Pride returns to Pine City June 7

A day of music, food and camaraderie awaits visitors to Pride 2015 in Pine City’s Voyageur Park.

East Central Minnesota Pride organizers have announced another LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) pride event for Sunday, June 7, from Noon to 5 p.m. at Pine City’s Voyageur Park and VFW, at 600 1st Street NW.

 The theme of this year’s event is “Transforming Hearts and Minds, and the event includes live music, an alpaca petting zoo, a barbeque, vendors, politicians and more.

“The recent changes in federal, state, and local laws to eliminate sexual orientation and gender identification inequality sometimes can lull me into feeling that events like Pride are no longer needed,” said Julie Redpath of Lindström. “[But] I think of the LGBT people who are just coming out because hearts and minds and laws are changing, and I know they still need safe places to find community and celebrate who they are, especially in rural areas and small towns.”

Bigger cities across the U.S. have held prides for decades. Pride in Pine City began when it was just one of two rural prides in the nation.  And, it is the first pride in the State of Minnesota to be held each year during what President Obama has declared as “Pride Month,” June.

“When I was younger, it was great to see an event in my hometown,” said Ashley Ackley, a 2006 Pine City High School graduate, then named John. “It showed that the general atmosphere about LGBT acceptance  was changing and evolving publicly. Knowing that perceptions were changing helped me feel safer in my own town.”

The music lineup this year includes Calliope Women’s Chorus, Neighberz Band, and tracks played by Deejay Geo Montecillo. Excerpts from the recent Duluth Playhouse production of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” will also be a featured entertainment. Television news and radio personality Val Mondor will be the event’s emcee this year. For the second time, area mayors—this year Pine City Mayor Carl Pederson and North Branch Mayor Kirsten Hagen-Kennedy—will give official welcomes to attendees.

Admission is free, though there is a suggested donation for the meal offered at the event.

East Central Minnesota Pride was started in 2005 as a way to bring about a sense of LGBT community, build awareness, and promote tolerance in Pine, Isanti, Chisago, Kanabec and Mille Lacs counties. It is known as one of the few rural LGBT pride events in the world.

As such, it has drawn opposition by some over the years. Early on, some people were offended by advertisements circulated locally, including one that said, “It’s okay to be GAY in Pine City.” The ad featured a pink boa around the neck of a voyageur monument in the park where the event is held.  Later, the words “Happy Pride!” advertised on a community sign on school grounds offended others.

This year, Pride organizers have displayed a banner over Pine City’s Main Street to highlight the community event and the reaction has been quite positive, they say.

“People are becoming so much more accepting of their lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender neighbors who have always been in their communities,” asserted Redpath.

Everyone is welcome at Pride, a rendezvous of friends, family and the larger community.  And, while it is just a picnic of sorts, it is also a statement heard far beyond Pine City, and the region.

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