Friday, February 29, 2008

New Giant Leather Pride and Rainbow Flags

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #333, February 29, 2008)

On February 16, I was at Vera’s Cafe in Minneapolis for what I thought would be a routine meeting of the Minnesota Leather Pride planning committee. Instead, to my surprise and delight, I was privileged to see history in the making.

Minnesota Leather Pride committee members at the meeting witnessed the signing of an agreement between Minnesota Leather Pride and Twin Cities Pride (formerly known as GLBT Pride/Twin Cities). The agreement is historic because it is the first official collaboration between the two groups.

The objects of their collaboration are the giant (approximately 76 feet by 29 feet) rainbow and leather pride flags that are carried up Hennepin Avenue every year as part of the Ashley Rukes GLBT Pride Parade. The flags, commissioned by Colin Spriestersbach and created by Carl Gscheidemeier (aka Allison Brooks), made their first appearance in the parade in 1998, and since have become beloved community institutions. But for several years both flags have been showing wear. So both are slated to be replaced—the leather pride flag in 2008 and the rainbow flag in 2009.

According to the agreement, both new flags will be jointly owned by Twin Cities Pride and Minnesota Leather Pride. Twin Cities Pride will be responsible for care and maintenance of the new rainbow flag and Minnesota Leather Pride will be responsible for care and maintenance of the new leather pride flag. (Similarly, any monies collected in the flags as they make their way along Hennepin Avenue during the Pride Parade, or at other events, will benefit the organization responsible for the flag into which the money is thrown.)

“This agreement is in keeping with Twin Cities Pride’s goal of reaching out to, and forging ties with, other local community groups,” said Twin Cities Pride president Bill Nienaber. Sam Carlisle, longtime member and chair of the Minnesota Leather Pride committee, said of the agreement, “We’re happy to be working with Twin Cities Pride. For a long time our two groups have been working independently toward the same goals. With this agreement we’ve joined forces to continue developing pride in both the GLBT community and the leather community.”

The agreement calls for the existing flags to be decommissioned and donated to historical organizations for safekeeping. Plans call for the existing leather pride flag to be donated to the Leather Archives & Museum (LA&M) in Chicago, while the existing rainbow flag will be deposited in the Twin Cities Pride archives, a part of the Tretter Collection, at the University of Minnesota. After decommissioning, both of the original flags will be displayed only as part of history presentations.

Why is this important? Why is it historic? For one thing, it shows the genius behind the original flags created in 1998—they were an idea whose time had come, and the fact that the flags are being replaced shows that they are still significant and meaningful symbols for their communities. Besides ensuring that twin giant flags will continue to be part of the Pride Parade every summer, the agreement also opens the way for taking the flags to other places and events.

But, even more than that, the agreement represents a bridge between two communities that are natural allies, and both communities are strengthened in the process. The agreement represents cooperation rather than separate co-existence. For me, as a gay leatherman, it’s a nice coming-together of two groups, both of which I feel reflect parts of my identity. It’s nice to see each group recognizing the other as valuable and worthy of cooperation.

Assuming the new leather pride flag can be procured in time for this year’s Pride Parade, a decommissioning of the old flag, and initiation of the new one, is planned as part of the parade. It probably will be an emotional, memorable and historic moment—much like what happened during last year’s parade when a plaque was presented to Gscheidemeier thanking him for his efforts in creating the existing flags.

This year, taking a cue from the current debate over marriage equality for gay men and lesbians, the theme of Minnesota Leather Pride is “Tie the Knot.” The Minnesota Leather Pride committee is planning its usual full schedule of Leather Pride events, and will be offering another in its continuing series of collectible Leather Pride dog tags.

The Twin Cities Pride theme for 2008 is “Free Your Mind.” In addition to its literal meaning, the theme coincidentally also serves as a reference to the pioneering Twin Cities gay-rights group FREE (Fight Repression of Erotic Expression). Founded in May of 1969 (please note: that’s pre-Stonewall), it survives to this day as the Queer Student Cultural Center at the University of Minnesota, making it the oldest college-student-run queer organization in the United States. More details of this year’s Twin Cities Pride activities will be announced in the days and weeks ahead.

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