It took only a couple hours in Minneapolis for the city to surprise me. There we were, strolling around downtown in the twilight, when the roar of at least 100 skateboards suddenly surrounded us. Dozens of their riders seemed to swoop out of nowhere to chill out at 20 Washington Square and watch each other attempt tricks. The lone security guard I could see looked a bit overwhelmed. My two local friends say the police support this youth flash mob, marijuana stink and all, because at least everyone knows where everyone is.
This odd coupling seemed an apt preface for downtown Minneapolis’s big event in the following days, the Twin Cities Pride Festival. Gay, bisexual and transgender pride events like this one grew out of protest and literal rioting decades ago. Now they have corporate sponsors and respectability and police escorts. The two poles still don’t always get along.
Before I got to that, I explored a little more of this metropolis, home to more than 3 million people, than I had the chance to see last time. After the obligatory stop at the Mall of America, we got a taste of the city’s outdoors. The Mississippi River already flows huge and strong here, even just a tenth of its length downstream from its beginnings. Minnehaha Falls, meanwhile, strikes an impressive figure through a green-splashed bluff right in the middle of town.
None of these stops were strictly pride-related, but there was no missing that this was pride weekend. Target Field glowed in rainbow colors each night, and flags and banners and posters plastered downtown, uptown and several neighborhoods. The pedestrian crowd was just as colorful: perhaps tens of thousands of people with every color of hair and every variety of clothing. Couples of all gender combinations held hands as they walked. The official pride festival on Saturday and Sunday brought your typical fair foods and confections, drag shows, music, vendors and booths promoting dog rescues, political candidates, civic groups and health. A man in a bright red dress gave an excellent performance of two Lion King numbers. It was easily the biggest pride I’ve seen so far, and maybe my biggest festival of any kind.
The blanket of togetherness and support for non-straight folks had a few frays, though. “Man and woman,” one man on a bus downtown said after another called a kid with pink hair walking past an anti-gay slur. A protest for black lives and against police use of force delayed the Sunday parade down Hennepin Avenue, spurred on by a fatal shooting just the day before. (Echoing so many other similar shootings around the country, police officers said the man shot was armed while family and witnesses say he wasn’t)
Part of the crowd clapped and cheered for the Black Lives Matter contingent, but another part, many of them white, middle-aged same-sex couples, booed the group, dismissed the shooting’s importance and wondered why they couldn’t pick another time or place — a question that greets all sorts of protests these days. One person near me suggested throwing drinks and kicking the protesters when they lay on the ground, given that the protesters didn’t want police around.
This extreme response fascinated me, given the day’s history. Pride began with wrath during a multi-day riot in 1969 New York City’s Greenwich Village. In a time of laws against homosexuality and frequent police raids of gay clubs that led to the outing and ostracism of many of their patrons, a largely non-white group of those patrons one night put up a fight instead, resisting arrest, throwing bricks and bottles and injuring four officers. Protest parades in the following years were meant to say the fight for recognition and dignity, while less violent, wasn’t over. Evidently some think it can be over now. But others, like that group of protesters, see these shootings and prejudice of all types throughout the country and say the fight is still on.
Still, even the boos couldn’t truly stop the enormous group hug that is a pride celebration. I teared up a little when the crowd went almost silent, waving the “I love you” hand signal as a group of excited deaf participants marched past doing the same. Actually, I still tear up at that. And people of every age and skin color and relation turned out dancing and sharing ice cream and cheering each other on.
Thanks for the good time, Minneapolis.