A Tale of Two Prides

There’s no doubt about it; Pride is growing. Year after year, Twin Cities Pride cites an ever-growing number of attendees. The first local GLBT march, held in June 1972, has evolved into the Pride Festival we know today, attracting hundreds of thousands. Beyond the Twin Cities, this year marks Duluth’s 30th year of Pride.

What these long-standing, popular celebrations demonstrate is the desire and demand for the community to gather, to be out and proud. Other communities are joining together to host their own festivities.

The small town of Pine City will again be the setting of one of the few rural Pride celebrations in the world, known as East Central Minnesota Pride. 2016 marks the 12th anniversary of this event which offers music, food and a rendezvous of friends, family and community in a new location: downtown Pine City in the Robinson Park town square. Having moved from across the Snake River in Voyageur Park to the heart of Pine City, this year’s gathering promotes the theme “Pride in the Heart.”

Neighberz Band. Photo courtesy of East Central Minnesota Pride

Neighberz Band. Photo courtesy of East Central Minnesota Pride

“We’ve managed to overcome all of the obstacles thrown our way by the people who are less open-minded than us, and yet we’re still here,” said Ariel Dunbar of Pine City, a member of the East Central Minnesota Pride Board. “We’re still growing stronger.”

In 2005, the East Central Mens Circle, a discussion and support group for about 70 gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning men in East Central Minnesota, decided to gather together for a Pride event (then more of a picnic) in Pine City. Since, the Purple Circle (the women’s counterpart to the Mens Circle), the regional PFLAG chapter, and other groups have banded together to strengthen and enhance the event.

Now, the event gives GLBT people of East Central Minnesota, those questioning, and their friends, family, and allies an opportunity to meet and build community in an otherwise isolated part of the state. Without the event, organizers believe there may not exist an “LGBT community” in this part of the state. The need has been evident in the event’s growth, from record attendance numbers to a record number of vendors, sponsors, and supporters.

According to the organizers, there are several ways in which East Central Minnesota Pride has improved the quality of life in this part of the state. It serves the vulnerable GLBT youth populations, especially those who are at risk of suicide, showing that there are other GLBT people nearby to offer support and encouragement. It also serves as a mechanism for civil rights engagement, promoting tolerance through a community dialogue about GLBT issues. The entire event is innovative in that it isn’t being done on this scale elsewhere in a small town.

Katy Vernon. Photo courtesy of East Central Minnesota Pride

Katy Vernon. Photo courtesy of East Central Minnesota Pride

Headlining East Central Minnesota Pride is Minneapolis-based, British singer-songwriter Katy Vernon. Also performing are North Branch-based The Neighberz Band, no stranger to East Central Minnesota, and Duluth-based “Take It With You” live radio theatre. Twin Cities Public Television’s Val Mondor returns as this year’s emcee and Geo Montecillo will deejay.

This celebration serves the five-county region of Pine, Isanti, Chisago, Kanabec and Mille Lacs Counties, and attracts attendees from the hubs of the region, such as North Branch (pop. 10,087), and even its tiny villages, like Denham (pop. 34).

Since the celebration began 12 years ago, this rural part of Minnesota has seen change. Most recent census data show that, in 2010, Pine City and its surrounding townships have become some of the gay strongholds of Minnesota, with the most same-sex coupled households of anywhere else outside of Minneapolis-St. Paul.

East Central Minnesota Pride kicks off the first such celebration in Minnesota in June each year, during what President Obama has declared as Pride Month. “Our goal has always been to provide caring support and friendship for LGBT people living in the rural area of Minnesota,” said Don Quaintance of Centerville, a founding Pride board member. “This event brings people from all walks of life together in friendship, community and progress in understanding.”

Brookview Golf Course, Golden Valley. Photo courtesy of the City of Golden Valley

Brookview Golf Course, Golden Valley. Photo courtesy of the City of Golden Valley

Closer to the Metro, Golden Valley is set to become the first Twin Cities suburb to hold its own gay Pride festival, and perhaps rightly so. According to census figures, there are more gay couples in Golden Valley, as a percentage of households, than any other city in Minnesota.

It all began last fall, when Peter Knaeble, a Golden Valley resident, put out a post on Facebook asking if anyone was interested in working with him on a new event in the suburb. After receiving a positive response, a small but dedicated committee of nine was formed to plan the first suburban Pride festival in Minnesota. This group has been meeting regularly for the past six months planning this new event.

“The festival will highlight our LGBTQ families, friends, and allies in the spirit of promoting greater understanding of Golden Valley’s rich and growing diversity,” Knaeble says.

Since this is a brand new event, it took a lot of brainstorming to get the festival envisioned and planned. “We wanted something uniquely ‘Golden Valley,'” Knaeble says. “We started by setting a theme (“Celebrating Community, Family, and Friends”) and worked from there to create a family-friendly Pride event that we hope will become an annual celebration of the diversity in our city.”

Brookview Park, Golden Valley. Photo courtesy of the City of Golden Valley

Brookview Park, Golden Valley. Photo courtesy of the City of Golden Valley

Knaeble admits the committee’s first call was to the friendly staff at the Twin Cities Pride office. “They were very encouraging in our efforts and helped us to coordinate a date that would not interfere with their event. They understood that we were trying to create a festival that was more modest in scope, but still complementary to theirs.”

The greatest lesson the committee learned is that six months is actually a very short time to plan a brand new Pride event. All the event logistics (park rental, bathrooms, music planning, promotion, fund raising, city coordination, booth marketing, food vendors, kids’ activities and budgeting) seemed overwhelming, but the dedicated group of nine volunteers is on the verge of pulling it off.

Perhaps the greatest surprise of the event, is that Golden Valley Pride is not a city-sponsored event. The Pride festival is totally private, self-funded, and volunteer-run. But, Knaeble says, the city staff and council are strong supporters of the event.

Golden Valley Pride attendees can look forward to a variety of family-friendly activities, including food trucks, community booths, kids games, and musical performances. The music will include Outloud (a part of the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus), Freedom Jazz! Big Band (a GLBT group), and The Sons (a Twin Cities cover band). Tom Knabel (Twin Cities Human Rights Campaign) and Phil Duran (OutFront Minnesota) are also on the schedule to give a keynote presentation, while kids can enjoy a free bounce house, city puppet wagon, and access to the large park playground.

As for the locale, Golden Valley also brings a new perspective. “Our planning committee thinks it is important to celebrate the diversity of our suburban residents as opposed to the TC Pride Festival which is more urban-focused,” Knaeble says. “The TC Pride is a great event, but we think it is important to celebrate out in the suburbs where the majority of the GLBTQ folks and families live.”

Ultimately, Knaeble says the growth of Pride celebrations is a great thing. He says, “Some people asked us if another Pride festival is passé, but given the current events in the local and national news, we think our new Pride event is more relevant than ever.”


East Central Minnesota Pride
June 5
www.eastcentralminnesotapride.com


Golden Valley Pride
June 12
www.goldenvalleypride.com

 

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