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Four decades of gay archives offered to the University of Minnesota

(Blogmensgo, gay blog of October 29, 2015) The legal fight about gay marriage in the USA started in 1972 when the Supreme Court rejected the demand for a marriage license by Michael McConnell and Jack Baker (case Baker vs. Nelson). Fourty-three years later, the highest US court legalized same-sex marriage for the whole country. On October 26, 2015, the couple offered their complete LGBT archives to the University of Minnesota.

The Gay Revolution

Click to enlarge. ©Simon & Schuster.

Michael McConnell and Jack Baker became part of the American LGBT history when they were the first gay couple to ask for a marriage license on May 18, 1970, which was immediately rejected. Ever since that day, they have kept all documents and objects about the battles and victories of their couple and of the LGBT community.

They gave the University of Minnesota no less than 80 cartons of archives: Letters, photos, legal documents, badges, flags and marching outfits, flyers and invitations. It has been quite helpful that one of the two is a librarian.

However, Michael McConnell, aged 73, is not just a librarian like any other. In 1970, when people found out that he was gay and wanted to marry a man, the university council of the University of Minnesota canceled a previously made offer to hire him as a librarian.

Michael took legal action against this decision and won in the first instance. But then, in October 1971, a second-instance court confirmed the right of the University of Minnesota to refuse the position of a librarian to a known homosexual. Back then, homosexuality was seen as a fault, a sin or even a mental disease, and sexual acts between men were subject to criminal prosecution.

Victory, by Linda Hirshman

Victory! ©HarperCollins.

Four decades later, the two men decided to leave their archives to the Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in GLBT Studies of the University of Minnesota. However, Jack Baker asked for a written excuse of the University before doing so.

The current president of the University, Eric Kaler, did that in 2012 and explained that such behavior would not be admissible today. In the meantime, the University has received all the archives to go through.

Since there are numerous very personal documents, the two donators have asked that those personal documents shall only be looked at after their death. For now, the history researchers have access to 34 cartons of materials.

It comes as a late satisfaction to Michael McConnell that the university that had once refused to hire him is now taking care of his archives of a life of love and of fight for gay rights.

Additional comments: Two books were published recently on the fight for LGBT rights in the United States.

Most recently, Lillian Faderman wrote The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle (New York, Simon & Schuster, 816 pages, September 2015). For more information, read the recent review by the New York Times Book Review.

The other reference book was written by Linda Hirshman and is called Victory: The Triumphant Gay Revolution (2012, hardback; HarperPerennial, 464 pages, paperback in 2013).

Lillian Faderman’s book presents a view more focused on lesbian activism whilst Linda Hirshman focuses more on gays. Neither one of the books covers transsexual subjects very thoroughly – maybe because of a lack of documentation and eyewitness accounts.

Frank-S / MensGo
(Nach Star Tribune of October 26, 2015)

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