Today I will ride in the Twin Cities Pride Parade as grand marshal. In a recent e-mail to a friend who knew me in college, I wrote, “Aside from still being awed by my selection, I wonder a bit about the 20-year-old me being told someday I would ride in a Pride Parade with 400,000 people, in a car with my wife and my mother. I can’t decide which of those elements would have been the most unlikely as they all would have seemed quite impossible at the time.”

I came out to myself in 1981. My first Pride event was in 1982 and, while it was larger than the 50 people at the first Twin Cities gathering in 1972, it barely resembled the events of today. Pride used to be a few thousand people in the park, creating a small bubble of safety in a hostile world. I remember feeling like I knew most of the people there. I also remember losing that temporary bubble while crossing the Whitney bridge out of Loring Park to the parking lot. Wearing my buttons and stickers out of the park did not feel safe, and I would remove them, “straightening up” to face the real world again. Today, I glory in the mass of unknown faces at Pride and enjoy the new energy each wave of young people brings. How improbable the masses of children, allies, celebrities and community members would have seemed to my young self.

I stressed for almost two years before coming out to my parents. My journal reminds me of role-playing with a friend, of wondering when and how to tell them. I was fortunate and they responded with love, but even so, the process of total acceptance and comfort was not easy and took a number of years. Before this Pride, my most memorable parade was 1995, the year that my partner, Marjean, and I marched in the parade with all four of our parents. It poured rain, but we felt like the luckiest people in the world. To have all of our parents support us (even Marjean’s father, the Methodist minister) was a gift beyond compare. We marched with the PFLAG contingent, which always got the loudest response in the parade, and the tears on the faces of people along the route ran down ours as well. Today, I am fortunate and proud to have a strong ally and champion in my mother. How impossibly grateful my coming-out self would be to know how this worked out.

Marjean and I were married on Aug. 1, 2013 — the first day it was legal in Minnesota. We considered waiting for our anniversary in December, but after 29 years together, I refused to wait five more months. Our evolution from not wanting to marry, to thinking we would never be able to legally join, to standing before a judge and our families did not happen by chance or fluke. It took enormous risk, organizing and commitment from millions of people around the world. Marriage is not the end of our struggle and we have much left to accomplish, but where we are today is far beyond the dreams of my 20-year-old self.

Today is a day to celebrate all that is the LGBTQ+ community, for those of us who are part of it and for those who love us. It is a day to enjoy and revel, but also a day to remember both how far we have come and the battles that remain. I hope among the crowd are dozens of future grand marshals who will someday look back, having moved us to a place they, and we, cannot imagine possible today.

 

Lisa Vecoli, of Minneapolis, recently retired as curator of the Tretter Collection in GLBT Studies at the University of Minnesota Libraries.