It was Alison Saxton's first Pride event. The 22-year-old from Rogers said she felt too nervous to attend in past years.
"I'm not a person who introduces myself, 'I'm Alison and I'm a lesbian,' " she said.
But as Saxton arrived at Loring Park on Saturday, the first day of this weekend's Twin Cities Pride Festival, she was ready to join the rainbow-clad crowd. "It's liberating to just, like, be proud of who you are and be around a bunch of other people who are proud of who they are."
The Pride Festival, like other Pride-themed celebrations around the country, commemorates the 1969 Stonewall rebellion — days of protests by LGBT residents of New York City after a police raid on a gay bar — which is widely credited with launching the gay rights movement. This year, Stonewall's 50th anniversary, seemed an appropriate occasion to measure changes in a society that once jailed people for homosexuality and now celebrates same-sex marriages.
At 81, Bob Steen remembers a time when pride was out of the question. In high school, he had never heard of men having relationships. He married a woman because "everybody did." He came out at 45 after getting divorced.
"Now there's acceptance," said Steen, of St. Paul. "I'm no longer afraid to be gay."
When Julie Zabel, 57, started going to Pride events years ago, she and other attendees faced a real risk of losing their jobs for identifying as gay in public.
"It was like" — Zabel mimicked a gasp — " 'I think I know that person. Oh my God, they can't see me.' "
Now Zabel, who works in the Minnesota Twins ticket office, stood outside the Twins booth, offering to photograph passersby in front of a rainbow-striped sculpture of the team's logo. The Twins were among dozens of organizations and companies large and small that helped sponsor or had booths at the festival, including Allianz Life, LA Fitness, Wells Fargo and White Bear Mitsubishi.
At work, Zabel wears her employee badge on a rainbow-striped lanyard. "I get so many comments when I'm selling tickets: 'I love your lanyard; where can I get one?' "
Rainbow wearables aren't hard to find these days, judging by the shirts, dresses, wigs, makeup, glasses, glitter and sequins in the crowd. Though T-shirts and shorts in muted colors appeared here and there, everybody else was wearing everything else you could imagine, and possibly a few things you couldn't.
Jeff Venson of St. Cloud, his dark-blond beard coated with purple sequins, was among many attendees who consider themselves allies — straight and cisgender people who support LGBT rights. "We just decided it would be a lot of fun," said Venson, 40.
But some attendees, while noting the culture's progress, observed more somberly that bigotry has not disappeared.
"There's more representation, but I also think it's a scarier place than it was a few years ago," said Hannah McKnight, 43, of St. Paul, founder of MN T-Girls, a group for transgender women. "All the laws in the world" can't necessarily protect people from transphobia and violence, she said.
Janeé and Megan Green, a couple from Fairmont, Minn., said they have friends there but dislike going into town and feeling "negative vibes" from unsmiling shopkeepers. Janeé Green, 27, who is black, said she believes her race is also a factor.
"I'm like, 'Just meet me, just get to know me, and you'll see something more than what you've heard of,' " she said. "[They'll say] 'Oh, she's just this person who wants to be out there like us and just be normal.' "