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MPR’s Laura Yuen reports on the 23rd annual National Conference on LGBT Equality being held in downtown Minneapolis. As part of report, Yuen talks with longtime local gay residents Tom Trisko and John Rittman, who see acceptance toward gay and lesbian couples having broadened beyond their imagination in the past three decades.


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LAURA YUEN: John Rittman and Tom Trisko say in the 37 years they've been together, acceptance toward gays and lesbians has broadened beyond their imagination. Ritman recalls how plans for a one block street dance in honor of gay pride once caused a stir at Minneapolis City Hall.

JOHN RITTMAN: Since then, I mean, it's incredible. You walk along Hennepin Avenue and for gay pride, you see the banners and everything like that, and the mayor shows up and all these officials. So it's been a sea change.

TOM TRISKO: When I used to go to the first couple gay pride festivals in Loring Park back in the early '70s, we used to hide behind the trees so that we wouldn't be on TV that night and embarrass our parents and have our bosses know that we were gay.

LAURA YUEN: Sitting at their dining room table in Minneapolis, the men aren't shy anymore about making their commitment to each other known. In 2005, they got married in Canada. And last year, they filed a lawsuit challenging a Minnesota law defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Five states allow same-sex marriage. Trisko, a retired economist, notes that the last time a Minnesota court issued a ruling on gay marriage was in the early '70s.

TOM TRISKO: So we feel that it's time the society has changed so much in the last 40 or 45 years that it's time to bring the issue up again and hopefully get a different ruling.

LAURA YUEN: The couple sees gay marriage as one of the biggest fights ahead for the LGBT community in Minnesota and across the country. And it will be among the host of issues discussed in workshops at this week's conference. Organizer Russell Roybal of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force says a lot of folks are excited to make the trip to Minneapolis, a place that the Advocate Magazine concluded was the gayest city in America.

RUSSELL ROYBAL: Well, I'm here to tell you the gay city is about to get a lot gayer.

LAURA YUEN: Roybal says the conference organizers recruited the most volunteers in the history of the event and raised the most corporate cash. Best Buy, General Mills, and Xcel Energy are helping sponsor the event. The last year saw a major victory for the LGBT community and the repeal of the military's policy of don't ask, don't tell. Roybal says Minnesota was seen as a leader in the early 1990s when it became one of the first states to pass a law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. But he says advocates are concerned that this legislative session opponents will try to push for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

RUSSELL ROYBAL: Now we're trying to use. The gathering and the conference as a way to help galvanize the community here in Minnesota to prepare for what could be a not so pretty fight around marriage.

LAURA YUEN: Tom Prichard, who heads the Minnesota Family Council, says he's been talking to lawmakers about introducing a new bill that would put the marriage question on the ballot. Prichard says now is the best time in years to raise the issue because Republicans control both the state senate and house.

TOM PRICHARD: Now you have majorities which are sympathetic to the marriage question and the marriage amendment. So certainly the political landscape is changed, and I think that bodes well for where the marriage amendment is at.

LAURA YUEN: Prichard says most Minnesotans oppose same sex marriage. Back at the Minneapolis home, Tom Trisko and John Rittman say they're especially concerned as they approach their 70s. Rittman says the recent death of their friend made them realize how differently gay couples were treated under the law. Because their deceased friend had no close relatives, Rittman says, the hospital couldn't release the body to his partner of 40 years.

JOHN RITTMAN: They had to call a distant cousin who lives in England who didn't even know that Frank had cancer, didn't even know that he was in a hospice, hadn't seen him for like 12 or 14 years. And David, the whole time is standing there holding Frank's dead hand crying.

LAURA YUEN: Rittman and Trisko say they do think gays will be allowed to marry in the state eventually. They just don't know if they'll live long enough to see the day. Laura Yuen, Minnesota Public Radio News, Minneapolis.

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