Many colors

_MG_4524.jpgIt 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.

_MG_4579.jpgBefore 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.

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_MG_4701.JPGNone 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.

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_MG_5415.JPGThe 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.

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_MG_5177.JPGThanks for the good time, Minneapolis.

Dan

One day, two cities

_C1_9596.JPGNorthwest Arkansas on Saturday hosted two very different displays of pride in identity and in community.

The bigger and flashier of the two, as you might’ve guessed, was the annual pride parade in Fayetteville, a rowdy celebration of the diversity of human sexuality and gender identity. You can always count on this march to be overloaded with cheers and hugs, and this year seemed particularly extravagant.

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_C1_9734.JPGOne intriguing part of the occasion came after the parade itself, when the column of participants and onlookers marched back to the Fayetteville square and flooded the simultaneous farmers market, taking some couples dancing to live music by surprise.

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_C1_9797.JPGAnother party was getting started around the same time on the other end of northwest Arkansas. Sulphur Springs, a town of a few hundred people just south of the Missouri border, celebrated Independence Day a week and a half early.

I wrote about Sulphur Springs back in April and how it has shrunk while the rest of the region explodes. The locals blame small-town politics and drug problems in recent years and an unlucky location for the loss, but they’re also trying to breathe new life into the place, and recent Census numbers show it might be working. This weekend was the fourth annual Sulphur Day, an all-day festival that brings in several hundred people for a parade and fireworks in the park that dominates the town’s center. I’d been looking forward to going since I first heard about it.

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_C1_0122.JPGNow, Pride and Sulphur Days clearly have a lot of space between them in more ways than one. The crowds at each probably didn’t overlap much. When I told one Sulphur Springs resident about Fayetteville’s parade, she said simply, “Well, it is what it is.” The distance between the groups shows itself in, among other things, a presidential administration that’s taken a very different approach gay and transgender issues than the last one.

The distance is complicated and serious, more so than I can adequately address here. But I hope it isn’t for nothing that the two cities are in the same metro in the same state in the same country, and they both found some reasons to be proud of it. I’m more of a city guy, but it was a lovely evening in Sulphur Springs with some nice people, alligator tacos and thousands of lightning bugs.

Thanks for looking,

Dan

No Union More Profound

_C1_8850Fayetteville’s Pride Parade couldn’t have had better timing.

A storm-carrying cold front yesterday left behind absolutely flawless weather for today. And you might have heard yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that states’ same-sex marriage bans cannot stand under the 14th Amendment’s command of equal treatment by the law.

“No longer may this liberty be denied,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority decision. “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were.”

I’d say the parade itself was two or three times as big this year as last, with people of every age and rainbow flags in every direction; organizers say more than 2,000 people attended, a record.

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_C1_8901Friday’s ruling means two non-related adults of any gender can legally commit themselves to each other and enjoy such rights and responsibilities as jointly filed taxes, shared child custody and unquestioned hospital visitation, medical and familial rights. As Kennedy said, it also means something a bit more intangible, right? The joy among the decision’s supporters was immediate here in Arkansas and across the country.

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_C1_8985Concern, anger, even fear quickly followed as well. The four dissenting Supreme Court justices gave grave warnings the ruling would be used to “vilify” the people who oppose same-sex marriage for religious and moral reasons, and other writers and public figures took up the alarm.

Their words and feelings are very serious, as is much of the history around issues of sexuality. For much of U.S. history, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and otherwise non-straight people have been bashed, killed, rooted out of government and private-sector jobs and kicked out of families, if they dared reveal themselves at all. These problems are less common, but they remain in some form, despite credible research that finds orientation isn’t consciously chosen.

Many conservative Christians (many Christians support the decision) see themselves as having lost some of their sway over policies like civil marriage as more and more people personally know someone who isn’t straight. The Supreme Court decision essentially says religious objections alone aren’t enough to justify public government’s marriage policies.

The U.S. is still mostly Christian, and discrimination based on religion in business or government is explicitly illegal except in limited circumstances. That’s not true in most states for LGBT people, including in Arkansas.

Anyway, on with the photos.

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_C1_9141I hope it was a happy and love-filled day for you, wherever you stand. Thanks for looking!

Dan