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.
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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