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When The History You Find Is Your History

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by Garrett Hoffman, PhD student in Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development.

Double Life letter to FREE.jpgMy assignment was to investigate connections between an aspect of the history of American higher education and current realities. My chosen topic was LGBT student run organizations at the University of Minnesota. Having grown up a queer kid in Minneapolis, I figured this topic was salient enough to produce a somewhat interesting paper.

I anticipated finding useful information in the Tretter Collection. What I wasn't prepared for was the journey on which these documents would take me. Paging through the chronicles of the founding of FREE, one of the first LGBT student run organizations in the country, I realized that had I been born just 40 years earlier, my life would have been drastically different. The box I was looking through contained letters sent from all over the country to FREE. They were filled with desperation, audacity, hope, and an overwhelming sense of camaraderie - folks searching for love and for a community, some of them desperate for queer space, something my life contains in abundance. It was an intense juxtaposition.

Gene Damon letter to FREE.jpgI found plenty to produce a quality paper but more importantly, I was granted a glimpse into part of the history of my community. Working in higher education for most of my adult life, I know that student movements are often powerful and the founding of FREE was no exception. Looking at the documents in the Tretter Collection was somehow different than reading one of many history books written about the gay liberation movement. I was transported and could get a small glimpse of what LGBT life was like not that very long ago.



History In The Marriage License

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I spend a lot of time looking at old things. Some of my colleagues work with items hundreds of years old. In the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender archive that I curate, "old" usually means the 1950's - 70's. That may not seem old, but the decades since have seen enormous social change and the items capture moments in time that might otherwise vanish.  

Marriage License Application form groom and bride.jpgOne of those moments in time will happen tomorrow. Last month the Legislature voted to make Minnesota the 12th state in the country to legalize same-sex marriage. By law, August 1, 2013 will be the first day same-sex marriages are performed and legal in the state. Tomorrow the large counties in Minnesota will begin taking early applications for same-sex marriage licenses.

What will vanish is a link back to 1970. On May 18 of that year, Jack Baker and Michael McConnell applied in Hennepin County, Minnesota, for the first same-sex marriage license in the United States. At the time, neither the laws nor the application form imagined such a thing and did not preclude it. In the publicity and furor that resulted, Minnesota and many other states passed legislation that explicitly outlawed same-sex marriage.

The Minnesota application for a marriage license enforced gender in several ways. One section is labeled "Groom." It includes a box for the applicant's sex. There is only one circle, "M," and the form comes completed. The next section for the "Bride" also has only option, again already marked "F."

The Happiness of Simple Things

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Life is best when simple things bring us pleasure. And last week I had a wonderful day, topped off by my getting a new cart.

There were a number of things I failed to anticipate when I started working at the archives. I had not been aware of how many boxes we have to move. Or of how heavy they would be. For example, next week I am getting a shipment of newspapers from California - 350 pounds worth. They will be mine to unpack, process and shelve. I had not connected "Assistant Librarian" with "weight lifter." Now I know.

mass of carts web.jpgI also had not imagined the fixation I would develop with carts. The ones at Andersen Library may have one, two or three shelves. They come in a rainbow of colors - red, black, grey or tan. The worst are the tall skinny blue ones that carry only three boxes and tend to tip over crossing the threshold of the elevator. For serious jobs, we even have yellow plywood carts that hold 12 boxes at a time. The newest ones are some combination of orange and salmon which, sadly, is just as ugly as it sounds. I have become quite the student of carts. I confess I have gone so far as to ogle the carts of my colleagues in the elevator.

The one constant is that there are never enough carts. You often need one for each researcher and others for projects underway. I would like a dozen carts, but for now I have access to: 2 blue carts; 2 grey cars; and one deluxe three shelf red cart. The red one is new to me and my prize possession. All four wheels spin. It is well balanced, low to the ground, stable and holds 9 boxes. I thought I was in love with it. Until last week.


Dear Ann.JPGPauline Phillips, better known as "Dear Abby," passed away this week at the age of 94. Her support for gays and lesbians is noted in many of her obituaries including those in The Advocate and the Minneapolis StarTribune.

In the era of Facebook, CNN, instant communication and the internet, it may be hard to remember (or imagine) the impact that Pauline and her sister, Esther Friedman Lederer who wrote "Dear Ann," had on popular culture and social attitudes.

The Tretter Collection in GLBT Studies recently received a clipping collection from Robert Halfhill. Robert started saving news reports on GLBT issues in 1970. By the time he donated his collection it filled 20 boxes and included local newspapers, national publications and a number of GLBT publications.

Sorting through the first boxes, the early years don't take up much space. The file from 1973 has a few national articles and 12 clippings from the Minneapolis Tribune. In that dozen are 2 letters to the editor and 6 Dear Ann columns. If you were a Tribune reader that year, half of the mention of homosexuality you saw in your local paper may have been from the advice column. The next year has more clippings but Dear Ann remains a leading source of information. Out of 54 clippings that mention homosexuality in the Tribune during 1974, 14 were letters to the editor and 10 were Dear Ann columns.

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the Tretter category.

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