By Lisa Vecoli
Curator, Tretter Collection in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies
Pride festivals are a commemoration of the community uprising triggered by police raids on the Stonewall Bar in New York in 1969 – usually credited with being the start of the contemporary fight for GLBT civil rights. (The Stonewall Inn has just been designated a New York City Landmark for this reason.) First held in a few communities in 1970 on the 1 year anniversary of Stonewall, Pride celebrations are now held around the world and the larger ones draw enormous crowds. Most, including Twin Cities (TC) Pride, are scheduled for the last weekend in June.
The character of TC Pride has changed over the years. In 1970-71, small groups from the Twin Cities went to Chicago to attend Stonewall commemorations. The first Pride in Minnesota was celebrated in 1972, on the third anniversary of Stonewall. Fifty people had a picnic and then half of them marched on Nicollet Mall. There was no formal program. We don’t even have photos of the first TC Pride. (If you have any, we would LOVE to hear from you!)
By 1973 things were getting organized. The Tretter Collection has the flyer advertising “Gay Pride Week” that included a picnic, a march, a dance, a softball game, and canoeing. “Non-gays” were encouraged to attend. That year 150 people attended and we have photos of the group marching down Nicollet Mall. In today’s environment it may be hard to image but the first Pride program was designed to be folded into a Frisbee so that it could be discarded quickly if necessary.
There have been many growing pains for TC Pride. In the 1970s there was tension between Minneapolis and St. Paul. In 1981 the name was changed to “Lesbian-Gay Pride,” but Lesbian was removed in 1982 prompting the creation of an alternative Lesbian Pride in Powderhorn Park. 1983 was the reunification of Lesbian and Gay Pride and the first time a street in Minneapolis was closed for the Parade. By then, several thousand people attended the event. In 1993 the name was officially changed to “The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Committee,” making the Twin Cities event one of the first to add bisexual and transgender to the name. That year drew over 75,000 attendees.
Attendance topped 100,000 in 1995, corporate sponsorship began in 1996 and rainbow banners along Hennepin Avenue were added in 1999. By 1998 more than 200,000 people attended Pride weekend, with over 350,000 by 2001. This year Pride events in the Twin Cities may draw over half a million people to Loring Park and along Hennepin Avenue including the GLBT community, allies, family, children, elected officials, and usually a few token protesters. The Tretter Collection is especially proud this year as Andrea Jenkins, the oral historian for the Transgender Oral History Project, will be the Grand Marshal of the Parade.
For some Pride is a chance to party and see friends. For some it is an opportunity to inform the GLBT community about civic, cultural, religious, or educational organizations. For others it is a time to commemorate how far the GLBT community has come since the 1969 Stonewall Riots and to focus on the things that remain to be done to achieve full equality and dignity for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.
For the Tretter Collection, Pride weekend is about history. Every year the Tretter Collection hosts the History Pavilion in Loring Park with a display of GLBT history. Those who step out of the crowds in the park get to see panels on GLBT history (focused on 20th century America). They also get to enjoy the only air conditioning at Pride! We have new panels this year on Bi+ Visibility and Self Representation and on Minnesota GLBT History. If you are in the park, please stop in and visit. We will be there Saturday from 9-6 and Sunday from 9-5.
We have much more about the history and evolution of TC Pride in the archive. We hold the papers for the Twin Cities Pride and have other material in the collections of activists and attendees.
However you mark the occasion – Happy Pride!