Pride event held in Minot

At its peak, Saturday night’s Minot Pride event at Sweet and Flour Patisserie on East Central Avenue held 275 people. The enthusiastic turnout came as a bit of a surpise to the organizers of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender event, which was the first of its kind for the city.

“Sweet and Flour opened at 7 p.m. and people came right away,” said Travis Halleman, an active-duty service member stationed at Minot Air Force Base for nine years and one of the three organizers for the event. “And not just people from Minot but from Bismarck and pretty much from all over the place. And then, I swear, by 7:30 or 7:45, it was wall-to-wall.”

It surprised restaurant owner and chef Shonda Cool, as well.

“There was a line from the till to the Coke machine from 6:30,” Cool said, noting that the machine is in the building’s hallway. She also mentioned that she was running around all night, a little too busy to participate in the socializing as much as she wanted to.

“It’s been great for business,” she said, adding that she estimates about 275 people showed up. “You can never be too busy when you’re a small business.”

Included in those visitors were ministers from four Minot churches, multiple families, and all kinds of people, including many who had never been to the restaurant but were interested in supporting the cause.

“Well, I’ve been here for about two years and Travis has been here for about nine, and my partner for six, and there really hasn’t been a way for people to come together and socialize,” said Mike Toohey, a psychologist at Minot AFB and another co-organizer of the event. “You can go out drinking and that kind of stuff but there’s not a real way to connect or really start forming a community.”

Since June is National Pride Month, the organizers decided they wanted to actively create something and immediately went to Cool, who had known Toohey’s partner since he used to work with Cool’s sister-in-law.

“We started promoting it a week ago,” Toohey said Saturday. “The web page got 3,000 hits in that week and we’ve had people coming in all night long, people who have never been here before. So it really seemed to fill a need that people have been wanting in the community.”

Having lived in San Francisco for 20 years prior to moving to Minot to join up with his partner, Toohey didn’t know what to expect of North Dakota.

“I’m amazed at how welcoming and friendly and nice North Dakotans have been. I’m really impressed,” Toohey said.

That sentiment was shared by others at the event.

“I’ve been here since Friday and everyone’s been really, really nice,” said event-goer Charlie Brown, of Joplin, Mo., who came to Minot to participate in the Stars of Hope, a charity organization to help communities rebuild from disaster.

As for the future, the organizers have been taking suggestions on a board where people can vote on the next event. The orgnanizers would like to host one event a month. The winners so far have been a “Bark in the Park,” and a brunch, though the brunch would have to be at a business able to accomodate a large crowd.

“Different kinds of things, because people have different types of interests,” Toohey said of what other things might be in the works. “That’s what we’re looking for, any business we contact needs to be a win-win.”

The community seemed to be in full swing, and people left notes on what pride means to them.

Some define it simply, like “not being afraid” and “being yourself and loving it because you are beautiful,” while others wrote something more complex like “building relationships that transform perspectives and break down prejudices.”

Still, in keeping with the fun, some referenced Bill and Ted’s Excellent adventure and just wrote “Be excellent to each other.”