It’s the year 2020. Pride is postponed—if not yet cancelled. This is very hard to say out loud. It feels like saying we’re cancelling joy and progress. Of course, the cancelling of Pride—the festival, the parade, the week when tens of thousands of far-flung LGBTQ peeps come streaming home—represents an act of love to keep people healthy.
But its absence presents us with an opportunity to consider all the profound and important local LGBTQ landmarks that built Pride—and often disappeared. Living in a city is complicated. Each of us lives in a different Twin Cities: We share the Foshay Tower and the Mississippi, but we go home to different bars and bedrooms.
LGBTQ cultures have, historically, needed to hide their bars and bedrooms for fear of eviction, firing, imprisonment, or worse. As Ricardo J. Brown put it in his St. Paul memoir, The Evening Crowd at Kirmser’s—one of the best mid-20th century looks at American gay experience—the LGBTQ life was “a ruse that kept all of us safe,” conducted in “a fort in the midst of a savage and hostile population.”
Hiding in forts was useful, important, necessary. But what was long hidden is easy to lose. With that in mind, I called a number of prominent folks in the LGBTQ community and asked, ‘What would you tell someone who arrived with a rainbow suitcase today about LGBTQ life in the Twin Cities before they got here?’ What landmarks should we know about this personal, political, geographical Twin Cities we all share?
And, in a rush of memories, they talked to me about bars and bookstores, softball leagues and churches, theater troupes and travel companies, hookup spots and health centers. Names many of us haven’t heard about in years—or decades. The bright, public LGBTQ world we see around us in the Cities today was built on these foundations, the way modern Rome coexists with, and couldn’t exist without, its ancient skeleton of roads, monuments, and ruins.
The stories people shared with me were sometimes dark and painful, sometimes light and funny, and always enlightening. And they made clear to me that we can have a different sort of pride this year: pride in our history, pride in our accomplishments, pride in our resilience through tragedy, and pride in our capacity to find new things to love about our home.
LGBTQ leaders look back and share.
- Patrick Scully: Artist and activist most closely associated with Patrick’s Cabaret, a radical, brainy vaudeville founded in 1986.
- Kim Hines: Theater artist and a key member of Mixed Blood, Penumbra, At the Foot of the Mountain feminist theater company, and Out and About Theatre.
- Lisa Vecoli: Founder of the Minnesota Lesbian Community Organizing Oral History Project, one-time Amazon Bookstore employee, and the second curator of the Tretter Collection.
- Mark Addicks: Former General Mills chief marketing officer and senior vice president; an original member of Betty’s Family, the internal LGBTQ group at General Mills.
- Tom Hoch: Founder of Hennepin Theatre Trust, former Minneapolis Downtown Council board chair; one-time Minneapolis DFL mayoral candidate.
- Russ King: AIDS activist and creator of drag character Miss Richfield in Minneapolis in the mid-1990s.
- Andrea Jenkins: Activist and poet; Minneapolis’s first trans black city council member; former director of the Transgender Oral History Project at the Tretter Collection.
- Stewart Van Cleve: Currently a librarian at Augsburg University, Van Cleve wrote the definitive encyclopedia Land of 10,000 Loves: A History of Queer Minnesota.
- Charlie Rounds: Former president of RSVP Travel, cofounder of gay bar Boom and restaurant Oddfellows.
- Mary Bahneman: Founder of Ruby’s Cafe.
- Gail Lewellan: Former environmental attorney in Hennepin County; member, Amazon Bookstore Women’s softball team.
- John Veda: Former server at Minneapolis’s first openly gay restaurant, Ye Gadz.
- Billy Beson: Interior designer, founder of Billy Beson Company.
- Scott Mayer: Former AIDS event fundraiser; events consultant and founder of the Ivey Awards.
- Jean Tretter: Born in 1946 in Little Falls, Minnesota, Jean Tretter served in the Navy as a linguist, where part of his duties included intercepting Soviet communications. Back in the Twin Cities, Tretter led a rich gay life and collected a truly staggering quantity of gay ephemera: newspapers, fliers, brochures, etc. His personal collection seeded one of the country’s greatest archives of LGBTQ experience, the University of Minnesota’s Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Studies.
