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The influence of Sen. Allen Spear on the LGBT movement in Minnesota cannot be understated. He was the first openly gay elected official in Minnesota, and one of the first in the nation. First elected from a district encompassing the University of Minnesota, he rose to become the President of the Minnesota Senate in 1992, a position he held until 2000. It was the highest level an openly LGBT person had attained to that point in history.

He came out in 1974. At that time, he was the first gay legislator to come out. A lesbian lawmaker, Rep. Elaine Noble, had come out earlier that year.

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In an interview in 1993 for the Twin Cities Gay and Lesbian Community Oral History Project, Spear recalled his coming out process.

I think it was a process that began in 1972. I came out publicly in 1974 so, I think the process was a two year one. Although, in another sense, coming out never ends. You are constantly coming out; I’m still coming out even today twenty years later. I’m still coming out because, you still keep meeting people who don’t know. You still have to decide when you are going to be out and when you aren’t.
The process really began in 1972, when I started telling friends, political associates, colleagues here at the University. I gradually became more and more open in 1974, when I suppose the most dramatic part of my coming out was when I gave an interview to the Minneapolis Star. It was a front page story in the Star about my coming out.

In his autobiography, Crossing the Barriers, Spear recounted the reaction of his coming out among his colleagues:

I learned that at a meeting of the DFL caucus steering committee, [Senator] Baldy Hanson [of Austin] had offered a resolution appropriating a hundred dollars to any member of the caucus who was a homosexual so that he could go to a psychiatrist and get cured. [Senate Majority Leader] Nick Coleman shut him up and quickly moved to the next item on the agenda. When I heard this story, my reaction was, “What a cheapskate! You can’t even get into a psychiatrist’s door for a hundred dollars.” And a few weeks later, [Senator] Florian Chmielewski [of Sturgeon Lake] wrote a letter to the Duluth News Tribune calling my coming out “a maneuver on behalf of secular humanism, a religion which denies the existence of God and glorifies pleasure.” My announcement, he warned, “should sound the alarm to every Minnesota citizen who believes in maintaining our Judeo-Christian ethics.”

I was determined that these isolated expressions of hostility were not going to discourage me. I was wholly comfortable with what I had done and felt better about myself than I ever had in my life. I would never again have to be ambivalent about who I was. I was now proudly and affirmatively gay.

Spear was instrumental in advancing the 1993 Minnesota Human Rights Act which banned discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the first inclusive law of its kind in the nation.

Spear told the Oral History project about the climate over LGBT rights:

My activities were pretty constant. I continued to have, as my major goals, passage of a gay human rights law in the state, repeal of the sodomy laws. Of course when AIDS came along, then the agenda began to shift. That was the early eighties. Then, of course, we also had the agenda of getting funding for AIDS education and fighting discrimination on the basis of AIDS hysterical reactions. A new agenda came along in the early 1980’s with AIDS. But until that came along, the agenda remained pretty steady. We had some disagreements over how broad to make the agenda. Jack Baker had been a big advocate of gay marriages. Some of us didn’t push that very hard. In 1975, we also had a split in the community over whether to push for the inclusion of transgender people in the state human rights law. Steve and I took the position that we couldn’t do that and weren’t ready for that. We should just try to get a state gay and lesbian rights protection. There were people who objected to that, particularly Tim Campbell. I think Steve, myself and others, who were working on what we saw as the kind of mainstream movement here, were pretty steady in what we were doing and pretty constant in our agenda until AIDS came along and forced that agenda to be broadened.

In 1993, Spear gave an impassioned speech convincing the Legislature to pass the Human Rights Act. According to Minnpost, he said:

“I’ve been told by many people that oppose this bill that sexual orientation should not be included in the human rights law because it is a choice, because it is a choice that people make, and if they make a choice, they can change that choice. Well, let me tell you, I’m a 55-year-old gay man and I’m not just going through a phase.

“I can assure you that my sexual orientation is not something I would choose like I would choose to wear a blue shirt and a red tie today. Why in the world would I have chosen this? … I did everything I could to change: I dated girls, I denied my inner feelings, I sought psychiatric care.

“. . . .I could do nothing about what I was. I did make a choice. My choice had to do with how I would deal with who I was. I chose, after many years of hiding who I was, to be open, to be who I am and to live my life without shame or apology and that’s a choice I’ve never regretted.”

Spear retired from the Minnesota Legislature in 2000, and he passed away in 2008 on October 11, National Coming Out Day.

“He was a brilliant thinker and such a generous friend who was deeply committed to economic and social justice,” Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis, told the Star Tribune at the time.

Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, won Spear’s old district keeping the seat firmly in LGBT hands. “Allan had a huge impact on my life, and the lives of many,” Dibble told the Star Tribune. “He was influential nationally on human rights issues. His contribution to the community cannot be overemphasized.”

Here are the details of the dedication event on Oct. 11:

[sws_yellow_box box_size=”100″] Dedication Event: Allan Spear LGBT Equality Colonnade

Allan Spear was a former state Senate president who was one of the first openly gay male legislators in the U.S. Spear is renowned for his monumental efforts in the passage of the Human Rights Act in 1993, which protected LGBT Minnesotans from discrimination. He lived less than a block from the Colonnade site for decades.

Spear served 28 years in the Minnesota Senate and was its president from 1992–2000. In 2008, the Minnesota Historical Society named Spear as one of the most influential 150 people in the state as part of Minnesota’s Sesquicentennial celebration.

LGBT activists from Join the Impact-Twin Cities have planned and raised money for the project over the past two years. People for Parks has been helpful in assisting the group by acting as the fiscal agent for this project. The LHENA Board unanimously supported the plan in May 2011, followed by the full Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

With design help from TangleTown Gardens, plantings have been completed by JTI volunteers and a dedication is planned for Saturday October 11, at 11 am in Mueller Park. Peers of Allan and neighbors will speak. Light refreshments will be served. [/sws_yellow_box]

[sws_blue_box box_size=”100″] Details
Date: Saturday, October 11 at 11:00am
Location: Mueller Park, 2500 Bryant Ave S, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55405
For more information, visit Facebook [/sws_blue_box]

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Andy Birkey

Andy Birkey has written for a number of Minnesota and national publications. He founded Eleventh Avenue South which ran from 2002-2011, wrote for the Minnesota Independent from 2006-2011, the American Independent from 2010-2013. His writing has appeared in The Advocate, The Star Tribune, The Huffington Post, Salon, Cagle News Service, Twin Cities Daily Planet, TheUptake, Vita.mn and much more. His writing on LGBT issues, the religious right and social justice has won awards including Best Beat Reporting by the Online News Association, Best Series by the Minnesota chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, and an honorable mention by the Sex-Positive Journalism awards.

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