAG), an organization dedicated to LGBTQ support, education, and advocacy. The Pride Guide focused on unity as a community and what was being built for the future. Susan Raffo, the editor that year, wrote, “There is a chasm between those who feel that sex should only be seen and experienced in private and those who feel that sex is a fundamental part of queer culture worthy of loud and fervent celebration. There is a chasm between those whose lives are rarely ruffled by heterosexism and homophobia and those who struggle with it everyday.”
Later that year, in Wyoming, Matthew Shepard was killed. He was a student at the University, and took a ride home offered by two young men he’d met while out one night. They drove to a secluded area, pistol whipped him into a coma, and left him tied to a fencepost. When he was found eighteen hours later, he was barely alive; he was on life support for six days before he passed, never having regained consciousness. The media wildly shared his story, and for the first time, many Americans saw explicitly how dangerous it can be in this world for queer people.
In 1999, Minneapolis displayed Pride banners along Hennepin for two full weeks. The juxtaposition of such anti-LGBTQ brutality in the news and the open affirmation of progressive cities was both unsettling and incredible. Attendees looked back on almost three decades of Pride festivals and felt a renewed sense of determination. The 2001 Pride Guide included an in memoriam page for members of the community who had passed in the previous year, and three out of the six had been murdered. But Twin Cities Pride continued to grow, as resilient as ever, and acceptance among Americans continued to increase – by 2002, slightly over half of Americans believed that gay and lesbian relations should be legal. In 2003, the Twin Cities Pride Guide was written in both English and Spanish, and by 2004, Twin Cities Pride was the third largest Pride celebration in the country with more than four hundred thousand attendees.
Pride celebrations across greater Minnesota were gaining traction as well, with festivals in every area of the state from up in the Iron Range to Mankato, Rochester, and Duluth. Mass marriage ceremonies were beginning to be held during the Twin Cities Pride festival in Loring Park, with individual couples able to sign up for a personal ceremony as well. Of course, it wouldn’t be until 2013 that same sex couples could legally marry in Minnesota, but hundreds of couples participated in these Pride weddings over the years regardless.
When President George W. Bush won his second term in 2004, many in the LGBTQ community were crushed, especially in Minnesota where John Kerry had won. The post-9/11 political environment had given rise to extremists like Michelle Bachmann and Mary Liz Holberg, who proposed a Minnesota constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage in 2003. A new backlash was brewing. The 2005 Twin Cities Pride Guide read, “It was from this sense of frustration and vulnerability the theme Liberation in Progress arose. The rights we have been building over the past thirty-five years, step by step, are under the most assiduous and concerted attacks since the flinging open of our collective closet door during the Stonewall riots.” Between 2007 and 2008, reported hate crimes increased by 81% in Minnesota, and anti-LGBTQ violence was once again on the rise across the country. The election of President Barack Obama in 2008 over Republican John McCain and his running mate Sarah Palin felt, for a moment, like progress had finally won.
2008 was the year the iPhone first came out, General Motors reported a historic nearly forty billion dollar loss, and the Republican National Convention was held in St. Paul. The 35W bridge was being rebuilt after the 2007 collapse, and the southern parts of the state were experiencing flash floods from all the heavy rain. Millennial actress Hillary Duff ran a PSA campaign telling her peers to stop using “gay” as a synonym for “bad” or “uncool.” During Pride week that year, St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church held a service, but the congregation was forced to assemble outside in the parking lot because the Archbishop refused to condone the idea of same-sex marriage inside the sanctuary. The Tea Party was formed around this time and became a socially conservative force in national politics, emphatically in opposition to President Obama’s progressive agenda.
By 2010, the Twin Cities Pride festival had more than three hundred booths, a Teen Scene area for younger people, and local politicians available to meet. The general public was becoming aware that LGBTQ people enjoy many of the same things that straight people do: snow cones, live music, free trinkets, the smell of funnel cake mixed with freshly cut grass. The parade was a spectacle: nude men wearing barrels, rainbow balloons all down Hennepin, sky high heels and even higher wigs. The Village People played the block party that year, and more than two hundred thousand people attended festivities over the weekend. President Obama had signed the Shepard/Byrd Hate Crimes Act the year before, and would repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” before the end of 2010. When The Advocate named Minneapolis the gayest US city in 2011, things were beginning to feel peaceful for the LGBTQ community.
Although President Obama won a second term in 2012, the conservative backlash continued to quietly grow. Many states introduced bills prohibiting same-sex marriage, including Minnesota, but here the amendment did not pass. Gay marriage became legal in Minnesota the following year under Governor Mark Dayton, the first state to legalize via legislation and not court order. The local acceptance was so great that it became hard to remember that LGBTQ folk had ever struggled at all. Twin Cities Pride festival events by this time included the Gay 90s foam party, several block parties, dyke march, Twilight, and The Big Gay Pride Party, hosted by DJs from New York. Pride wasn’t only a celebration, but an enormous party: major companies like Budweiser and Target began to sponsor events, and by 2015 Twin Cities Pride had ballooned to the largest free Pride festival in the USA with over four hundred thousand participants.