“There’s No Cruising a Park in January in Minnesota”: Early Days
What we now see as LGBTQ culture has existed practically forever in Minnesota. In the book Changing Ones: Third and Fourth Genders in Native North America, Will Roscoe uses “two-spirit” to translate a word used through time by Anishinaabe/Ojibwe native people to describe folks we’d likely recognize today as queer.
Later, Oscar Wilde slept here—in Minneapolis, in 1882, eliciting a Minneapolis Tribune headline of none-too-subtle innuendo: “Arrival of This Much-Talked-of Young Man in this City Yesterday Afternoon: He Tells a Small Audience in the Evening What He Knows about Decorative Art: ‘AN ASS-THETE.’”
Wilde left, no doubt rolling his eyes. Careful perusal of local newspapers in the decades after reveals a hidden queer world of cross-dressers (and their occasional arrests), female impersonators alighting on big vaudeville stages, and what seems to have been power lesbian restaurateurs running the downtown Minneapolis restaurant Richards Treat.
Our story picks up after the war.
Gay bar, Minneapolis Gateway District; 1939–1959
Jean Tretter: “I talked to a lot of WWII veterans out in California, and their best memories of Minnesota were going to the gay bars downtown. At first in Minneapolis, the bars were split in half.” [Local laws forbade same-sex dancing, and anti-prostitution laws barred women from entering bars alone.]
“Lesbians sat in front of the bar, gay men sat in the back. And the bartenders had whistles around their necks. When they saw cops coming to raid the bar, they’d blow the whistle, everyone would get up and move, and the lesbians would sit with guys, guys would sit with lesbians. That way when the cops came in it was just a normal bar and everyone was sitting together. Cops leave—back to it.”
The Noble Roman
Gay bar and cultural center, Grand Avenue in St. Paul; 1970–1976
Jean Tretter: “When I was managing the Noble Roman, we had a whole parallel world. We put in the papers: We’re having a Gay State Fair. Other bars, from Nebraska and Chicago, set up tables with advertisements. We sold T-shirts and made up drinking glasses. It was a long time before the State Fair allowed us to have our own booth, so we had to do our own thing.
“We’d put our weddings in our papers, too. Some were serious, some were silly. I remember this one silly one: an older guy just infatuated with this younger kid who wasn’t too bright, but was just enthralled that everyone was paying so much attention. He was the bride, in a white wedding gown; the other guy was in a tuxedo; and they had a big old wedding at the Noble Roman.
“The older guy paid for an open bar for the night, and of course the place was packed. Before churches like the Metropolitan Community Churches actually let you go and have a wedding, we threw them in the bars. Of course, the windows were blacked out, and maybe you didn’t put your last name in your wedding announcement. But you had the wedding in front of everybody in the bar.”
The Gay 90’s, 19 Bar, The Saloon, The Town House (now The Black Hart of St. Paul)
Gay bars, Minneapolis and St. Paul; still open
Jean Tretter: “The bars were really the only place we could be ourselves, and be more or less left alone.”
Scott Mayer: “Speaking as a gay man, so much of our community was based around the bar scene. It was where we could congregate and find other people like us. It was the bars that defined becoming an openly gay man. There would always be new places—and then everyone would go back to the Saloon and the Gay 90’s.”
Jean Tretter: “The Town House, in St. Paul: Emmett Jewell owned it. He hired me to work there. His daughter Kelly ran it. The St. Paul cops pretty much left people alone. I had my suspicions Emmett took care of them: The St. Paul cops were not the best in the world at that time.”
Andrea Jenkins: “There’s gay bars, there’s lesbian bars, and there’s all-people bars. And the Town House was all-people. It was a place where guys who were interested in trans-identified people hung out. And they had these amateur nights, which were very hit-or-miss, but very welcoming. The Town House was kind of like a gateway, a testing ground to get yourself together for the big stage in Minneapolis.”
Jean Tretter: “People don’t understand that a lot of the bars in Minnesota were huge—truly enormous. People would come in from New York, San Francisco—they couldn’t believe how big our bars are. Because you can’t run from bar to bar in the winter! There’s no cruising a park in January in Minnesota. That’s why the 90’s expanded. That’s why the Town House is so big.”
The Gay 90’s itself started as a (straight!) supper club with an improbably blessed name; it opened in 1957 beside the Happy Hour, an already famed gay bar. In 1976, an interior door fused the two.
