Pride Week draws nearly 500,000

Though it still faces setbacks today, the GLBT community has made many advances.

Betsy Graca

Fifty daring GLBT supporters marched down the Nicollet Mall in 1972, ending with a small picnic in Loring Park . Thirty-six years later, nearly 500,000 people enjoyed the third-largest pride week in the country with a festival in that very same park.

“We were very sure we were going to be thrown in jail,” Jean Tretter , who has attended nearly every Twin Cities Pride week , said of the first festival.

The University played a larger role in the establishment of the celebration than many people realize, Tretter, a Pride week historian, said.

In 1969, a University group called Fight Repression of Erotic Expression (or F.R.E.E.) was created, and in 1971 the first openly gay student body president was elected at the University.

While many attribute the nation’s pride festivals to the Stonewall Riots of New York – when police raided a gay bar in June of 1969 – Tretter said F.R.E.E. was a viable group before the riots occurred.

After the gay student president, Jack Baker , was honored as the Grand Marshal in the 1971 Chicago Pride Festival, the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community in Minneapolis decided to begin its own pride week, Tretter said.

“If it hadn’t been for the University of Minnesota, who knows when we would have had the first celebration,” he said.

Frisbee-shaped programs were distributed so if there were raids, participants could easily discard them. In those days people could be arrested if they publically acknowledged they were homosexual, Tretter said.

Though the first couple years were small and informal, the tradition marched on, attracting more and more visitors from across the country each year.

Tretter said while the festivities in the 1980s were more “rebellious, political and in your face,” the early 1990s were more subdued because of the AIDS concern in the gay community.

However, after fears over AIDS subsided, the fundraising and attendance of Pride grew rapidly through the end of the 1990s, eventually becoming what it is today – a drastically different picture than the 50-person gathering in 1972.

Instead of fearing arrest, organizers now work with the city to get permits, Christopher Taykalo, GLBT Pride/Twin Cities public relations director, said.

“Things have evolved quite a bit in the last 36 years,” he said.

The University continued to be represented during Pride week this year, with several booths at Saturday’s Festival and Tretter’s GLBT archives from the Special Collections and Rare Books museum, part of the University libraries.

The collection has been displayed at Twin Cities Pride for the last 25 years and has traveled all over the world to other cities’ pride weeks.

Matt Stark, this year’s Grand Marshal , was one of the first speakers at Pride in the 1970s. He quoted his original speech at a pride banquet in May.

Stark said he reminded the many young listeners what the gay community had endured many years ago and that there are still issues to overcome today.

“The gay/lesbian community is learning how to perceive themselves as winners,” Stark, who worked at the University for several decades, said.

Stark added many battles still exist, citing last week’s decision by the archdiocese to prohibit a GLBT-friendly service at St. Joan of Arc Church in Minneapolis. However, he said the GLBT community is on the right track.

“If one has any kind of perspective, you can easily see the changes that have come about,” Stark said, referencing California’s move to legalize same-sex marriage last month. “That doesn’t mean things are perfect now. But compared to what they were, it’s like night and day.”