The Men’s Circle and Pine City Pride By Bill Burleson
In Minnesota, we have a wealth of Pride Festivals. In addition to the behemoth that is Twin Cities Pride, there’s Duluth/Superior Pride over Labor Day weekend, Mankato Pride the following weekend, Rochester Pride in July, and in nearby Wisconsin there’s La Crosse Pride. And then there’s what’s been called “possibly the smallest Pride Fair in the world:” Pine City Pride. The Pine City extravaganza is hosted by the East Central Men’s Circle. Since 1999 men from Cambridge to Barnum meet every two weeks at a restaurant in Hinkley to offer support, community and an end to the isolation so common for rural GLBT people. So what happened when they held their third annual Pride Picnic in a park in Pine City? One might say the fertilizer hit the fan. After seeing the Pine City Pride flyers hanging around the area, a local group announced there would be a “pro family” picnic protesting Pine City Pride. Why the protest? As reported at KARE 11.com, one anti-Pride person said of the Men’s Circle men, “They’ve become brazen and bold.” Yeah, you don’t want your gays to be doing nefarious activities such as, *gasp* having a picnic. The day of the picnic people come from all over, including a handful of people at the promised anti-Pride held right across the river. Even more brazen, the fine folks (and by fine folks, I of course mean self-deluded internalized homophobia poster children)
from Exodus International set up a table right by the Pride picnic, ready to win converts to the beautiful world of self-hatred. And the press showed up. Big time. There were stories in the major dailies and on the ten o’clock news. Many of the organizers were outed in a big way. Does that sound horrible? Not according to the Men’s Circle men. First of all about the press. There’s the old truism: there’s no such thing as bad publicity. With all this free publicity, men who otherwise wouldn’t have heard about the picnic were able to find out about it. “There are now fifty people on our mailing list,” says Don, one of the organizers. That’s how Marcus heard about the picnic, and he’s been involved with the Men’s Circle ever since. “There’s a level of security, stableness, here that I didn’t find with other groups.” He’s going through a rough divorce, and says the Men’s Circle has been a real lifesaver. “I feel comfortable in my skin for the first time.” The publicity brought Jeff to the group, too. “I was looking in Lavender Magazine, and I saw this thing, ‘Pine City Pride,’ so I went.” He adds, “They are a great group of guys.” Plus, as it turns out even getting outed wasn’t so bad. Gary, a retired school teacher, tells me he came out in a story about the picnic in the Star Tribune. He’s received nothing but support. “I’ve had former students come and say how ‘even though you are gay, you’re still a good guy.’” Most importantly, everyone agreed the event itself was a good time, with barbeque, music, and kids running around. “I felt like I was at a great big family reunion,” says Marcus. Don adds, “I thought it was great!”
Don’t think all this has made them bitter or caused them to re-think their choice of communities. “I think it’s better here than in the city,” Jeff says. “Sure, you have your crazies, but you get that anywhere.” When asked if he’s ever been a victim of harassment, Don replies, “I haven’t. I don’t know anyone who has.” Most importantly, the right-wingers haven’t scared off the men of the Men’s Circle. They are more involved than ever. According to Don, “We’re going to Duluth/Superior Pride. We do World AIDS Day….we’re involved.” One thing they re especially proud of is that they’ve started doing programming in schools, offering “antibullying workshops.” I tell this tale in part because I am just blown away by what these guys went through and how incredible they all are. But even more, I am reminded of the resilience our community often exhibits in the face of oppression. It occurs to me that leadership, and courage, can often be found in what may seem like the most unlikely places, including a restaurant in Hinkley. But there is one question left to ask: why a Pine City Pride? With all the crap they faced, why do it at all? According to Marcus, “I just want to be me.” “Brazen and bold” indeed.
For more information about the East Central Men’s Circle, visit www.menscircle.org. Comments? Have a group I should know about? Want to read old columns? Visit www.forwhomthebilltolls.org.