Downtown Minneapolis is exploding with color this weekend as people of all ages don rainbow apparel and glitter for Twin Cities Pride, one of the largest annual LGBTQ festivals in the country.
The weekend party is a far cry from the first Pride celebration in the Twin Cities, when just a few people marched on Nicollet Mall in 1972.
“All Prides are always very happy and cheerful. But it was also always a political movement as well,” said Robert Parker, who has managed the Gay ’90s bar for 30 years. “But now you have political people riding in the parade, big major stars performing. It has become bigger than itself, it gets so big that people just go, and they may not even understand what they’re really celebrating.”
The first march on Nicollet Mall commemorated the third anniversary of the Stonewall riot, the 1969 police raid on a gay bar in New York City that propelled the LGBTQ rights movement forward.
On the 50th anniversary of that event, the multiday Twin Cities festival will attract families and partyers alike — and has an impressive list of corporate sponsors, a testament to the support of local companies. But some wonder if the increasing commercialization of Pride obscures the festival’s origins and diversity within the LGBTQ community.
“I think sometimes a feeling from the larger community is the commodification of our queerness,” said Roxanne Anderson, a prominent activist in the local LGBTQ community.
Twin Cities Pride Board Chairwoman Darcie Baumann said the Pride weekend is the nonprofit’s biggest fundraiser.
“The money we make here is what’s going to keep us going for the rest of the year,” Baumann said.
‘What Pride is about’
Twin Cities Pride — like other festivals around the country — is a classic summertime event. Downtown Minneapolis streetlights have taken on rainbow hues with Pride banners and billboards. Merchandise in stores, from bath products to clothing to wine, is covered in rainbows, and some of the nation’s biggest companies sponsor floats in the parade.
It can be easy to lose sight of the history at Stonewall amid the spectacle.
Bee Rongitsch of Minneapolis said the rainbow-themed merchandise doesn’t really resonate with her as a member of the LGBTQ community.
“It’s nice that we’re in a place where it’s not something that’s shunned, but I also think that has really nothing to do with what Pride is about,” Rongitsch said.
Minneapolis City Council Member Andrea Jenkins, a transgender woman and former Pride parade grand marshal, said that even she was unaware of Stonewall’s full history until about a decade ago. For instance, there has only recently been broader interest in two transgender women who were leaders at Stonewall and afterward, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera.
“I don’t think most people know about that history,” Jenkins said.
Corporations that participate in Twin Cities Pride must first go through a human rights check to make sure they have policies and protections for their LGBTQ workers, Baumann said. Money raised during Pride goes to the nonprofit’s Community Outreach Fund that helps cover the cost of fee waivers for smaller organizations that want to participate.
Still, some people want more clear evidence of the role participating corporations play in the community.
“If it’s one day a year, they show up to the parade and put on rainbow T-shirts and hand out whatever their product is, that’s one thing,” said Tony Rivera, who lives in Loring Park. “I think it’s really good, though, if they can back it up and they’re supporting the LGBTQ community throughout the year, and employing lots of LGBTQ people in their offices.”
Some sponsors, like Wells Fargo, have been participating for years. John Lake, who specializes in LGBTQ and diversity marketing for the bank, said its “support of Pride goes back to a time before most companies were willing to take a stand on issues of importance to the LGBTQ community.”
“Obviously, more companies have joined us in the celebration, but we hope there will continue to be room for any organization with such an authentic and longstanding commitment,” Lake said, noting Wells Fargo’s involvement for 26 years.
Participants continue to push for inclusivity at Pride. Anderson, the community activist, created the Power to the People stage nearly 20 years ago after noticing the absence of LBGTQ people of color at the festival — and said it’s still important.
“If you’re not part of that community, you don’t really get the impact of having a stage that has a radical name and opportunity for folks to come and connect with each other,” Anderson said.
Even as Pride has changed over time, Rongitsch said she could cry thinking about how important it is to her. She has a family now — three kids and a gender-nonconforming wife. She said she’s grateful for the bravery of people who have come before her.
“When I think about the courage that those women showed 50 years ago, but also so many queer people throughout history, it kind of takes my breath away,” Rongitsch said. “Because I live in such a different time, and now I am able to be out with my family, and feel a certain amount of safety and a certain amount of support.”