Four decades of Pride

GLBT historian reflects on how far the festival has come since its early days

Historian Jean-Nickolaus Tretter refers to the Twin Cities Pride festival as the GLBT Christmas.

“It’s when you get to see everybody you only get to see once a year,” he said. “It’s a chance to see all these people you like and have cared for one way or another in your past.”

Tretter is behind a massive collection of GLBT historical resources at the Elmer L. Andersen library at the University of Minnesota. It has more than 40,000 items and is one of the largest GLBT history collections in the country.

He has been attending Pride festivals in Minneapolis since the first one was held in 1972. He described the first Pride gathering as “very scary.”

“We were so sure we were going to be arrested by the police,” Tretter recalled.

About 50 people showed up to be part of the event. Half walked down Nicollet Mall and the other half hung out in Loring Park waiting in case anyone needed to be bailed out of jail, Tretter said. No one ended up getting arrested.

“It was a major accomplishment,” he said.

Now, four decades later, the Twin Cities Pride Festival has grown into one of the region’s largest events of the year and one of the largest Pride celebrations in the country.

This year’s festival planned for June 23 & 24 in Loring Park is expected to draw more than 200,000 people and the parade on Hennepin Avenue Sunday morning typically attracts around 130,000, said Dot Belstler, executive director of Twin Cities Pride.

Tretter, who recently retired from the university, will be honored for his contributions to the GLBT community as part of the weekend’s festivities. The Jean-Nickolaus Tretter History Pavilion at the festival is a major draw.

Tretter said he’s not surprised to see how much Pride has grown since its early days.

“It’s very logical it would [grow],” he said. “We are only now beginning to realize how many people were closeted [throughout history].”

Tretter became involved in GLBT activism when he got out of the service in 1972. He had been a linguist for the Navy. He met Steven Dean who was the first person to try to politically organize the local GLBT community.

In the early 1970s, there were only a handful of gay bars in the metro area. Men used to wear disguises when they walked into the bars and went by code names to hide their identities.

“People wanted to beat us up,” he said.

Tretter’s passion for GLBT history is inspired by a desire to help improve peoples’ lives.

“Knowing your history — knowing what people have done before you and how they have survived some of the horrible things they have gone through will help you make it through your difficult times,” he said.

Besides recognizing Tretter for his important work, the 40th annual Twin Cities Festival in Loring Park will feature about 400 exhibitors, Belstler said. Minnesota United for All Families — the organization devoted to defeating the proposed state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage — will have a strong presence this year.

The Beer Dabbler will kick off festivities on June 22, 5:30–9:30 p.m., in Loring Park. The event will feature 20 local breweries and 20 local food trucks. The same night, around dusk, people will gather at the Stone Arch Bridge to see the I-35W bridge lit up in rainbow colors to celebrate Pride.

The Marriott ­City Center, 30 S. 7th St., is also hosting a “Pride on Hennepin” on Friday night, 5–7:30 p.m., featuring food from Hennepin eateries, music, martinis and manicures and appearance by Project Runway’s Christopher Straub.

If you go

Twin Cities Pride Festival

When: June 23 & 24
Where: Loring Park
Highlights: Roughly 400 exhibitors and four stages of music with Kelly Rowland as the headliner 6 p.m. on Saturday.
Cost: $15 in advance; $25 at the gate