The past 12 months have been rife with heightened political drama surrounding gay rights -- anti-gay marriage amendments, a gay bullying epidemic and President Obama's "coming out" in support of gay marriage. We might expect, then, that this year's 40th annual Twin Cities Pride weekend will be bigger and bolder than ever.
Six top events (bottoms also welcome)
THE BIG GAY PRIDE PARTY: AFTER GLOW
Gay Twin Cities' annual Big Gay Party certainly lives up to its name. This year, it's bringing on renowned New York club DJ Escape, who -- while identifying as straight -- holds a predominantly gay following. (It probably has something to do with his Vin Diesel looks.) Two former locals, DJ Rich B and DJ Shiek, are returning to town for opening sets. The night also features neon body painting, acrobatic performances, male go-go dancers and drink specials. (9:30 p.m. Fri. 6/22. $15-$20. Epic)
'GROWN & SEXY' PRIDE
DJ Shannon Blowtorch and burlesque performers Nadine DuBois and Sweetpea take their "Grown & Sexy" dance-and-striptease night to First Avenue for a special Pride edition. Performers include the cast of Dykes Do Drag, Black Hearts Burlesque and Sequin Sundays, plus Seattle's Iva Handfull, St. Louis' Ray Gunn and Chicago's Bazuka Joe. More event information.
PRIDE BLOCK PARTIES AT LUSH
Lush's three-day block party kicks off Friday with ladies who rock: Minneapolis' own punky power-pop girl rockers Sick of Sarah, rock trio turned reality TV stars Hunter Valentine (which recently joined the cast of "The Real L Word") and all-girl indie rockers Vanity Theft. The night is rounded out with a Blush dance party DJed by AJent Orange and $10 manicure-and-a-beer deals. (9 p.m. Fri. $20-$50.) Saturday, NYC rapper Cazwell performs with identical twin R&B/dance duo Nina Sky (9 p.m. Sat. $20. 18-plus). Sunday's lineup includes dance-music singer Dev, whose claim to fame is being sampled on "Like a G6." Also: R&B/dance singers Wynter Gordon and Anjulie. (4 p.m. Sun. 6/24. $30. 18-plus. Lush Food Bar.)
THE SALOON PRIDE BLOCK PARTY
R&B singer Mýa, who's been pretty low-key since her 2001 cover of "Lady Marmalade" with Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim and Pink for the "Moulin Rouge!" soundtrack, headlines the Saloon's block party with singer Crystal Waters, best known for her 1994 dance hit "100% Pure Love." Other acts include Simon Curtis, Pop Rocks and DJ David B, gay ex-NFL player Esera Tuaolo and drag queen Camille Collins. (4:30 p.m.-3 a.m. Sun. 6/24. $15-$20. 18-plus. The Saloon.)
TWIN CITIES PRIDE FESTIVAL & PRIDE IN CONCERT
The heart of Pride is the annual two-day festival in Loring Park, with vendors, booths, a beer garden, and lots and lots of socializing. The annual Pride in Concert, usually the domain of '80s novelty acts, has a bona fide, modern-day hitmaker -- Destiny's Child co-founder Kelly Rowland -- slated to headline, along with Sick of Sarah, Spearz, Rich B and Helen Back. More event information.
ASHLEY RUKES GLBT PRIDE PARADE - WITH BRUNCH
The ever flamboyant Pride parade strolls down Hennepin Avenue in downtown Minneapolis starting at 11 a.m. Sunday — and the swankiest way to take it all in has to be a rooftop brunch. Back for another year is “Bitch n Brunch,” hosted by drag queen Bitch Flowers on Seven Sushi’s rooftop, with DJ Shiek, gift bags, an all-you-can-eat brunch buffet and a bird’s-eye view of the parade. (9 a.m.-2 p.m. Sun. $10-$30. Seven Sushi Ultralounge and Skybar, 700 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.) Lavender Magazine hosts "Pride Central" with brunch and prizes. (9 a.m.-2 p.m. Sun. $10-$30. Crave, 825 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.) The Gay 90's has the best bang for your buck, with a $9 breakfast buffet, mimosa and Bloody Mary specials and the Pride Drag Show. (9-11 a.m. Sun. 6/24. Gay 90s.)