Jean Tretter: “You could start at the Happy Hour, then visit five or six bars inside the 90’s without going outside. See Lori Dokken at the piano bar, go to a drag show, go to the hardcore motorcycle bar. And upstairs was a level with all these little shops—and a theater group! They’d do plays up there: Gays loved plays in those days. You could buy most anything you needed. There was a souvenir shop with candy bars and postcards, greeting cards; a leather shop if you wanted whips or handcuffs or a leather jacket.
“If you drank too much, you could go out the back door, make your way to one of the bathhouses. You paid maybe five bucks: They gave you a couple towels, you got a locker and a key, and you just ran around with two towels and your key. There were showers, dark rooms. You’d go into the dark rooms for sexual activity. You could go into the side rooms to just rest up; it was cheaper than a hotel. There was never any expectation put on you that you had to have sex with people. It was far more sociable and normal than most people believed.”
Andrea Jenkins: “The Gay 90’s was a safe space for a lot of trans-identified people, especially the lounge upstairs. The hospital at the University of Minnesota, they were the second big place to do gender confirmation surgery in the country, after Johns Hopkins. So there were a lot of trans pioneers who moved here.
“I’d put my heels on: Back then everybody wore heels, dresses, nails done, hair and makeup to the highest level. I’d pregame at the Saloon, then make for the 90’s.
“You came in, took off your coat, and Big Mama took it for you. Tip her—she was a performer in her younger days. Up the stairs, and into the drag lounge where all the trans girls and guys who dated trans women were. Lot of smoke and banter. The drag community is very ‘cutty’—super competitive, putting each other down and one-upping each other.”
Scott Mayer: “My first professional job, as a lobbyist for student associations for colleges, I got fired because I went to the Saloon. I was at my job for nine months maybe. Suddenly they had an emergency board meeting and called me in: We have heard that someone saw you go into the Saloon—is that true? I said, Yes. They said, We’re sorry, but you’re fired. We can’t have someone that is homosexual represent us. The thought of challenging it did not even enter my mind. It was like: Shit. Life is unfair. 1986.”
Community hub of gay Minneapolis, locus of Pride
Russ King (Miss Richfield, 1981): “It had such a public reputation. ‘How did you know the Gay 90’s was gay.’ You knew. I would take my dad’s Chrysler down there, drive around and pick somebody up.”
Tom Hoch: “It seeped into you. There was always a lot of cruising, cars circling, men hanging out. And it wasn’t unusual to open the paper to see someone had been beat up or murdered in Loring Park. They never said what it was, but you knew what it was. That’s why Pride had to be in Loring Park.”
Jean Tretter: “Whether it was murders in Loring Park or a Pride March in Loring Park, the mainstream papers and the television stations wouldn’t tell you anything about that. But our papers would. There were gay gangs that came together to patrol the parks to keep gays from getting beat up. They had names like Pink Panthers, and the Third World Gays. I guess that was a ’70s type of name. The Third World Gays ended up disbanding after they beat up a couple cops that were trying to beat up gay people.”
Community event that started as a civil rights march down Nicollet Mall; 1972–present
Scott Mayer: “You can tell how old someone is by if they call it a ‘march’ or a ‘festival.’ Gay men and lesbians started out marching, like a Martin Luther King Jr. civil rights march. They were marching for equality and taking risks. Today it’s just a big party, which is wonderful, but it was different when you were going to march.
“Actually it could be depressing. You’d spend the weekend having this rush of being free and around people like you. Then you’d wake up on Monday and be in this horrible depression because you couldn’t talk about who you really were.”
Mary Bahneman: “Pride was so freeing. If you were partnered, you could actually walk hand in hand without fear of getting attacked, which was a real and constant fear.”
“Why Not Start Our Own?”: The 1970s
The All God’s Children Metropolitan Community Church
LGBTQ-inclusive congregation, Park Avenue and South 31st Street, Minneapolis; 1974–present
Russ King: “This one guy, Doug, after we had sex, said, ‘Do you ever go to church?’ Well, I came from a church background, so I was intrigued. I went. It was founded specifically for gay and lesbian people. Because a lot of gays and lesbians, ministers and congregants—everyone was getting thrown out of church. Why not start our own?
