After the storm comes the rainbow.

Twin Cities Pride is back for summer 2021.

After pandemic and protests, social distance and grief, there will be drag queen brunches again. There will be picnics and galas and movie nights and fun runs. Loring Park will explode into rainbows in July for a two-day festival of food, song, commerce and community.

"I can't wait to give hugs again. I can't wait to see people. I can't wait," said Twin Cities Pride board secretary Michael Kroeger, repeating the mantra he's heard from the community ever since word broke that Pride was back. "We're doing our best to provide an experience for everyone to come out and be their authentic selves and have a wonderful time celebrating together."

Kroeger and Twin Cities Pride took an event that usually requires six months of meticulous planning and pulled it together in a matter of weeks. Hundreds of performers, vendors and volunteers sprang into action as soon as pandemic restrictions started lifting in May.

"I think the return of Pride means a homecoming," said Sarah McPeck, a Twin Cities comedian who threw herself into the effort to line up festival entertainment on very short notice. "We have each other. And [we know] how hard it was not to have each other."

A year and a half is a very long time to go without a party. And this particular party is the biggest fundraiser of the year for the nonprofit Twin Cities Pride.

But the main reason everyone worked so hard to bring Pride back this year, Kroeger said, was for people like the mom from Wisconsin who reached out to him the other day. Her son had just come out and she was planning a trip to the Twin Cities with him and his friend, so they could attend their very first Pride celebration.

Corporations might slap rainbows all over their logos in June, but the world can still be a scary place for the LGBTQ community. A world where lawmakers bully trans kids off sports teams and blood banks won't take donations from sexually active gay men no matter how dire the blood shortage.

"To be able to provide a safe space for people to see others who are like them is the biggest and best, most rewarding, thing we can do," Kroeger said.

There won't be a Pride parade this year, but Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm and American Sign Language interpreter Nic Zapko — familiar faces from a year and a half's worth of pandemic briefings — will serve as co-grand marshals of the scaled-back festivities.

"Like so many Minnesotans, I have really missed the opportunity to participate in events that add a sense of connection and joy to our lives," Malcolm, who's still pretty busy with the pandemic, said by e-mail. "This summer finally we are seeing the pandemic recede thanks to the hard work and sacrifice of so many, and I am eagerly anticipating getting back to some of those activities and celebrations with the people and communities that have been so important to me for so many years."

The Pride Festival drew more than 350,000 people in 2019. For those who aren't ready to jump back into that sort of crowd, Pride this year will offer a mix of in-person and socially distant events. For those who haven't been vaccinated, health care workers will be on hand in Loring Park with all three types of vaccine.

"I know for many people there can still be some anxiety or uncertainty as they step back out into public settings, and that's understandable after so many months of stress and hardship," Malcolm said. If "you are fully vaccinated — meaning you are two weeks past your single dose of Johnson and Johnson or your second dose of Pfizer or Moderna — you can be confident about attending public events like Pride."

The pandemic pushed the Pride Festival to the weekend of July 17-18, which gives everyone time to get fully vaccinated. Visitors to Pride this year will find free musical performances, activity stations, burlesque troupes, rock bands, folk musicians and jingle dancers. The festival will open with a dedication from Jase Roe, chair of the Minnesota Two-Spirit Society, and close with a performance by 2018 World Karaoke Champion Mikko Blaze.

Visitors to Pride this year will find themselves among family.

"You can be free to be yourself. Be free to dress how you like. Hold someone's hand who you like," McPeck said. "If it's someone who's just coming out for the first time, know that you're going to come to Loring Park and everyone's going to be happy that you're there." For the full schedule of this summer's Pride events, from Minneapolis to Fergus Falls, visit • 612-673-4008

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