Minnesota Army National Guard Members Attend Record-Breaking Twin Cities Pride Festival
June 23-25, 2023 (Minneapolis, Minn.) – On a mid-afternoon day, members from the Minnesota National Guard’s (MNNG) LGBTQ+ Special Emphasis Council began setting up their information booth along the dog park in the northeast corner of Loring Park’s 34-acre site. For what was expected to be the largest turnout in Twin Cities Pride’s history, the three-day event did not disappoint. Andi Otto, the Executive Director for Twin Cities Pride, stated the event “is now the second largest event in Minnesota by attendance.” Last year attendance reached 450,000, and even more are expected this year.
Being here “means a lot, that it shows that not only we are part of the National Guard, but that they (Pride goers) are here for us as well, as a community,” Staff Sergeant Wendy Rivera noted. The record-breaking turnout resulted in thousands of Pride goers visiting with members of the Minnesota National Guard throughout the long weekend. The conversations and interactions were filled with smiles, laughter, and genuine interest in understanding the Minnesota National Guard and who serves in it. “I think it’s great to see different service members from different ethnicities and groups being here together.”
Over a dozen volunteers from the LGBTQ+ Council supported the event, which included Soldiers and Airmen from both the officer and enlisted ranks. Their purpose was to serve as ambassadors from the Minnesota National Guard and to engage the public, dispel myths about serving and build trust with the community, all while having fun and watching Pride goers do some pushups for some of the free swag.
Sergeant Brittney Rislund has been the council manager for about a year. She is focusing her efforts on increasing awareness for all the councils, especially the LGBTQ+ council, and to grow the membership. There are many benefits to being a member of the Special Emphasis Councils. Getting involved supports the Adjutant General’s organizational objectives, “Being involved really helps (minorities) be seen and want to stay in. Having a more diverse force – it’s cool to see how our diversity has grown.”
“I believe in volunteerism, I believe in community work, so this is my joy. Wherever I’m at, where there is work, whether it’s my free time, I’m usually helping out.” Specialist Soloman Tilleskjon was adopted from Ethiopia and, while growing up in Minnesota, had to lean a lot on his community and now wants to give back. One of the significant benefits of volunteering on the councils is the networking opportunities. “I highly, highly encourage people to be a part of special emphasis groups or business groups…you are meeting people that are a lot higher rank that could probably help you out later in your career; this is the place to be.”
For Technical Sergeant Ember Pekarna, one of the main objectives of the councils is to educate leaders. “I think it’s really useful, and it provides an education point that is super important, so for me being non-binary, it’s maybe not something that is super visible.” So, “it’s really important to have the resources of the Diversity and Inclusion Office and along with Equal Opportunity where a supervisor can go to.”
Another objective of the Special Emphasis Councils is helping leaders, mentors, sponsors, and allies ensure that all members of the Minnesota National Guard can be their true selves while serving, and Ember believes she can. “At this point, I think everyone is comfortable with who I am and they know I’m a hard worker, and really that’s what matters; the work I do and what I offer the team.”
By Col. Eduardo Suarez
Minnesota National Guard