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Why we need a Pride celebration in 2014

MinnPost file photo by Terry Gydesen
State Rep. Karen Clark, second from right, and partner Jacquelyn Zita, far left, embrace attendees at the 2013 Ashley Rukes GLBT Pride Parade.

Do you remember the summer of 1991? I do because my son was about to start kindergarten and I was all about buying crayons and backpacks.

If you were part of the Twin Cities gay community in the summer of 1991 your memories are likely to be less pleasant. That was the year a confused and angry man sent death threats to gay organizers and acted on them by wounding and shooting gay men in a public park and at a beach.

If you weren’t part of the small LGBT community 23 years ago you probably don’t remember the murders at all. There was no public outcry; newspapers simply noted that the men were “cruising.” Their friends were too frightened to attend memorial services.

One of the murdered men,  Joel Larson, was originally from Iowa. To this day his friends remember a fun-loving dancer who was full of life until he was gunned down in Loring Park.

Beyond discrimination

With gay marriage a reality in our state, football players kissing their boyfriends on TV, and both the president and governor celebrating Pride month, it is hard to remember back to 1991 and before to remember that gay people were not only discriminated against and mocked — they were even murdered for being who they were.

When we talk about progress in social justice we often note that we stand on the shoulders of giants. In Minnesota we stand on the shoulders of state Sen. Allan Spear, state Rep. Karen Clark and all those who came out and stood for justice and civil rights for all Minnesotans. Nationally we stand on the shoulders of Harvey Milk, countless AIDS activists, those who fought back at Stonewall, and so many who believed that liberty for all applies no matter who you love.

Sadly, we stand not only on the shoulders of pioneers, but also on the bodies of those who died — including Joel Larson, Matthew Shepard, AIDS victims, Jeremiah Gettis, Anoka-Hennepin students, and all those unnamed gay, lesbian and transgendered people who died because of who they were born to be. We stand on the bodies of these people who in death were often dismissed by the wider community and in life were too frequently shunned by their families; we stand on the bodies of those who were bullied and tormented so viciously that they took their own lives; we stand on the bodies of those who remained closeted and whose partners were denied not only benefits, but the chance to publicly mourn.

The mainstream community needs to embrace these losses for two reasons. First, we need to remember because of the importance of these losses to our LGBT friends and neighbors. Even more important, there are still too many among us who want the clock to go back to the old days where discrimination was the law and the murders and suicides of gay people were considered to be inconsequential.

Not that long ago

Contrary voices still ask, “Why do we need a Pride celebration?” Those who knew and loved Joel Larson know why: 1991 wasn’t all that long ago.

Larson’s friends have organized fundraising to place a bench in Loring Park in Joel’s memory.

Yes, Loring Park is where he was viciously gunned down, but  the memorial bricks will say, “Let us turn our backs on hatred. Teach love.”  

This memorial bench will acknowledge an important part of Minneapolis’ past, and it will provide a better direction for the future. Too many have been lost in the  LGBTQ communities. Minnesotans can take pride in the progress already made for justice and love in this state, but out of respect to those who were lost to hate, we must continue to move forward in love.

Beth-Ann Bloom is a mom, genetic counselor and community volunteer from Woodbury. 

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Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Randi Reitan on 06/26/2014 - 08:27 am.

    Thank you, Beth-Ann.

    Our first Pride celebration after Jake came out was so empowering. We felt embraced in love and so needed that love at that point on our journey as parents. Pride truly is a celebration with love at its core.

  2. Submitted by Robin Mavis on 06/26/2014 - 09:34 am.

    Anoka Hennepin Students

    Thank you Beth-Ann for remember those students who we lost through bullycide and those that survived extreme bullying in our district based on their perceived or actual sexual orientation, identity or gender expression.
    I still cry when I think of those that we lost.
    Robin Mavis
    Anoka Hennepin Gay Equity Team (AH GET)

  3. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 06/26/2014 - 12:02 pm.

    Keep On Keeping On

    We still need to keep up the pace and make people aware that gays are not some strange monster that need to be locked in the closet. Also on today’s MinnPost is another article about a GOP candidate bashing another GOP candidate because he voted for gay marriage and took campaign contributions from gay organizations.

    http://www.minnpost.com/party-politics/2014/06/rebellion-ranks-over-gop-endorsed-legislative-candidate-eric-lucero

    The bigotry and misinformation has not gone away just because gays now have the right to marry.

  4. Submitted by Michele Olson on 06/26/2014 - 01:53 pm.

    I attended the festival in Loring Park a couple of years ago and had the BEST time! Everybody was just so friendly and happy to be there, and there was so much to see. I’m straight, I’m old and not particularly hip, and yet I felt welcome. So anybody who hesitates, I urge you to go, and if you want to take the kids, morning hours are probably the best time to go. (Well, what experienced parent takes their kids to Grand Old Days in the afternoon, for that matter?) They will love it: rainbows everywhere!

    Not mentioned here, is that the Pride Festival is a great way for young people struggling with their sexual identity to see that yes, there is life after the angst. That there are grownups out there who have come out and are living their lives as best they can. And that there is the possibility for joy.

    I think a lot about the young people who have been damaged, not by their sexuality, but by those who would label and hate them. This festival is one opportunity to show them that they are accepted and loved. And for that alone, I would like to see the Pride Festival continue throughout my lifetime!

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