The 41st annual festival took on a distinctly celebratory air this year in the wake of recent legal victories in the fight for same-sex marriage.
As she strolled in Minneapolis’ Loring Park past small white tents hawking photography, floral arrangements and wedding planners, Kate Blau stood next to her longtime partner Saturday morning and paused to marvel at everything around her.
At her first Twin Cities Pride gathering 35 years ago, she said, there was anger and fear in the air as she and a few hundred other gay and lesbian protesters fought for acceptance. “We were all tightfisted and scared that we were going to get beaten off the streets,” she said.
But this year, as the 41st annual weekend festival kicked off with thousands attending, it seemed as if everyone was relaxed and smiling.
Blau said she and her partner of 29 years, Dianne Como, were still getting used to the idea that they soon can get married in Minnesota and that the state and federal governments will acknowledge that union.
“It feels celebratory,” Blau said, surveying the crowd. “It feels OK to be gay.”
Festival organizers agreed there was a distinct change in the event’s atmosphere.
Just a year ago, the grounds teemed with stickers and T-shirts promoting efforts to defeat a proposed state constitutional ban on gay marriage.
“It had a negative feel to it … a heavy feel,” said Scott Feldman, chairman of Twin Cities Pride.
“This year it’s celebrating the achievements,” Feldman said. “There’s relief. There’s excitement. It really is time to celebrate.”
An area of the park that was once reserved for commitment ceremonies has been transformed this year into a “Save The Date Wedding Showcase.”
Across the park, a section promoting health was dubbed the AARP “Boomer Town.”
Organizers estimated recent Twin Cities Pride festival weekends have been drawing more than 300,000 people — the largest free-of-charge Pride festival in the nation, they said. This year, they expected that number will grow, including more support from straight allies of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community who in past years made up about 30 percent of the crowd, executive director Dot Belstler said.
Recent changes in government — the Minnesota Legislature legalizing same-sex marriage and a U.S. Supreme Court decision resulting in the federal government recognizing such unions in states where they are legal — prompted Ken Athey and Jim Schuth to drive from their Rochester home to the Minneapolis festival for the first time in eight years.
The couple, together for nine years, sat in the front row to watch a flower show in the wedding section of the park. Schuth, a florist, said marriage is “in the works” for them.
“It’s new and exciting,” Schuth said. “It just seemed like the perfect place to be this weekend.”
A few yards away, Jennifer Jordan and Shirley Mundy, of Brooklyn Center, ducked inside a tent promoting Magical Memories wedding consulting. Mundy had proposed, ring in hand, under a shady tree at the festival eight years ago.
While the speed of the legal changes caught them by surprise, they said they’re getting serious about a ceremony now.