“It was great. Reverend Arlene Ackerman was particularly great. Her sermons were so smart and poignant and moving. It was all about love, a higher power, and doing these good things. Back in the day, you were gay or you were Christian—you couldn’t be both.”
Community center, 216 Ridgewood Avenue, Minneapolis; 1971–1979
Stewart Van Cleve: “It was like a drop-in community center—very hippie crash pad, everyone sitting on the floor with paisley shirts—and was used by so many early gay rights groups. That’s where Twin Cities Pride began. That’s where OutFront MN began. So much activist work came out of there.” [One Gay House regular included Steven Endean, who founded Washington D.C.’s Human Rights Campaign, which was at the forefront of passing marriage equality.]
Amazon Bookstore Cooperative (later: True Colors Bookstore)
Loring Park and south Minneapolis; 1970–2012
Lisa Vecoli: “When I came out in 1981, I couldn’t go into a Barnes & Noble to get information about lesbian existence. I couldn’t use the internet. Amazon Bookstore, though, it was a place to get books and music, a place that showed you what lesbian existence looked like.
“The music! Cris Williamson, Holly Near, Deidre McCalla: Every lesbian had the same 50 albums, mostly from Olivia Records. And you got them there. You were starving for some reflection of yourself and your culture. Then those artists would tour the country; you’d see the flyer on the Amazon bulletin board and buy the tickets at Amazon. That bulletin board was a thing. That’s where you’d find the political actions, the rallies, support groups, who needed a roommate, who had a cat, who needed a cat.”
Kim Hines: “I was their bookkeeper. I remember when Alison Bechdel was living across from Powderhorn Park and doing her comic strip [Dykes to Watch Out For]. In her first book, that black character that runs the bookstore is based on me. She’d call me up periodically: I’m going to do this story line, is this typical, blah blah blah. When people think ‘women’s bookstore,’ they really are thinking Amazon, whether they know it or not. I was glad to see Alison get her MacArthur genius grant and make it to Broadway [for the adaption of her graphic novel Fun Home]. She was just this cute little tomboy with round glasses.”
A Woman’s Coffeehouse
Plymouth Congregational Church, south Minneapolis; 1975–1989
Lisa Vecoli: “Woman meant lesbian; coffee meant sober. Everyone knew that at the time. And it really was woman-only—no men at all.”
Kim Hines: “You’d never find the little entrance into the basement of Plymouth Congregational Church unless you knew about it. Usually the first couple of hours each night was a performance, music, reading, any number of things. The last half was dancing.”
Gail Lewellan: “It cost maybe $2 to get in. First there was this area with old couches, then a smoking area. You could get baked goods, coffee, and tea. Like a bar without liquor. I’d guess we had around 60 people most nights, and 100 people on a Saturday, all dancing. I remember being there one August, when I was just starting to come out, and a lot of the women started taking off their shirts. I was freaking out. I thought: Do I need to do this in order to be a lesbian? But I kept on dancing and pretending I was cool. It was a safe space, because there were never any men.
At the Foot of the Mountain Theater
Revolutionary feminist theater company, Cedar-Riverside People’s Center; 1974–1991
Kim Hines: “You need to know about At the Foot of the Mountain Theater. Now, I was at Out and About Theatre for a few years. I worked with August Wilson, and I give the Playwrights’ Center a lot of credit for nurturing me on many levels. But still, there was a vibe: not that they were overly misogynist, but the guys had a hard time supporting the women. And it was very white—very, very white. And theater is a very patriarchal place; most of the roles are for men.
“I can’t tell you how many roadblocks I kept slamming up against. I had already been in professional theater for 20 years when I started there part-time in 1983, before eventually becoming new programs director and production manager. It was woman-centered, woman-designed. There weren’t more than five of us, but we became the biggest and oldest feminist theater company in North America.
“The guys, the gay men were saying, How come we can’t see it? It’s for women! People were just loving it. It got so popular people would drive in from Nebraska when we were going to put on the next installment. We were it; we were it.”
A Brother’s Touch
Gay Minneapolis bookstore, first Nicollet Avenue near Franklin, later 24th and Hennepin; 1983–2003
Jean Tretter: “Harvey Hertz came from the Bronx to get sober and ran our bookstore for 20 years. If you know New Yorkers, he was typical—that temper! By God, you didn’t want to cheat him. But he was a good friend, and could be very generous, and occasionally liked to dress in drag. No one had more gay authors. We have so many pictures in the archive.”
