Duluth-Superior Pride Festival celebrates giant leaps forwardIn its 27 years, the Duluth-Superior Pride Festival hasn’t always been a joyous affair.
By: LaReesa Sandretsky, Duluth News Tribune
In its 27 years, the Duluth-Superior Pride Festival hasn’t always been a joyous affair.
Just 17 years ago, the festival, then held on Wisconsin Point, ended on a sour note when a group smashed the car windows of attendees, apparently spurred by anti-gay bias.
And before Herb Bergson did it in 2004, no Duluth mayor had issued a proclamation of support of the festival.
“That was a big deal because we’d never been able to get it before,” said Harvey Plasch, co-chairman of the festival, of the first year they received mayoral support.
The festival, this year themed “What a Difference a Gay Can Make,” will take place this weekend. From its humble beginnings as “half a dozen people in the park,” the festival has grown into a four-day celebration with more than a dozen events in Duluth and Superior. Plasch said he credits the event for contributing to the growing acceptance of same-sex relationships and accompanying legal advances.
“Now, when you look at Minnesota and the strides they’ve made … we feel that we’ve had a part in it all along,” Plasch said.
This year, Plasch put in an excited plug for the event’s first wedding tent, complete with champagne, lots of tulle and wedding cakes. Previously, the festival held commitment ceremonies, but this year the unions will be legally recognized.
“With the marriage amendment, we expect this to be a big year,” he said.
It’s a far cry from 2001, when the Duluth City Council ran into a roadblock in its effort to support the festival for the first time. Greg Gilbert, then city councilor, drafted a resolution of support which the council passed. Mayor Gary Doty vetoed the resolution.
“I thought that it was appropriate that, like any other group that comes to town, it should be recognized by the city government,” Gilbert said.
The council voted again and approved the resolution 6-3, a majority that meant Doty couldn’t veto it. Gilbert was thrust into an unexpected spotlight as a result of sponsoring the resolution.
“I received horrible e-mails … telling me that I was going to hell. It was a different world than it is now,” he said.
The hate directed at him gave him a taste of the discrimination gays were facing daily, Gilbert said.
“It was really interesting to me … being (straight) … to have all that anger that must have been directed to gay people directed toward me. It was very eye-opening,” he said.
This year, organizers have Mayor Don Ness’ enthusiastic support, a move that is not nearly as polarizing as it was just a decade ago, Gilbert said.
“Where we’ve come in 10 years is amazing. It just goes to show you that … in a little town like Duluth, you can chip away at changing the world,” he said.
The gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities have a slew of other things to celebrate this year. Minnesota voters defeated an amendment last year that would have put a ban on same-sex marriages, and this May the Legislature passed a bill to recognize them. Just over a month later, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, allowing legally married couples to claim more than 1,100 federal benefits.
“In one word, you could say ‘ecstatic,’ ” Plasch said of the energy in festival-planning sessions this year after same-sex marriage became legal in Minnesota. “We thought we were a couple of years away from that.”
In addition to advocating gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender acceptance, the festival is also good, clean fun.
“We try to include something for everyone,” Plasch said, so they offer family-friendly events and a worship service alongside decidedly more grown-up happenings like the Fruit Float Boat Cruise and the drag show at the Main Club in Superior.
The festival kicks off at 5 p.m. today with a mayor’s reception at the Depot. The festival takes place all day Saturday at Bayfront Festival Park and closes on Sunday with a drag show at The Main Club in Superior.
Most of the festival’s events are free, including the all-day concert at Bayfront on Saturday with acts like the Minnesota Ballet, musical comedy duo Amy & Freddy and “Gypsy Woman (She’s Homeless)” singer Crystal Walters.
For tickets or more information, visit dspride.com.
5 p.m.: Mayor’s reception at the Depot
5 p.m.: Art exhibit at Teatro Zuccone
6 p.m.: Poetry reading at Jitter’s Coffee House
Sunset: Bonfire on Wisconsin Point
8:30 a.m.: Hummingbird Family 5K at Western Lake Superior Waterfront Trail
11 a.m.: Pride Festival at Bayfront Festival Park
8 p.m.: Pride’s Block Party, the Main Club and Flame Nightclub, Superior
8:30 a.m.: Pride Worship Service, Peace United Church of Christ, Duluth
Noon: Pride Parade, Oakes Street, Superior
3:30 p.m.: Fruit Float Boat Cruise, Vista Fleet
3:30 p.m.: Foo Foo Choo Choo, train ride beginning at the Depot
8 p.m.: Annual Drag Show, the Main Club