On February 16, I was at Vera’s Café in Minneapolis for what I thought would be a routine meeting of the Minnesota Leather Pride (MLP) planning committee. Instead, to my surprise and delight, I was privileged to see history in the making. Committee members at the meeting witnessed the signing of an agreement between MPL and Twin Cities Pride (TCP), formerly known as GLBT Pride/Twin Cities. The agreement is historic, because it is the first official collaboration between the two groups.
The objects of the collaboration are the giant (approximately 76 feet by 29 feet) rainbow and leather pride flags that are carried up Hennepin Avenue every year as part of the Ashley Rukes GLBT Pride Parade.
The flags, commissioned by Colin Spriestersbach, and created by Carl Gscheidemeier (aka Allison Brooks), made their first appearance in the parade in 1998, and since have become beloved community institutions. But for several years, both flags have been showing wear. So, both are slated to be replaced—the leather pride flag in 2008, and the rainbow flag in 2009.
According to the agreement, both new flags will be owned jointly by TCP and MLP. TCP will be responsible for care and maintenance of the new rainbow flag, and MLP will be responsible for care and maintenance of the new leather pride flag. Similarly, any moneys collected in the flags as they make their way along Hennepin Avenue during the Pride Parade, or at other events, will benefit the organization responsible for the flag into which the money is thrown.
“This agreement is in keeping with Twin Cities Pride’s goal of reaching out to, and forging ties with, other local community groups,” TCP President Bill Nienaber said.
Sam Carlisle, longtime member and chair of the MLP committee, stated, “We’re happy to be working with Twin Cities Pride. For a long time, our two groups have been working independently toward the same goals. With this agreement, we’ve joined forces to continue developing pride in both the GLBT community and the leather community.”
The agreement calls for the existing flags to be decommissioned, and donated to historical organizations for safekeeping. Plans are for the existing leather pride flag to be donated to the Leather Archives & Museum (LA&M) in Chicago, while the existing rainbow flag will be deposited in the TCP archives, a part of the Tretter Collection at the University of Minnesota. After decommissioning, both the original flags will be displayed only as part of history presentations.
Why is this important? Why is it historic?
For one thing, it shows the genius behind the original flags created in 1998—they were an idea whose time had come. That the flags are being replaced shows they still are significant and meaningful symbols for their communities. Besides ensuring that twin giant flags will continue to be part of the Pride Parade every summer, the agreement also opens the way for taking the flags to other places and events. But, even more, the agreement represents a bridge between two communities that are natural allies, and both are strengthened in the process. It signifies cooperation rather than separate coexistence.
For me, as a gay leatherman, it’s a nice coming-together of two groups, both of which I feel reflect parts of my identity. It’s nice to see each group recognizing the other as valuable and worthy of cooperation.
Assuming the new leather pride flag can be procured in time for this year’s Pride Parade, a decommissioning of the old flag, and initiation of the new one, are planned as part of the parade. It probably will be an emotional, memorable, and historic moment—much like what happened during last year’s parade, when a plaque was presented to Gscheidemeier thanking him for his efforts in creating the existing flags.