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Ann Freeman: Straight person’s guide to the Twin Cities Pride Festival

The Twin Cities has one of the most thriving gay cultures in America. It will be on display this weekend on the streets of Minneapolis. For those not familiar with the GLBT community in the Twin Cities, here’s an intro…

The 2010 Twin Cities Pride Festival and Parade is this weekend. And it’s a doozie of a celebration. The numbers alone hint at why:

  • The festival is huge — the third largest in the nation.*
  • The Twin Cities GLBT community is vast, second only to San Francisco (by percentage of population).*
  • Minneapolis, as of 2000, had the third highest concentration of GLBT couples in the U.S. (Just imagine where we are now!)*

* Source: Demographics-Attendance, TC Pride 2008

Given that the Twin Cities is clearly swarming with we GLBT people and our allies, I find it hard to imagine that there are people with absolutely no reasonably close contact with anyone or anything gay. But just in case, I thought a guide for those ten straight people who live completely outside our world would be helpful.

So here is my Straight People’s Unofficial Guide to the 2010 TC Pride Festival and Parade (and gay people in general):

  • Don’t let all that flamboyance fool you, we can be as dull as the next person. At the same time, that seemingly achingly boring co-worker in the cube next to you just might be the most fabulous drag king or queen at the parade. You just don’t know. For example, here is a photo of my spouse (left) and me getting our fun on at a recent pride parade. Would you guess from this photo that I am a mother, grandmother, and PR professional, and that my spouse is a chef, nanny, and former Division I national field hockey champion? Maybe.Maybe not.

  • Our world is as diverse as yours. Given our hugeness, you can imagine there is a niche for everyone. We are hipsters, geeks, corporate types, suburbanites, city dwellers, rural folks, families, singles, couples, old people, young people, happy people, sad people. We are brown, black, tan, and white. We are rich, poor, and just getting by. You get my drift. And we will all be at the festival (or at least a representative sample will be there)
  • We claim many names to express our identities. The standards of course are gay, lesbian, bisexual. But we are also queer, dyke, boi, stud, femme, butch, bear, and on and on. The transgender community is fierce and strong here, complete with its own rhythms, language, and lifestyles. We are all in this together. I personally like to call myself “queer” because of its inclusiveness, but will use the more tame “lesbian” when needed.
  • When I came out almost 20 years ago in my late thirties and went to my first pride festival, it was somewhat daring to be a politician in the parade or a corporation with a tent hawking wares and showing support in the park. Times have changed! These days, the parade is way too long because so many politicians, churches, and businesses join in. In fact, some people don’t like how “corporate” we’ve become. I think it’s a wonderful sign of our normality, and of our political and buying clout.
  • Lots and lots of straight people come to the festival and parade. In fact, it is impossible to tell who is gay, straight, bisexual, or something else all together. Don’t worry about going to Loring Park and being labeled as gay. We won’t be able to tell, and neither will your neighbors if you wind up on TV. Beside, being gay is great. If you get mistaken for one of us, enjoy!

But lest you think this is a commentary on how “we are just like you but gay,” here are a few of the ways our similarities to you part, and why we fight so hard for simple things like the right to marry, to be parents, to worship, to be ourselves.

  • Parenting/family. We are crawling with kids. Some of us (like me) had kids before we came out, and many others chose one of the many routes to becoming a parent while “in the life:” adoption, artificial insemination, fostering. My point is this. Most GLBT folks have to work really hard to become parents (it’s pretty hard to get “knocked up” by accident in a same-gender relationship). Since that means we typically need to consciously choose to become parents, we are pretty committed to being good ones.
  • Worship. While many GLBT people can and do attend mostly straight places of worship, lots of us like to pray together, amongst ourselves. Religion is at the root of most good and much evil. It is used to raise up our common humanity and to create war. So, it’s nice to pray where you know you are loved. I know of a church that is all African American, all gay and lesbian people. And they are holy rollers, living by “The Word,” their way.  I love this, deeply.
  •  Marriage. You truly have to be living off the grid to have missed that GLBT people are fighting for our right to marry. Some people in the gay community are less enthused, wondering why we would want to engage in a practice that has failed so miserably in the straight world (the over 50% divorce rate being their proof point). But lots of us want to get married for all the reasons straight people want to tie the knot — love, commitment, family, a nice party — and legal protections. My spouse and I got legally married in Massachusetts four years ago, but it doesn’t mean squat here in Minnesota. We have to pay a lawyer to set up the protections marriage offers to any straight couple who shows up drunk at a drive-through chapel in Vegas. Think about it.
  • Health care. This is actually connected to my marriage point. Those of us in committed relationships don’t get access to family health care plans unless we happen to work for a company or organization that provides “domestic partner” benefits. This is expensive and dangerous as it results in many people going uninsured, including children. My workplace offers domestic partner benefits, thankfully, as my spouse was one of the millions hit by the recession with a layoff, yet she still gets quality health care we can afford.

Now that you are armed with more knowledge having read this guide, I invite you to come to our festival and parade and join in all the fun. I also invite you to join us in our fight for full equality and acceptance, in life and under the law.

Happy Pride!

This post was written by Ann Freeman and originally published on Upside My Head (Pay Attention Now)