East Central Minnesota Pride gives LGBTQ+ people, those questioning, and their friends, family and allies an opportunity to meet and build community in an otherwise isolated part of the state.
Without the event, organizers believe there may not exist an "LGBTQ+ community" here. Bigger cities across the globe, from London to Minneapolis, have held prides for decades. The pride in Pine City began as quite possibly the first truly rural pride in the nation! The need has been evident in the event's growth, from record attendance numbers to a record number of vendors, sponsors and supporters.
"I'm more than proud of the LGBTQ community in East Central Minnesota. They all work very hard every year to put together the Pine City event" -Small Business Owner in Pine City
Those collaborating to bring about East Central Minnesota Pride include the East Central Minnesota Mens' Circle, East Central Minnesota Purple Circle, East Central Minnesota chapter of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), Rural Aids Action Network, Rainbow Health Minnesota and OutFront Minnesota. Several regional businesses sponsor the event as well.
There are several ways in which East Central Minnesota Pride has improved the quality of life in this part of the State. It serves the vulnerable, LGBTQ+ youth populations, especially those who are at-risk of suicide, showing that there are other LGBTQ+ people nearby to offer support and encouragement. It serves as a mechanism for civil rights engagement, as LGBTQ+ people in Minnesota are currently attempting to band together for civil rights. Also, it promotes tolerance through a community dialogue about LGBTQ+ issues. The entire event is innovative in that it isn't being done elsewhere in a small town to this scale.
Other Minnesota gay prides are in Fargo-Moorhead, Duluth-Superior, Mankato, Rochester and the Twin Cities, each of which are in metropolitan areas. Since Pine City's pride has proven successful, other Outstate cities such as Brainerd, Fergus Falls and Willmar have tried holding prides as well. Perhaps it will catch on in small towns across the State and across America and people everywhere can show their pride.
Next steps, according to organizers, are to evaluate the event and determine what improvements can be made, and how it can reach a wider LGBTQ+ audience in the East Central Minnesota area. Also, organizers hope to make the event non-threatening for those who are closeting living in the region, who may also wish to come out and meet other LGBTQ+ people living nearby. The event and the ways in which it is planned and organizeed can serve as a model for other small-town gay prides wishing to form across the State or elsewhere in the U.S.