Russ King: “I just remember Harvey as such a nice guy. And it was back in the day when a lot of those types of guys and those types of businesses were so supportive of community events—hosting workshops, hosting book signings. They were right there to promote and support everything. That’s the piece that’s disappointing. We don’t have those community touchstones anymore. They weren’t just places—they were people.”
Scott Mayer: “When I think of the 1980s and 1990s, I was either going to an AIDS fundraiser, organizing an AIDS fundraiser, or going to a funeral. That has resulted in a lack of mentors for younger gay men. It has resulted in a lack of history and passing down lessons. And I’m not sure what the long-term repercussions of that are: If young men don’t vote and get the elected officials we were able to elect, I don’t know what happens.
“But the parties we had, to fundraise—wild and phenomenal. There was a formula: Take an empty warehouse, send out postcards—I had a big, big mailing list, and mailing lists are power. Hire some dancers, which were good-looking men without shirts on. Give all the money to AIDS organizations.”
Billy Beson: “One minute the whole industry was run by beautiful gay men, the next minute everyone was dead. It was the most heartbreaking time in my life. But we had such huge fundraising parties. Smoke and Gregorian chants in International Market Square, ball gowns. I remember once, A Midsummer Night’s Dream was playing at the Guthrie. We rented a farmer’s field, had a 1,200-square-foot path mowed, put up a tent and a fountain, brought all the sets. I remember Merlin in a costume. All we did was fundraise, but the parties were unbelievable.”
Miss Richfield 1981
Drag icon; 1994–today
Russ King (Miss Richfield 1981): “I worked for the Minnesota AIDS Project, and I didn’t actually care for drag at the time. It was like, Oh it’s pride, there’s a guy dressed as a woman, shocker. But we had to recarpet at the AIDS Project, and it was a hassle. To celebrate it being over, we threw a big party. I took the old carpet, cut out stars and circles and made keychains for everyone, and dressed as Carpetina, with the gifts of carpet.
“Mark Addicks was having a party for Miss America, and my friend and I thought it would be funny to go as contestants. I was Miss Richfield 1981; he was Miss Little Rock 1986. But the joke was on us: I thought we were going to a party of 10 people. It was 100.
“Things really took off. Mark helped me put together a cabaret show at the Bryant-Lake Bowl; he got me connected to the Toyota Comedy Festival. Next thing you know I’m on stage with the Minnesota Orchestra doing Rodgers and Hammerstein. Orbitz, Provincetown, Atlantis Cruises, star of stage and sea.
“I will gladly be a landmark. Just know I’m more someone who created a character than a drag queen. I don’t do impersonations. I sing and use my own voice, and I guess I’ll use that voice now to note that AIDS pulled everybody together, even when their families were leaving them and all these terrible, truly terrible deaths were happening. But it pulled us together, and social distancing feels like it’s pulling us apart.”
“Lesbians. That’s a Word. For Me!”
Lesbian Parks and Rec Softball
South Minneapolis, 1970s and 1980s
Lisa Vecoli: “We had a softball team, the Fesbian Lemonists, sponsored by the Lion’s Tap. Softball was very significant.”
Gail Lewellan: “Amazon Bookstore sponsored two softball teams: the green team was the A league, the purple team was rec league. Oh, it was so much fun. The City of St. Paul had just voted to revoke a nondiscrimination ordinance for housing and employment, so everyone was saying, We’re not going to live in St. Paul anymore. The world wasn’t a safe place then. My first interaction with the word lesbian was someone yelling out the car window: “Goddamn fucking lesbians!” And I thought: lesbians. That’s a word. For me!
“On the softball sidelines there would be folding chairs, something to drink, and you settle in for a nice evening. It was never a place of conflict. You could just play and be competitive, be fair, have fun. And be normal.”
