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History of Gay Pride in Minneapolis

LGBTQ+ leaders reflect on the over 50 years of Twin Cities Pride.
Image by Courtney Deutz
From humble beginnings in 1972, the Twin Cities Pride festival draws in thousands every year.

Beginning as just a picnic in Loring Park, Twin Cities Pride is now a multi-day festival celebrating more than 50 years in Minneapolis.

Last year’s Minneapolis Pride Festival stretched from June 28 to 30 and totaled around 200,000 people in attendance, slightly more than the 50 people who showed up for the original 1972 event. 

The first Minneapolis Gay Pride march took place to celebrate the anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising in New York. With 25 people marching down Nicollet Mall and 25 waiting in Loring Park to bail them out, a tradition began. 

Activist group Target City Coalition, aiming to combat actions from antigay actress Anita Bryant, protected the Pride festival in the 1970s. Bryant targeted St. Paul to try to repeal an early gay rights ordinance. 

Executive Director of the Twin Cities Pride Festival Andi Otto said though the pride festival is popular today, the support was not always there. 

Otto said before the Loring Park picnic in 1972, the LGBTQ+ community usually found support hidden in bars and clubs. 

“It’s just grown ever since then,” Otto said. “That’s kind of the unique thing about Pride is depending on what’s happening culturally in society is kind of how Pride changes.”

Early Pride organizers in the 1980s charged an entry fee in hopes of raising money for the festival but had little success. The 1980s marked a trail of controversy and hardships for the community with Minneapolis City Council declining their request for block party permits and the ongoing AIDS epidemic. 

The Gay Pride committee went to the Civil Liberties Union, now the American Civil Liberties Union, and sued the city in 1980 and won.

From the AIDS epidemic to misinformation about transgender reassignment surgery, Otto said false narratives remain about the LGBTQ+ community. Otto added the recent hate crime against a transgender student at Hopkins High School reminds the community how far they still have to go. 

“We constantly have to fight because people you know come up with a narrative of what they think and nine times out of ten, it’s not true,” Otto added. “We’re constantly battling the misinformation.”

OutFront Minnesota spokesperson Seth Goodspeed said OutFront partnered with Twin Cities Pride soon after their founding in 1987. Goodspeed said OutFront’s initial participation in the festival was based on logistics, but the connection between the two organizations grew quickly. 

We would sometimes be the de facto security, sort of de-escalate the situation with either protesters or providing public safety spaces,” Goodspeed said. “It just grew very organically and in close partnership in collaboration with Twin Cities Pride.”

Transgender activist and later-parade namesake Ashley Rukes, then in charge of the Minneapolis Aquatennial, became the Pride festival director in 1990 and began taking vendor applications once the festival grew. Attendance was 50,000 in 1992 and hit 200,000 by 1998. 

Otto said the pride movement remains strong and adaptable because of its diverse group of allies, who in hand make the communities stronger. 

“We can stand up all day as community members and say ‘Hey, this isn’t right, this isn’t right,’” Otto said. “But if we don’t have allies on the other side joining us then we’ve got nothing.”

Black Pride was organized in 1999 and aimed at diversifying the Minneapolis Pride scene with different cultures, races, foods and ethnicities.

Otto said it is necessary to recognize that the Pride Festival and the LGBTQ+ community have not always been as inclusive as they are now. Otto added the People to People entertainment stage was not always open to BIPOC people in the past. 

“If you uplift one minor in the community, you actually support them all,” Otto said. “I think that is something that I live by on a daily [basis] when I make decisions for this organization is it may not just be for the LGBTQ community, but who else is it going to affect?”

Beverly Little Thunder became the first Native Woman to grand marshall the Pride Parade in 2001, marking a huge impact on the Pride and Native American communities. Pride in the 2000s was marked by its growing inclusivity such as the Minnesota Men of Color partnering with 20 organizations and 24 artists of color to perform at the festival. 

In a historic victory for the LGBTQ+ community, same-sex marriage was legalized in Minnesota in 2013. Two years later, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the Constitution protects same-sex marriage rights. 

Goodspeed said the connection between the two organizations has remained collaborative ever since the late ‘90s, but now OutFront takes on more political activism at the festival than event setup and planning. 

