In honor of this weekend’s annual Twin Cities Pride festivities, we wanted to share an excerpt from the forthcoming book Queer Twin Cities, compiled by the Twin Cities GLBT Oral History Project. In this excerpt from the chapter “Gay Was Good: Progress, Homonormativity, and Oral History,” Kevin P. Murphy analyzes testimony from Twin Cities interviewees about changes in Pride events and local LGBT activism over the past four decades.
Many respondents, while recognizing positive changes associated with the gay and lesbian movement of the 1970s, resisted a characterization of the preceding period as “repressive.” For example, like many of those we interviewed, Lynda, a sixty-year-old white lesbian, looked back with nostalgic longing to the 1950s and 1960s: “Well, I think it’s unfair to just say that was a repressive time. I mean, I lived in that time and I know it was a warm and sweet and tender time.” Others spoke of some perceived losses that attended the “post-Stonewall” period. Tom, a fifty-nine-year-old white gay man, referred to some of the costs of gay visibility and the negative consequences of a politics of “coming out”:
When you’re known and you’re out you can also be an easier target for people’s homophobia, whereas in years gone by when people were closeted, maybe they could sneak through without getting the homophobic reaction. I mean, look at all the born-again Christians that are much more hostile to homosexuals than maybe they ever would have been in the past. Don’t you think that’s a part of what we’re dealing with now?
Judy, a fifty-nine-year-old lesbian, spoke about positive changes that emerged from identifying as lesbian and as a feminist, but also ruminated with some ambivalence about the consequences of the gay liberation and women’s movements. When asked about the challenges for younger generations, she responded:
Well, I think there are many, many more choices and life is consequently much more difficult because there are more choices to make. I followed a path that I thought I didn’t have any choice about and so I didn’t agonize about whether to have kids or not. They happened to me. And then I took care of them. And I loved them. So it’s a blessing and a curse to be nineteen now. More choices and more choices to make.
This ambivalence about the past was even more pronounced in testimony that dealt with changes in queer politics and culture over the past several decades. Some interviewees spoke of a decline in community feeling and politics. Judy, for example, answered a question about changes in the “lesbian community” over the previous twenty-five years as follows:
I don’t know that there really is much of a community anymore. I think people are scattered and integrated more. The whole idea, we were very downwardly mobile at the time. It was not okay to be middle-class or above. You were to be working-class. You were not to be making a lot of money. That has changed dramatically. People are allowed to make a lot of money. It’s valued. People are allowed to dress in a variety of costumes. People are allowed to be feminine or not. People are allowed to change genders, for that matter. People are well regarded if they raise children, if they stay together. This is all different. People are home. And family is important where before it was dancing and drinking and politics. Political action. There isn’t a lot of political action now.
For Judy, the stakes of losing a coherent community politics are high: “It’ll be too bad if we let our community splinter. You know, if it happens that our freedom start[s] being taken from us, we’re not going to have a way to fight that. And it could happen. It’s happened before.”
For her part, Claire identifies commercialization and corporatism as the engines of declension, as evinced by her comparison of early Twin Cities “Pride” events with those that took place decades earlier:
Of course, now it’s [Twin Cities Pride] just a mega-event. I think much too orchestrated, and much too commercial, in my opinion. In the early ’70s, there still was a sense of this kind of special, secret community, and there was something about the secrecy that was actually kind of appealing because it was—it was like a family, in kind of a way. And the other interesting thing is that you were thrown in with people of different socioeconomic groups than yourself, people with different interests than yourself, different professional areas, different races—in a way that you might not have been elsewhere.
Claire is not alone in recalling the excitement of secrecy and of claiming an outsider status. In a 2004 newspaper interview about early Pride events, for example, gay activist Gregg White recalled, “Back then, being out was scandalous and exciting, and walking into a gay club was almost revolutionary.”[i]
[i] Dylan Hicks, “Pride: How the Twin Cities Pride Fest Helped Turn Minneapolis into the San Francisco of the Wheat Belt,” City Pages, June 23, 2004.
Queer Twin Cities is forthcoming this fall from University of Minnesota Press.