Looking back on 50 years of Pride in the Twin Cities

Scenes at the Twin Cities Pride Parade
Scenes at the Twin Cities Pride Parade along Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis on Sunday.
Nikolas Liepins for MPR News

Tom Crann spoke with Jean Tretter, a founder of Twin Cities Pride and Roxanne Anderson, founder of Power to the People, about the 50th anniversary of the Pride festival in the Twin Cities.

The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the full conversation using the audio player above.

How did the idea for a Pride festival here in Minnesota initially come about?

Tretter: We were jealous of Chicago because we had recently elected Jack Baker as the president of the student body at the University of Minnesota. We were the first place in the United States to elect an openly gay person as the president of the student body. And when Chicago had their first Pride celebration, they elected Jack Baker from Minnesota to be their grand marshal and brought him to Chicago. Steve Endean, Kerry Woodward and I got together and we said, we can't have Minnesotans going to Chicago to be grand marshals and not even have a Pride festival in Minnesota. So we decided that we were going to form a Pride celebration in Minnesota.

Tell us about that first march in 1972. What was the Pride celebration like?

Tretter: Well, there were about 50 people that we got to attend. We were absolutely positive we were going to be arrested. So we split into two groups and we left 25 of them in Loring Park with enough money to bail each one of us that was marching. So 25 of us marched down Nicollet Mall, all the way to 4th Street and then came back to Loring Park, where we met our friends and had a picnic. It all went smoothly and peacefully because everybody at that time had no idea what we were talking about. You know, it was, “Oh, they're gay and proud. Well, that's nice. They're happy to be happy.” They didn't realize. They were a little bit more confused by the women that were talking about being lesbians, but they were wishing us well.

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Correct me if I'm wrong. In those days, there was a real risk showing up. People could lose their jobs, they could lose a lease on their apartments, right?

Tretter: When we went down Nicollet Mall, I don't think we ever used the word homosexual in that march. In those days, if you carried literature that was about being a homosexual, the police could arrest you just for having literature on you.

So here we are 50 years later. And I want to know, as someone who was there at the beginning of Pride here in Minneapolis, what are you thinking?

Tretter: We have survived AIDS, we've survived COVID, we've survived police brutality and we're still here. We have our history, you know, we're preserving it. And we're showing that we're everywhere and that we have an ability of kindness and forgiveness and gentleness that the rest of society needs to learn from us. With all the brutality and all the meanness and the difficulties and you know, you name it, we've been through it, and we've survived. So that's what I would say that we've not only proven ourselves, but the important thing is, we've proven ourselves to ourselves. And if the rest of the world doesn't want to accept us, you know what, there's going to be a Pride parade in 25 years on our 75th anniversary.

How did Power to the People get started at Pride?

Anderson: The Power to the People area started because there was a trans woman of color who felt like she wasn't getting the stage time and the respect that she deserved; they cut her in the middle of her act. And she came to our tabling area and said, you know, this is something that happens frequently to Black, Indigenous people of color; they often don't get the same stage time or the recognition. And they wanted something to be different. So they kind of challenged us to create a space for people of color within the framework of Twin Cities Pride.

Talk us through those early conversations and what it took to make this happen. And if there was any resistance, what it looked like.

Anderson: Well, I think kind of before that time, you know, people of color certainly participated in Pride, but didn't really have a place to go that was theirs within that framework. And so what we would witness is a gathering of people kind of around those areas, like the Minnesota Men of Color, Twin Cities Black Pride and the Womyn of Color Building Project, without any kind of a real way to participate in the larger group. I think what it looked like was seeing people of color and acknowledging them as you walk around the path, but there was really kind of no place to meet up and hang out and witness our culture being expressed.

In what other ways would you say Pride has changed or become more inclusive?

Anderson: What I see now with Pride in general is it's just a lot bigger. So a lot of folks come out and participate in Pride, I think the number circle somewhere between 400,000 and 500,000 people come to Pride. Lots of organizations have done really well in kind of serving people of color, but, also very poorly in serving people of color. And so, I think that there's a lot of room for growth. When we start talking about white supremacy and racism within the larger LGBT community, sometimes we really need to acknowledge that there's still a lot of work to do.

This year, unfortunately, we saw the threat of violence that was foiled in Idaho at one Pride gathering. And I'm wondering, when you see something like that happen, what do you make of it? And what do you think of it moving forward for this year's Pride in Minneapolis, what does it signify?

Anderson: What it signifies to me is the bravery of that folks that face discrimination in a whole bunch of ways have to show up. This is a rally call to unite and to get informed. Policy impacts people, and the policies that we have against the LGBT community happening all across the nation really kind of give lift to those people who want to do harm; it spreads hate. And so I think that is a call to action for everybody to really have an understanding of what LGBT people experience in their day to day life.