Various St. Paul locations; 1968–1984
Honey Harold, who died in 1994, was responsible, almost by herself, for lesbian nightlife in Minnesota. As a native St. Paul factory worker, she first opened Honey’s Roadhouse, north of St. Paul, then relocated and renamed it Honey’s Barn, near Dale and Como. When Honey’s Barn burned down (rumor had it as arson), Harold opened Foxy’s, at 249 West 7th, the longest running of Minnesota’s lesbian bars. And when Foxy’s closed, Harold opened Castle Royale and, finally, Rumors.
Lisa Vecoli: “The first time I went to Foxy’s, I left my girlfriend in the car, pulled open this blacked-out glass door, like, What’s inside there? I was nervous. The music was thumping, the flashing lights, the heavy haze of cigarette smoke. I turned around. It’s real!
“What did we wear? If you were feminine-appearing, then you were appealing to the male gaze. If you were butch you were appealing to stereotypes. You were supposed to be kind of androgynous: a lot of tennis shoes, T-shirts, and flannel shirts. And disco, Donna Summer, Gloria Gaynor, tequila sunrises and gin and tonics. There was nowhere better to wear your cool softball jacket.”
First Uptown and then Loring Park; 1984–1995
Mary Bahneman: “I was in the closet when I started it, with no thoughts of it becoming a gay restaurant. And then Equal Time [an LGBTQ newspaper] outed us.
“I moved to Loring Park in 1990, right next to Amazon Books. On Sundays it would be mayhem. We’d have a waiting list for most of the day. People always said one thing about Ruby’s: You could see who went home with who from the lesbian bars because of who came in for breakfast together. It was the place for lesbians to go on Sunday to see what happened on Saturday.”
“The City Was a Little Sexier In Those Days, But a Little More Innocent”: Meeting Up (and Hooking Up)
On Loring Park, in the space that’s now part of Café Lurcat; 1982–1984
Billy Beson: “We’d go there for breakfast, lunch—more of a liquid lunch. And the entertainment was the waiters. They had flawless bodies, tight pink shirts. Some taught aerobics next door and you could peek in and watch—Ye Gadz indeed. You could meet people so much easier then. Everyone wanted to meet someone: It was a lonely existence.”
John Veda: “I worked there in the mid-’80s, and it was the first openly gay-owned and gay-operated restaurant in Minneapolis. The location was key, right there on Loring Park. On Fridays and Saturdays we were open till 2 o’clock, so all the kids from the Saloon would come. It was a mad dash. The leather boys would shiver in their chaps, and the drag queens would hold court, and they’d all be standing in line. It was quite the scene. Everyone would get a fried chicken sandwich on a croissant with housemade chips and an Oreo malt.
“To be able to have a job, with two gay bosses, and a clientele that was gay, and to have no repercussions? It was special. The walls were Pepto-Bismol pink, and the tables and chairs were black lacquer—that ’80s art deco thing. And we wore pink button-down shirts and black shorts, with scrunchy pink or white socks and black penny loafers. Right out of the Preppy Handbook. Occasionally Tommy, the owner, would take a few people out, usually to the Saloon, and there was this air of, It’s the Ye Gadz boys!”
Gay beach near 32nd Street on the east side of today’s Bde Maka Ska; Hidden Beach (on Cedar Lake); Bare Ass Beach (on the Mississippi River)
Scott Mayer: “For me, that 32nd Street beach was the definitive place to meet people like me. Everybody had a beach towel, a chair. You wanted to get as tan as possible. There were boom boxes playing disco, and people would walk up and back to the refectory to check out the guys in bathing suits—and oh that beach volleyball.”
Russ King: “Cedar Lake’s Hidden Beach, it was like a nudist sort of place. You had to park your car and hike in. It was super relaxed, gay and straight, and people would just be naked. Public sex was reasonable at the time—there was lots of brush and foliage to tuck away in.”
Billy Beson: “For two or three blocks, [Glitter Beach] was all pretty tan boys in little Speedos, with a sidewalk going through the whole thing. And no one blinked or batted an eye. Hidden Beach: We used to go skinny-dipping there, after the bar scene—it would always get busted. We’d put our Speedos on and run to the car and get the hell out of there. The city was a little sexier in those days, but a little more innocent.”
