The past 12 months have been rife with heightened political drama surrounding gay rights -- anti-gay marriage amendments, a gay bullying epidemic and President Obama's "coming out" in support of gay marriage. We might expect, then, that this year's 40th annual Twin Cities Pride weekend will be bigger and bolder than ever.

Six top events (bottoms also welcome)

THE BIG GAY PRIDE PARTY: AFTER GLOW

Gay Twin Cities' annual Big Gay Party certainly lives up to its name. This year, it's bringing on renowned New York club DJ Escape, who -- while identifying as straight -- holds a predominantly gay following. (It probably has something to do with his Vin Diesel looks.) Two former locals, DJ Rich B and DJ Shiek, are returning to town for opening sets. The night also features neon body painting, acrobatic performances, male go-go dancers and drink specials. (9:30 p.m. Fri. 6/22. $15-$20. Epic)

'GROWN & SEXY' PRIDE

DJ Shannon Blowtorch and burlesque performers Nadine DuBois and Sweetpea take their "Grown & Sexy" dance-and-striptease night to First Avenue for a special Pride edition. Performers include the cast of Dykes Do Drag, Black Hearts Burlesque and Sequin Sundays, plus Seattle's Iva Handfull, St. Louis' Ray Gunn and Chicago's Bazuka Joe. More event information.

PRIDE BLOCK PARTIES AT LUSH

Lush's three-day block party kicks off Friday with ladies who rock: Minneapolis' own punky power-pop girl rockers Sick of Sarah, rock trio turned reality TV stars Hunter Valentine (which recently joined the cast of "The Real L Word") and all-girl indie rockers Vanity Theft. The night is rounded out with a Blush dance party DJed by AJent Orange and $10 manicure-and-a-beer deals. (9 p.m. Fri. $20-$50.) Saturday, NYC rapper Cazwell performs with identical twin R&B/dance duo Nina Sky (9 p.m. Sat. $20. 18-plus). Sunday's lineup includes dance-music singer Dev, whose claim to fame is being sampled on "Like a G6." Also: R&B/dance singers Wynter Gordon and Anjulie. (4 p.m. Sun. 6/24. $30. 18-plus. Lush Food Bar.)

THE SALOON PRIDE BLOCK PARTY

R&B singer Mýa, who's been pretty low-key since her 2001 cover of "Lady Marmalade" with Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim and Pink for the "Moulin Rouge!" soundtrack, headlines the Saloon's block party with singer Crystal Waters, best known for her 1994 dance hit "100% Pure Love." Other acts include Simon Curtis, Pop Rocks and DJ David B, gay ex-NFL player Esera Tuaolo and drag queen Camille Collins. (4:30 p.m.-3 a.m. Sun. 6/24. $15-$20. 18-plus. The Saloon.)

TWIN CITIES PRIDE FESTIVAL & PRIDE IN CONCERT

The heart of Pride is the annual two-day festival in Loring Park, with vendors, booths, a beer garden, and lots and lots of socializing. The annual Pride in Concert, usually the domain of '80s novelty acts, has a bona fide, modern-day hitmaker -- Destiny's Child co-founder Kelly Rowland -- slated to headline, along with Sick of Sarah, Spearz, Rich B and Helen Back. More event information.

ASHLEY RUKES GLBT PRIDE PARADE - WITH BRUNCH

The ever flamboyant Pride parade strolls down Hennepin Avenue in downtown Minneapolis starting at 11 a.m. Sunday — and the swankiest way to take it all in has to be a rooftop brunch. Back for another year is “Bitch n Brunch,” hosted by drag queen Bitch Flowers on Seven Sushi’s rooftop, with DJ Shiek, gift bags, an all-you-can-eat brunch buffet and a bird’s-eye view of the parade. (9 a.m.-2 p.m. Sun. $10-$30. Seven Sushi Ultralounge and Skybar, 700 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.) Lavender Magazine hosts "Pride Central" with brunch and prizes. (9 a.m.-2 p.m. Sun. $10-$30. Crave, 825 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.) The Gay 90's has the best bang for your buck, with a $9 breakfast buffet, mimosa and Bloody Mary specials and the Pride Drag Show. (9-11 a.m. Sun. 6/24. Gay 90s.)

Even more Pride

GIRL FLIGHT

Kicking off the weekend is this ladies-centric dance night with DJ AJent Orange. (9 p.m. Thu. 6/21. Free. Jetset.)

