Smalltown pride: Pine City LGBT picnic changes hearts and minds


Pine City’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Pride picnic celebrated its fourth year on Sunday, an occasion that was made all the more because dozens of “pro-family” residents who’d planned to protest their right to assemble never showed.

Several hundred folks gathered in true Minnesota style at a VFW in Pine City to eat barbecue, try their luck in a quilt raffle, visit with neighbors and even a listen to a church choir. Pine City’s Pride picnic is the only truly rural LGBT Pride event in the nation and bills itself as the “World’s Biggest Little LGBT Pride.” The picnic draws LGBT people and their friends and family from all over east-central Minnesota and northwestern Wisconsin.

Rural life for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people has its rewards and challenges. Close-knit friendships, a high quality of life and close proximity to family are often coupled with extreme prejudice, lack of community resources and lack of equal rights. Those challenges can be markedly amplified in small towns.

Pride organizers had to contend with several dozen anti-gay protesters last year who called the barbecue-eating and quilt-raffling an example of the “appalling boldness and brazenness of this well-organized, radical fringe of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning community.” They also warned that the picnic ‘s organizers were working to “indoctrinate our children and grandchildren in our public school systems all over the United States….”

The ability to change hearts and minds is pronounced in a small town like Pine City: tight-knit communities mean neighbors get to know neighbors, and when they do, old prejudices fade.

This year’s picnic was a prime example. The brother of one of Pine City Pride’s organizers plays softball with the son of a woman who helped spearhead the anti-gay protest last year. The softball players showed up to show their support, including the son of last year’s “pro-family” protest organizer. Nathan Johnson, a pride organizer, recounts the pleasant surprise in the video clip.

Pride events in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community are about creating spaces for LGBT people to feel comfortable and secure in a society that still struggles to accept them. They are often held in large cities and conjure images of decadent drag queens, scantily clad men dancing and lesbians riding on motorcycles — definitely not the scene in Pine City. Regardless of the size of the community or the events planned, Pride brings together people with a shared experience: the experience of being LGBT.

Members of the LGBT community and their loved ones can get involved in year-round activities through the East Central Minnesota Men’s Circle. The group was founded in the 1990s to help build community and educate rural gay men about HIV, but the group has thrived and expanded into hosting the biggest little gay pride event in the world.