People of color stage marks 15 years at festival
A question many people may have asked themselves when attending Twin Cities Pride this past weekend is, “Will it be different after Orlando?” The mass shooting attack on an Orlando, Florida LGBTQ nightclub that left 49 dead and 53 injured happened during the traditional month filled with Pride festivals all over the U.S., of which the festival in Minneapolis is one of the largest.
The question I asked myself as I was preparing to attend the Pride parade on Sunday was, “Will Orlando make Pride, or any other LGBTQ event or space, any different for people of color?” After all, almost all the victims of the shooting were people of color (POC) and mostly Latino/a. Does the shooting make lesbian/ gay/ bisexual/ transgender/ queer or straight people of color feel less safe?
“Unfortunately, I don’t think queer people of color will feel any less safe,” declares Roxanne Anderson, this year’s Pride parade grand marshal. “Mass murder of POC bodies is not new to us. We know it well… I think Orlando only reminds us that bias is a real thing, and hatred and fear cause humans to act irrationally.”
Anderson is, among many other things, a founder of the Power to the People (P2P) Stage at the Pride Festival. P2P started 15 years ago as project of the now-defunct organization Minnesota Men of Color, for which Anderson worked as a coordinator. Anderson’s LGBTQ POC arts and entertainment company, Rare Productions, continued to pay for space at Pride to provide performance space for LGBT people of color and information table space for POC organizations who otherwise could not afford to pay for a booth at the festival.
For years, P2P has been an oasis of multiple POC cultures at the overwhelmingly White Pride: the only place at the festival where attendees could hear hip hop and salsa music and see spoken-word artists, Aztec dance troupes, and African American drum-and-dance drill teams.
This year at the Pride parade, among the numerous corporate sponsors and electioneering politicians, I saw the strongest people of color presence ever at this event. A tribute march named “Recordamos Orlando (Remember Orlando)” was made up of a diverse group of people who each held up a sign with the name and age of one of the victims of the shooting.
This was followed immediately by a woman singing in Spanish with a conga drummer on a truck bed, marchers flying a rainbow-colored Puerto Rico flag, and a group of young women dancing in traditional Puerto Rican dress. About half the victims of the Orlando shooting were of Puerto Rican descent.
A group of Aztec/ Mesoamerican dancers and drummers came afterward, concluding the tribute to Orlando’s Latino/a victims and survivors. Later in the parade, UNL Drum and Dance, an African American youth drill team, were dressed in pink t-shirts as they danced down Hennepin Avenue. I could not help but note that these people-of-color cultural dance troupes that once were only seen at the Power to the People stage are now performing in the parade.
Another notable diverse group that marched in the parade was “Caravan of Love: Muslims Against Homophobia,” which included women of color wearing hijabs, traditional Islamic clothing that includes scarves covering their heads. This group got loud cheers from the crowd, as they were breaking with the image of Muslims as haters of LGBTQs the violence in Orlando helped to perpetuate.
After the parade, the Power to the People Stage continued its role of providing entertainment by and for people of color, including the UNL Drum and Dance troupe and most notably the stage’s first nationally known performer: Frenchie Davis, the American Idol and The Voice contender who came out as bisexual in 2012. She wowed the crowd with her own renditions of Katy Perry’s “Fireworks” and “Home” from the musical The Wiz, and she proudly declared her happiness at performing for “her community.”
With snagging this celebrity for its stage, P2P seems to be at the peak of its success. However, this year marks both the 15th anniversary of the stage and a new transition: Starting next year, Rare Productions will be handing over the P2P stage to new management.
“That is a mixed bag of emotion,” Anderson says about P2P and the transition. “I am certainly happy it is still around. I am happy that there is a recognized importance. I love giving opportunity to other folks and believe in passing the baton.”
Though Roxanne Anderson and Rare Productions have exercised control over the operations of the P2P stage since its origins 15 years ago, after P2P became an “official” stage at the Pride festival a few years back, festival officials technically have authority over the entertainment P2P features, potentially including acts that may not fit in with P2P’s original mission. This has led to concerns that, with Rare Production’s departure, the stage’s future may be uncertain.
“I also feel like because it’s big and cool and according to many the best stage at Pride, there has been a strong push to change the nature and intent of the stage, to have ownership over intellectual property that comes from me and other people of color,” Anderson adds. “Integration doesn’t always benefit the people being integrated as much as it does the colonizer.”
This brings me back to my original question: Will Orlando make Pride, or any other LGBTQ event or space, any different for people of color? Any more inclusive? Any safer?
Only time will tell.
Stephani Booker welcomes reader responses to email@example.com. See for more photos by Chris Juhn below.
Updated 6/27/2016, 8:30 pm