“We’re getting out in front of the community with the issues that we’re working on, making sure folks are registered to vote, making sure people are staying engaged and know how to stay engaged in the political process,” Goodspeed added. 

In recent years, the LGBTQ+ community has gained unprecedented allies, such as Pope Francis, who supports homosexuality despite the Catholic Church rejecting same-sex marriage. 

Minnesota has become a safe haven for transgender people as neighboring states progressively ban gender-affirming care. 

Despite major victories for pro-LGBTQ+ legislation in Minnesota, Goodspeed said the state continues to see issues like homophobic bullying in schools. 

“Some of the issues that we’re continuing to see are just making sure that the laws that we have in place are fully enforced and uniformly enforced across the state,” Goodspeed said. 

Minnesota State Senator Leigh Finke (DFL-St. Paul), the first openly transgender state legislator, is championing three LGBTQ+ bills, including prohibiting public facilities from banning rainbow flags and mandating health insurance plans to cover gender-affirming care. 

Otto said it is important to remember the trailblazers who spearheaded the Pride movement at its beginning, such as Marsha P. Johnson, a prominent transgender woman of color involved with the Stonewall Uprising. 

Otto added it is equally important to recognize LGBTQ+ leaders today such as Minneapolis Council Member Andrea Jenkins (Ward 6), who was the first Black openly transgender woman elected to public office in the United States, and transgender youth advocate and actress Hildie Edwards. 

Otto said though it can be stressful and frustrating being a leader within the community, he reminds himself that as a transgender man, he is a role model for others like him. 

“I made that decision to be an open trans leader in hopes that those that were around me and the youth could look to me and say ‘You know what, I can do it and it is okay,’” Otto said.

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  • KG
    Jun 25, 2024 at 8:43 am

    Israel’s war is against Hamas not against Palestinians. The American LGBTQ community should advocate for their community in the West Bank and Gaza Strip instead of demonstrating against Israel, the only country in the Middle East where LGBTQ people feel secure. Let’s consider some facts. About 90 Palestinians who identify as members of the LGBTQ community live as asylum-seekers in Israel. Abu Markhiya, 25, was one of them. But in 2022, he was kidnapped from Israel to the West Bank, where he was gruesomely murdered. We know about it because the murderer recorded his crime in a video and uploaded it onto social media. In 2016, Hamas commander Mahmoud Ishtiwi was accused of homosexuality, tortured and murdered. In 2019, the Palestinian group alQaws for Sexual & Gender Diversity in Palestinian Society (which is based in Israel for safety concerns) accused the PA of “prosecution, intimidation, and threats of arrest against members of the Palestinian LGBTQ community.” American LGBTQ+ activists should talk to LGBTQ+ activists who actually live *in Palestine* to find out more about the suffering of the Palestinian LGBTQ+ community in Gaza and the West Bank. If the American LGBTQ+ community is wondering how they would be treated in Gaza and the West Bank, they should consider what Hamas did to the Israelis on October 7.

  • Dingley Dell
    Jun 18, 2024 at 3:42 pm

    A good memory………………..

    However, WHY did you have to bring up, and to mis-understand, the whole Israel thing?? But, since you did: you believe that LGBTQs are protesting against Israel, just because it is Israel? No, they protest against Israel’s governmental decisions and actions. You think they protest against Israel for being “welcoming” to LGBTQs? No!! They protest the butchery in Gaza.

    You shouldn’t have even brought it up, but you clearly do not have a clue what triggered those protests you mention……. protests shared by gays, straights, atheists, christians, jews, muslims, native americans, men, women, children ——– the numbers dead in Gaza (and, now, Lebanon) far surpass “mass murder”, and THAT is what is protested, by many, many types of people.

  • KG
    Jun 15, 2024 at 8:12 am

    In the history of Gay Pride in Minneapolis, it is worthy to remember the now defunct coffee house called Café Extempore on Cedar Avenue on the West Bank. The Café Extempore in the late 1960s was a meeting place for a wide variety of people including musicians, poets, chess players, gays (LGBTQ+), runaways, academics, the religious and non-religious. At the Café Extempore anyone and everyone was accepted and acceptable. Everyone talked to everyone else. What unfortunate nowadays is that the LGBTQ+ community is protesting against Israel, which is among the most welcoming countries in the world to the LGBTQ+ community.