“I love you,” was the first comment someone made to me as I was crossing the N. Riverfront and E. Plum Street intersection at the Mankato PrideFest this past Saturday, Sept. 10. I arrived minutes after the parade began, and I was straggling behind, struggling to keep up.
As a first-time PrideFest goer, I didn’t know what to expect, but I was immediately surrounded by smiles and laughter, colorful people and displays, music and rollerbladers in tutus.
I even interviewed a few canines. Quincy, a Great Dane puppy and his human, Thomas Gasser, were also straggling behind the parade. I told Gasser it was my first PrideFest event, and that as a staff writer for the university newspaper, and I wanted to experience the adventure.
“It’s our first time as well. We saw that it was advertised, and we’ve attended the Minneapolis Pride previously, so we figured we’d check it out and it seems like a nice turn out and a beautiful day for it,” said Gasser.
The neighboring businesses in the five block distance to Riverfront Park had their doors open, welcoming fest goers and were inundated with a lively environment.
I ran into Brittany Kemmerer from KEYC, whom I’ve met before on a previous story of hers, and she was kind enough to allow me to piggy back on her interviews with a few idyllic individuals.
As a first time PrideFest attendee, I asked Jessica Flatequal, South Central Minnesota Pride Executive Director, what I should expect.
“We’re celebrating our LGBT pride, all of our many allies are down here as well. We have bands, some gender bender performances, vendors, food, booze- if you like that. Family-friendly stuff,” responded Flatequal.
Indeed, the event was family friendly. “Project 410 is a volunteer managed art gallery and experimental space,” according to their mission statement. The group had arts and crafts for children, face painting and other activities. I didn’t ask, but I’m sure they would have allowed me to partake in the activities, including two bounce houses.
Regarding the Mankato community reception, “So supportive, you know we’ve come so far as a community here in Mankato. I’m a townie, I grew up here, and every year I’m just more and more proud of my community to see the kinds of turnout that we get every year. And how that grows each and every year, is just, inspiring. Mankato has become a very affirming and welcoming place for LGBT people to live and work and have families and raise kids,” said Flatequal.
There were two protestors on site at the event. When asked what she thought about them, Flatequal said, “This is just a way to come together and celebrate the change in our community. It’s a time to come together to look to each other for support especially, when you see someone like this guy over here (protestor carrying a sign that read “God made male and female. God makes no mistake.”) carrying a sign that says he hates us. The reality, for the most part, we really feel welcomed in the community and we want our friends and allies to come out and meet us and see us as humans and celebrate along with us.”
“One of the great things about living in the United States is that we all have the right to our opinions. I find their opinion hurtful and harmful to my community, but they do have the right to do that. We actually have a safety person attached to each person holding a sign, not only for our safety but for theirs. We don’t want anyone to take away their right to speak or hurt them or harm them in any way. We’re trying to be as considerate as we can to them. Of course it’s upsetting for a lot of people. I think you can tell there is more happiness and joy out here than there are protestors,” said Flatequal.
And Flatequal was truthful about the safety person assigned to the protestors. Brittany and I set up her camera gear next to one to hopefully record and ask for a reaction. But the individual walked away from us. His safety/security person Anthony Payne, was a first-time volunteer.
“He’s actually fairly nice, surprisingly. I am going to offer him a water. Just to show him that people in the LGBT community aren’t bitches. We’re not mean or anything. That’s why I got bottled (water). I would have given him a cup, but I figured he’d think I might have drugged it. I’m so thirsty myself right now,” said Payne.
I found it astonishing how the fest goers, with alacrity, danced around the protestors. No insults were traded, no mean stares, only radiant joy.
“I think you have to have something like that for Pride. Cause obviously Pride is really happy, and if you don’t have somebody who’s negative, you can’t realize how happy you are, cause obviously he’s miserable,” commented Payne, regarding the two protestors carrying signs.
Brandy Merlot, one of the many talented performers in the drag show was, “. . . just amazed at the turnout that we have. It’s so fabulous just to see everybody coming out, having fun on a great day being-who they truly want to be.”
I asked Ker Lor, a graduate assistant who is a part of the LGBT Center at MNSU Mankato, what she would say to those people, like myself, who aren’t very knowledgeable about Pride. “Pride is about having pride, literally. You don’t have to be a part of the LGBT Community, you could just be an ally or a supporter. It’s a great way to learn, and meet people that may be different than you or the same as you. It’s a great way to find community.”
Lor and her students walked towards the front of the parade carrying the photos and names of the victims from the Orlando nightclub shooting. The event at Riverfront Park also held a moment of silence to remember those victims.
Jenaka Montemurno, who attended her first PrideFest in Minneapolis this past summer, brought her son to the Mankato Pride event. They walked in the parade with the LGBT Center from MNSU Mankato. Her son, Vincent, carried a photo of one of the victims, Geraldo A. Ortiz Jimenez, age 25.
“We really enjoyed it, and I liked that Vincent was able to be a part of it. That it was really a family-friendly event with the face painting and activities for kids,” said Montemurno. “I also had a friend that was in the drag show too, so that was really fun, to see him perform.”
I was curious, so I asked Montemurno why she took her son to the event.
“I think it’s important to educate your kids. It’s real life situations; I support my friends, people that I love. And I think it’s important for him to know too, that you should support people regardless of who they love or how they feel,” responded Jenaka.
With his mother’s permission, I asked Vincent for a few minutes of his time. He approved. We shook hands, he gave a firm yet respectful handshake. I asked him to state and spell his name for me. He did. I then asked him to spell his name backwards. He impressively did so.
The polite eight-year-old is currently in his first tackle league football team this year. He plays quarterback and runningback for the Steelers. When asked who his favorite football player was, he excitedly told me Aaron Rodgers without pause.
After telling him I had beef with Rodgers for dating Olivia Munn, who is my future wife, Vincent exclaimed, “No she isn’t.”
I finished his interview asking what he thought of the event.
“I liked it a lot.” His favorite part was the drag show. And he’s definitely attending again next year. He also confirmed, that yes, I could have jumped in the bounce houses.
Ross Smith, a senior at MNSU Mankato and Mass Media major, is a current Public Relations Intern with South Central Minnesota Pride.
“When you’re in this community it seems kind of small, but once you come to an event like this and you see everyone getting together and being so supportive, it’s sort of inspiring. And it makes you proud to be where you are. I feel right with the choice I made to come today,” said Smith. “If you just look around, everyone has smiles on their faces, everyone’s dressed however they want to dress.”
When asked if she had anything else to share, Executive Director Jessica Flatequal said, “We’ve spent a whole life trying to feel even in the world, to feel safe in this world and to not feel alone. And so this is that chance, for us to come together. Including the people who aren’t here today because they’re too scared or they’re still in the closet. We’re kind of a beacon to those folks, I hope, that hopefully next year they can come out.”