2015 was also the year that the Minnesota State High School League passed a resolution allowing transgender students to play on the team that matches their preferred gender. In fact, that was the year that transgender visibility truly exploded across the country: Caitlyn Jenner came out, and Laverne Cox was named one of the world’s most beautiful women by People Magazine. There was a petition for the White House to ban conversion therapy, and Transparent won five Emmys. President Obama signed an order of protection for transgender service members, ensuring they could not be discharged or otherwise punished for being trans. In June of 2016, however, a man walked into Pulse Nightclub, a popular LGBTQ club in Florida, and opened fire, killing 49 people. This was the deadliest mass shooting in US history, and horrified the queer community. People gathered in Loring Park the next day for a vigil, and the fear in the air was palpable.
The Twin Cities Pride festival was just later that month, and the community was tense but unified, with a renewed sense of resilience. The Pointer Sisters and Kathy Griffin performed, and there were four stages of music and four hundred exhibitors and vendors in Loring Park that weekend. It wasn’t until the election of President Donald Trump in November that many queer people began to realize that the protections and acceptance they’d gained could easily be taken away. When Philando Castile was shot and killed by a police officer that year, the largely white Twin Cities LGBTQ community also began to focus more on intersectionality.
In 2017, Taking Back Pride was organized in response to the Castile shooting and the increasing violence against LGBTQ people. This was a protest march very much like the first Twin Cities Pride forty-five years before: they were protesting the MPD presence at Pride given the past failures and misconduct of MPD officers. The Twin Cities Pride festival continued as usual with more than thirty official events, including the sweaty Flip Phone dance party in the basement of Union Restaurant and a 5k Rainbow Run.
Despite the Trump Administration’s rolling back of antidiscrimination protections for transgender Americans throughout his term, Minnesota continued to progress. Andrea Jenkins and Phillipe Cunningham were elected to the Minneapolis City Council, the first transgender city councilmembers; Jenkins is the first black trans woman and Cunningham the first trans man of color to be elected to office in the country. In 2018, Minnesota voted to allow an “X” gender marker on state IDs and driver’s licenses, and the Twin Cities Pride festival boasted nearly seventy musical performances over the course of the week. The festival in Loring Park had accommodations for attendees in wheelchairs and with disabilities along with the increased emphasis on BIPOC members of the queer community. Taking Back Pride marched again in Minneapolis, and in 2019 in NYC, there were also two parades: one focused on social justice and one focused on corporate sponsorship and celebration.
Twin Cities Pride 2020 was unfortunately canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but many activities reappeared online throughout that whole year. Patrick Scully of Patrick’s Cabaret hosted weekly video chat sessions with performances and discussion, and local celebrity Miss Richfield 1981 hosted online pajama parties with bingo, interviews, and funny quips. Many Minnesotans had small get togethers in their backyards, in compliance with social distancing mandates. Taking Back Pride did not cancel their march. After the murder of George Floyd and resulting protests and riots earlier that year, Minneapolis was again a source of social revolution. Taking Back Pride marched down Nicollet Mall from Washington to Loring Park with black transgender marchers taking the lead and the megaphones. Out east, the Brooklyn Liberation March for Black Trans Lives was the largest transgender march in history. President Joe Biden was elected later that year, and immediately began reversing the discriminatory policies enacted by the previous administration.
With the development of the COVID-19 vaccines in late 2020, Twin Cities Pride was celebrated in person in July 2021. Attendance was once again around four hundred thousand over the weekend, with the festival in Loring Park and the Ashley Rukes GLBT Pride Parade down Hennepin being the main events. MN POC LGBTQ Pride organization, which began in 2014, hosted its first weekend Pride event in August, making space for the needs and celebration of queer people of color specifically.
Twin Cities Pride 2022 will mark the fiftieth anniversary of that first protest march down the Hennepin sidewalks. As we look back over the past half century, we can see that social progress is often met with political retaliation. There were zero anti-transgender bills proposed in state legislatures before 2015, but fifteen anti-LGBTQ bills were passed that year. As of this year, just seven years later, there are close to two hundred and fifty anti-LGBTQ bills in state legislatures across the country – including six in Minnesota – with many focused specifically on transgender student athletes, restricting access to trans affirming healthcare for minors, and forbidding classroom discussion about gender identity and sexual orientation. The good news is that most Americans support LGBTQ rights, even as their elected officials insist on passing oppressive legislation.
Pride began as an encouragement to come out of the closet, to radically defy social norms in pursuit of authenticity and acceptance. In only one or two generations we have drastically changed how the general public views and understands queer people, but our work is not finished. The Twin Cities Pride festival 2022 will be June 25-26 in Loring Park, where once again, hundreds of thousands are expected to participate. Whether we choose to celebrate in love or march for revolution, Pride exists for all of us. Hope to see you there.