SOUL Thursday: WHITE PARTY

The monthly Soul Friday, which celebrates queer women of color, gets a "white party" twist on Thursday for Pride. DJs Shannon Blowtorch, Lady L, Naughty Boyy and Sym-1 will spin R&B, hip-hop and house. With late-night food specials, $3 select beers, $5 Jameson and $4 shots. (9 p.m. Thu. 6/21, $5. Hell's Kitchen.)

LADIES OF LA FEMME

The Gay 90's drag revue is bringing back two heavy hitters: Miss MN Continental Kourtney Van Wales and "RuPaul's Drag Race" winner Bebe Zahara Benet, who cut her teeth at the 90's. (8 p.m. Thu.-Sun. 6/21-24, $10-$15. 18-plus. Gay 90s.)

QUEERTOPIA & DIRTY QUEER SHOW

Bedlam Theatre is upping the ante for radical queer expression with the pairing of "Queertopia" and the "Dirty Queer Show" in one venue. Dancer/choreographer Dustin Maxwell, gender-bending Irita Faucault, dance/theater performers SuperGroup, trans rapper Heidi Barton Stink and others will perform. (7:30 p.m. Thu.-Fri. 6/21-22, 5 p.m.-1 a.m. Sat. 6/23, $5-$20. Intermedia Arts.)

The Beer Dabbler at Pride

New this year is the debut of the Beer Dabbler fest. Ticketholders receive a souvenir sampling glass, unlimited craft beer samples, access to food trucks and music from Apollo Cobra and DJ Jake Rudh. (5:30-9:30 p.m. Fri. 6/22. Loring Park. www.thebeerdabbler.com.)

FRUIT BOWL

Rainbow Health Initiative's alcohol- and tobacco-free bowling event includes old-lady-in-drag host Mrs. Pederson, karaoke, a photo booth, massage, body art and a costume contest with prizes. (6:30-10:30 p.m. Fri. 6/22, $5 to bowl. All ages. Memory Lanes.)

GAY 90'S FOAM PARTY

The megamall of dance clubs boasts three dance floors, eight bars, drag shows and male strippers -- but during Pride, it's all about its signature Foam Party. It's simple: a scantily clad crowd, dance music and a whole lot of foam. (9 p.m. Fri. 6/22. $5-$10. 18-plus. Gay 90's.)

SCISSOR SISTERS AFTERPARTY

Saturday night's "Family" at the Euro-styled gay bar Jet Set doubles as an after-party for the Scissor Sisters' show at this weekend's River's Edge Music Festival, and the band is said to be attending. Regular DJs JR and Punchy will be joined by DJ Sammy Jo on the decks. (9 p.m. Fri. 6/22. Free. Jetset.)

THE MINNEAPOLIS EAGLE'S SCORCH FIREBALL XIII

Minneapolis' premier leather bar(s), the Eagle and Bolt Underground, celebrate Pride with R&B singer and former "American Idol" contestant Frenchie Davis (10 p.m. Fri. 6/22, $20.). Bear Night starts at 7 p.m. Saturday. Friday and Saturday, the club hosts a tented party at 4 p.m., and a $10 all-you-can-drink Beer Bust from 4-8 p.m. Sunday. (Minneapolis Eagle & Bolt Underground.)

TWIN CITIES DYKE MARCH

Twin Cities Avengers' annual Dyke March has been more inclusively renamed the TransDykeQueer March, but its aim is the same: to create a community space beyond the more mainstream Pride festival, and offer an alternative to they call the "white-gay-men-dominated" Pride. It begins in front of the Walker Art Center and circumnavigates Loring Park. (7-9 p.m. Sat. 6/23, Free. 1750 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls. www.facebook.com/tcavengers.)

BOOBY TRAP PRIDE

If you have a thing for lipstick lesbians, ladies' night Booby Trap is the place for you. The big selling point is its lingerie-clad Booby Trap Girlz go-go dancers, who'll dance to sexy beats from DJ AJent Orange, plus drink specials all night. (9 p.m. Sat. 6/23, $15-$40. Epic.)

BERLIN PRIDE

Mohawked DJ Shannon Blowtorch's new monthly queer-geared dance night features a mix of indie, darkwave, electro, dancehall, mash-ups and bounce -- but don't expect any Rihanna, Gaga or "Party Rock Anthem." Leave that to the other 90 percent of Pride bashes. (10 p.m. Sat. 6/23, $6. Hell's Kitchen.)