By Jeffrey Meitrodt
Fifty years ago, when gay rights activists organized their first Pride parade in Minneapolis, just 50 people showed up — and half remained in Loring Park to bail out the others if they got arrested for marching.
Sunday, more than 100,000 people gathered on Hennepin Avenue to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the event. They were embraced by some of Minnesota's largest employers as well as a group of Democratic heavyweights who welcomed the crowds with a plea for political action in response to recent moves that they said threaten the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
Several pre-parade speakers denounced the U.S. Supreme Court's decision Friday to overturn Roe v. Wade, noting that Justice Clarence Thomas proclaimed that the legal rationale for banning abortion should be used to overturn cases establishing rights to contraception, same-sex consensual relations and same-sex marriage. The speakers urged attendees to get out and vote this fall for people who support their causes.
"They are coming for equality," said Gov. Tim Walz, who also marched in the parade next to Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan. "They are coming for all of our rights. The good news is, there's more of us. … The antidote to what we saw on Friday is you. It is all of our responsibility to create a world where every single child is seen, heard, loved and valued. Minnesota is that place."
Andrea Jenkins, president of the Minneapolis City Council, warned the crowd that more than 300 anti-LGBTQ laws have been introduced throughout the U.S. recently, with more than 100 of them passing in various states. She said conservatives are trying to legislate the LGBTQ community "out of societal existence."
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar said the LGBTQ community has shown that it has political muscle of its own.
"Fifty years ago, did we think we were going to have gay marriage? We did not," Klobuchar told the crowd. "Did we think we were going to get rid of things like 'Don't ask, don't tell'? We did not. We have made so much progress. … This is a celebration of 50 years of progress, but it is also a call for action for 50 more."
Many crowd members said they welcomed the intrusion of politics on a day devoted to spreading messages of love, inclusion and acceptance.
Pam Burd, who has been coming to the Pride parade for 20 years, said it was important for state leaders to show support for the LGBTQ community.
"I'm pretty disturbed by recent events," said Burd, who identifies as a gay woman. "And I don't know what our future is. So I think our leaders need to be involved in everything that's going on."
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey was the most energetic politician on hand, jogging down the route in shorts and pumping up the crowd outside Rock Bottom Brewery. In a call-and-responses session, Frey shouted "Happy!" and the jubilant crowd shouted back, "Pride!"
Same-sex couples exchanged kisses and hugs, sometimes on the route itself. The Timberwolves mascot drew huge cheers with his dance routine to Aretha Franklin's "Respect." The crowd also went delirious for bubbles, and people sang along to a variety of hits.
"It was awesome," said Tasia Desjarlait, who brought her four kids to the parade for the first time. "I feel great because the people going to the parade today feel free."
Police said turnout was as large as before the pandemic. They reported no arrests or incidents related to the parade, though a group of about 100 anti-police protesters briefly disrupted the beginning of the parade as they chanted "No police at Pride" and "No justice, no peace." The group quickly moved to Loring Park, organizers said.
The parade was an entertaining spectacle that lasted slightly more than two hours. Though it did not reach Mardi Gras levels, there was a lot of exposed skin even though the weather never topped 70 degrees. One marcher wore nothing but a pair of white jockey shorts as he gyrated down Hennepin Avenue.
Still, the parade was a fairly family-friendly event. Madusa Rose set up a face-painting station at 9th and Hennepin, treating about 40 children to a free butterfly or other design. Rainbows, symbolizing the LGBTQ flag, were everywhere: on socks, shirts, capes, dresses, suits, beads, dogs — even rainbow-dyed hair.
Pat Meyer brought his three kids to the parade from St. Louis Park for the first time this year, saying he did it to support his 13-year-old daughter, who recently told the family she identifies as "pansexual."
"It opens up a lot of dialogues for us," Meyer said while his two younger sons showed off their rainbow-colored gear. "It's important for them to see there are no limitations to who you are."
The parade drew some of Minnesota's biggest companies. A crew from Cargill carried signs saying "We don't give a moo who you love" and "Labels are for jars, not people." Xcel Energy marched under a banner saying "You. Us. Together." Aveda workers wore T-shirts saying "Be you. Do you."
There were also two marching bands and representatives from Target, Delta Air Lines, Wells Fargo, General Mills, Ikea, U.S. Bank, Boston Scientific, 3M, C.H. Robinson, Walgreens, Ameriprise Financial, Cub Foods, Pizza Luce and the Minnesota Twins and Timberwolves, among others.