“I Say I Was a Paid Gay”: Going Mainstream
4th Street and East Hennepin Avenue; 2000–2006
Charlie Rounds: “Oddfellows and Boom, the gay bar on Hennepin—that was my baby, along with four other guys, including Mark Addicks. We needed a place to take our parents; we needed a place to take our siblings. I remember the opening, January 13, 2000. It was the first gay bar in the state of Minnesota to have windows. That was such a huge deal. We felt so strongly that we would no longer live in the closet. We had 20-foot-high glass windows facing Hennepin Avenue, and it was vitally important that we would never hide, that we were no longer ashamed.
“On that opening night we had the front windows papered. And then I’ll never forget taking the paper down, ceremonially, at 5. Outside, it was snowing, it was dark, there was low cloud cover and this beautiful orange streetlight glow with this gentle snow—it was magic.
“So many people met their life partners at Boom. It was a very safe, nonsexual space. We had fundraisers, the Queer Eye guys came and did a fundraiser, Bea Arthur came to dinner. And of course it was really the gay man’s arrival to political power. We got three gay city council members, and nobody had that: not New York or Los Angeles.”
LGBTQ travel agency, University Avenue near the Witch’s Hat; 1985–2006
Charlie Rounds: “I say I was a paid gay. Kevin Mossier, who owned The Travel Company, started RSVP Travel to give 5 percent of the profits back to the gay community. And it grew into the largest gay company in the world, period. Kevin chartered a cruise ship in 1986, filling it with gay customers—it was the first time someone had done that on that scale. We printed a million inserts to put into gay newspapers around the country. We bought a 100-passenger cruise ship called the Sea Spirit. On the back it said: ‘Port of Minneapolis.’
“Our biggest business in the summer was cruising from New York up to Fire Island, Boston, Provincetown, docking overnight. The sad thing is that a lot of people took our cruises because they were dying, and they wanted to have one week of their lives to live in freedom before they died. To not be stared at and not be in fear.”
General Mills’ LGBTQ employee group, founded 1990s–present day
Mark Addicks: “The untold side of the marriage win in Minnesota was about internal corporate employee networks. The Human Rights Campaign came up with a genius strategy in the 1990s. The way to equality wouldn’t be through the federal government, given where the Republican party was and the way they used the gay community as a piñata. HRC created an equality index, ranking all the major companies. Anyone recruiting talent wanted to have a good rating. With these ratings, LGBTQ employee groups asked for meetings with executives to get the ratings up.
“When the Minnesota GOP started talking about an anti-gay-marriage amendment, behind the scenes, a lot of corporations said to the state GOP and chamber of commerce: This is against our employees; you don’t want to go there. Nevertheless, Michele Bachmann and her little friends, they thought they were going to win.
“What ensued was a number of private conversations inside major companies. Around Pride, General Mills hosts LGBTQ groups from other companies. And it was at that ceremony, the year of the vote, that our chairman came out to say General Mills would be against. This was major. After that, several corporations came out and said the same: We’re the same, we vote no. The joke we made at the time was, everyone just knows employee network groups as the most boring part of the Pride parade. But look at us now.”
“Excuse Me, What’s Stonewall?”
Various south Minneapolis locations, including 506 East 24th Street; 1986–present
Patrick Scully: “I started Patrick’s Cabaret because at the time, if I had work to show, first I had to get somebody else’s approval to get on their stage. When people talked of diversity, there was resistance to including gay and lesbian people. And without a place for queer-identified work, it would simply never be seen.
“I found I was HIV positive 6 months before the first Patrick’s Cabaret, and it gave me a clarity of purpose that allowed me to take risks.
“What I’m proudest of at Patrick’s was that even when we did a queer boys’ night, I always included a tag line like: It’s all gay boys performing on stage, but everyone is welcome. I think when we embraced everyone, it made some space for people to embrace us back.
“I was up in Detroit Lakes recently, touring my Walt Whitman show. And I met with the Gender and Sexuality Alliance at a local high school. I introduced myself, mentioning something like, ‘I’m one of the first post-Stonewall HIV-positive gay men out front in the culture in Minnesota.’
“Excuse me, what’s Stonewall? Someone else raised their hand: What’s HIV?
“Driving home I thought: OK, Patrick. Translate that into your own experience. If someone talked to me when I was that age in Roseville in the 1970s, about something 50 years earlier, that would have been the end of World War I—which to me then may as well have been ancient Greece. So I’ve been asking myself, ‘How do we pass on our experience and information to subsequent generations?’”