How Twin Cities Pride's Yearly Festival Stays Current

Inside the organization’s evolving challenges to be inclusive

People holding a Black Lives Matter banner at the Twin Cities Pride parade.
Twin Cities Pride has aligned with many social movements over the years

photo by Darin Kamnetz

The Twin Cities’ first gay pride parade in 1972 was a 50-person march down Nicollet that ended with a 100-person picnic. Half of the attendees waited at the park with bail money in case the marchers were arrested. It was organized to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall Riots that took place when New York’s LGBT community of street kids, people of color, and white allies fought back against police discrimination.

Now in its 46th year, Twin Cities Pride is one of the largest in the nation. It’s a family reunion of sorts, a burst of rainbows, a crowd of about 350,000 in jubilee at Loring Park. At its core, though, Pride is still tied to political activism, community, and inclusion. Or at least it’s supposed to be. As Twin Cities Pride has grown, it has taken on the challenges of increased corporate sponsorship, and how to be sensitive to intersectionality and the struggle of people of color.

“People think a bunch of old, white men run Pride, but that’s not true,” says Twin Cities Pride executive director Dot Belstler, who has coordinated the parade and festival since 2010. Right now, the board has 11 people on it, five of whom are people of color. And with that board, Pride has shown it can listen.

In 2010, Pride re-examined the presence of key sponsor Target for supporting anti-gay gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer. (The retail giant had to tweak its culture and policies following a PR disaster.) After the 2016 Pulse shootings in Orlando, the parade included a walking memorial, and Twin Cities Pride worked with the Minneapolis Police Department to increase security measures. In her time, Belstler has worked toward inclusivity, having welcomed a moderate-facing group called the Log Cabin Republicans in the past and, last year, adding a quiet space for those prone to sensory overload, such as people with autism.

People holding a banner reading "Justice for Philando" during the Twin Cities Pride parade.
A variety of messages, from celebratory to critical, accompanied the 2017 Pride Parade in Minneapolis

photo by Mike Madison

However, one of the biggest challenges for the Twin Cities Pride board happened the week before Pride last year. St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez—who fatally shot Philando Castile after pulling him over in 2016—was acquitted of all charges. In the aftermath, a vocal group of minorities and allies stated that police were no longer wanted at Pride. The rationale: Police appearing in uniform in the Pride parade would trigger trauma and jeopardize the safety of minorities and trans people at the event.

“People think a bunch of old, white men run pride, but that’s not true.”

After Twin Cities Pride announced it would limit uniformed police presence in the parade, openly gay Minneapolis police chief Janeé Harteau, who has since retired, wrote an open letter of disappointment. The two organizations eventually agreed the police would march in uniform but not all together, a far cry from the celebratory sirens, lights, and large police group that had kicked the parade off in years prior. Still, during the 2017 parade, protesters including the Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar (TCC4J) carried signs, chanted, “No justice, no peace,” and symbolically acted out dying in the streets.

In March, Twin Cities Pride announced an event called “Law Enforcement and the LGBTQ+ Community: Community Conversations.” On the Facebook event page, commenters called out “kkkops” and wrote that a white, ciswoman should not be leading Pride. Stonewall was mentioned, as was the alleged systemic racism within the police force.

A police officer hugging an attendee at the Twin Cities Pride parade.

photo by Mike Madison

Critics picked apart the way the event was marketed, finding issues with the title (law enforcement first), the accompanying promotional photo (a police officer in uniform), and the featured guests (police officers with no named community leaders). Another commenter wrote, “We don’t want to ‘envision a relationship with police [as the event information says].’ We want them out of our spaces.”

Belstler had already been bracing herself for people’s reactions to the event. When told some people would appreciate the effort to start discussion, she replied, “I’m glad you think so. Not everyone will.”

The March 31 panel at the Minneapolis Central Library was attended by about 25 people—four from the Stonewall DFL caucus and a few from the Pride board—according to caucus chair Erica Mauter. For about an hour and 45 minutes, three employees of the Minneapolis Police Department, who are people of color, responded to audience comments and questions. (In a Facebook note, members of TCC4J said they would not attend, deeming the event an inadequate and inappropriate response to the community’s concerns.)

“I think [the police] were really trying to keep a posture of listening without shutting everyone’s suggestions down,” says Mauter, who presented a list of expectations, including having the requisite officers for security, but no more.

A boy and a girl riding a motorcycle at the Twin Cities Pride parade.

photo by Mike Madison

After the event, Belstler’s response: “We wanted to bring people together for a conversation. Some folks came and shared their thoughts, which was wonderful.”

Protest or no protest, the police’s participation in Pride 2018 is still an open issue. “At this time we, the Minneapolis Police Department, and the Twin Cities Pride organizers are in current discussions as to the role of the MPD in this year’s event,” reads an April statement from John Elder, public information officer for Minneapolis Police. “We look forward to future conversations.” 

Find out more about Twin Cities Pride.

Digital Extra: LGBT History

Preview the History Pavilion before Twin Cities Pride and hear from organizer Jean-Nickolaus Tretter about the collection of more than 3,000 linear feet of LGBT historical materials.