The underwear wasn’t the only thing that was red on the blustery afternoon of Dec. 1. Runners bolted with rosy cheeks, and rosy cheeks, across the Stone Arch Bridge in nothing but their unmentionables as part of the city’s first Red Undie Run.
It was snowing hard by the time the run began. Everyone huddled, backs to the wind while they waited. You wouldn’t have recognized the crowd moments later; the parkas and scarves were left behind in bags at the start/finish line, and everyone was bouncing foot to foot, warming up for the long haul from one end of the bridge to the other. With the wind bringing snow in sideways off of St. Anthony Falls, the roughly mile-long run wasn’t a leisurely jaunt.
December 1 is World AIDS Day, a day to remember people lost to the disease, support people currently infected, and push towards a future cure. The Red Undie Run was the first demonstration of its kind in Minneapolis according Dylan Boyer, who coordinated the event with The Aliveness Project. There was no fundraising component to the run; it was strictly meant to raise awareness surrounding HIV/AIDS, and to shed the stigmas surrounding the disease like so many discarded coats and sweaters.
“Strip off the stigma!” an onlooker cheered as the first runners crossed the finish line. “You’re beautiful! We love you!”
The Aliveness Project links people living with HIV/AIDS to resources to help them lead healthy lives. Their offices provide a food shelf and prepared meals, social support, health care for people living with the disease, and prevention for people who are not. They also organize several other fundraisers and events throughout the metro. Their next event, coordinated with Dining Out for Life, is coming up in April. Select restaurants throughout Minnesota will donate at least 20% of their profits made on April 30 to the Aliveness Project. Restaurants participating in Northeast include Hazel’s, Eli’s, Elsie’s, Market BBQ, Popol Vuh/Centro, Stanley’s, The Sample Room, and The Red Stag.
Though this was Minneapolis’s first, the idea of an undie run isn’t new. Boyer said he was inspired by a similar event in Chicago, his hometown. The inception of the Minneapolis version was only two months ago.
“It all happened very quickly,” said Boyer. There was no budgeted money for the event, since it came up on short notice, but the help of generous sponsors and dedicated volunteers helped bring the idea to life. “Personally, I couldn’t have asked for a better turnout.”
Guest speakers opened up the run with blessings and speeches. While he couldn’t be there in person, Mayor Jacob Frey wrote a proclamation to kick it off. Doug Melroe, who does the warm-ups for the annual Minnesota AIDS Walk each spring, lead a warm-up to get runners ready.
Representing the self-described “razzle-dazzle gaggle of drag nuns” Ladies of the Lake, Dominique Trix gave a blessing for the event. The Ladies are a chapter of the nationwide charity organization The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, and have a long history of advocacy for gay and trans rights and HIV/AIDS research.
“In the language of flowers, a red poppy symbolizes remembrance. In the language of runs, an underwear run aims to symbolically strip away stereotypes. The symbolism here is a run to remember and respect those who have died, while taking steps towards a better future for all,” Trix said.
“The Ladies of the Lakes hold a very dear, special place in my heart,” said Boyer. “Their mission is to go out, support, and create awareness. Historically, the Ladies of Perpetual Indulgence have been supporting HIV/AIDS advocacy since AIDS started in the ‘80s, so it just seemed right to have them there for the blessing as we remember the lives of those lost.”
It’s a little too early to say whether the Red Undie Run will become an annual fixture in Minneapolis, since Boyer is still going through his notes to debrief with the rest of Aliveness. Should it come back next year, Boyer said that he hopes to get feedback from volunteers and participants on how it could be improved.
“From the very beginning, I wanted this to be a community event, and I want that to continue…you can’t just do that with one or two voices, you do that collectively,” said Boyer.
Matt Toburen, The Aliveness Project’s executive director, added, “I suspect we will not lack for creative ideas.”
Below: Dominique Trix and the other Ladies of the Lakes led the charge of the city’s first Red Undie Run. Doug Melroe led a brief literal warmup before everyone shed their clothes. The first runner crossed the finish line shortly after; given the weather, the race was blessedly short. Dylan Boyer held the megaphone for Matt Toburen as he read the proclamation made in absentia by Mayor Jacob Frey, who had a scheduling conflict that day. (Photos by Alex Schlee)