Recent legislation and rulings related to LGBT rights, particularly the Supreme Court vote on marriage equity sent me poking around my own memory to reflect on what has been a long struggle. For whatever reasons the voices of individual leaders, some not well known, echoed in my aural memory. Knowing I had never met the speakers I realized the source of those memories be radio – more specifically public radio. And that led me to explore the voluminous audio archives of Minnesota Public Radio. Poking around this rich reservoir of oral history rekindled images and voices that, in turn, open up huge mental archives of dormant memories.
My quest was very specific – to track the evolving story of LGBT rights in Minnesota so I forced myself to focus – not easy because the audio chapter on “Civil Rights in Minneapolis” offered far too many tempting side roads – 152 to be on that one topic to be exact.
My first reminder was that it wasn’t until 2001 that the State of Minnesota officially decriminalized homosexuality. The first bit of recorded oral history in the MPR archives dates from a poignant interview from the June 12, 1972 DFL Convention in which Jack Baker talks about the parallel goals of the women’s caucus and the gay rights caucus. Baker’s prescient observations span four decades of history.
Later in 1972 St. Paul native author and activist Kate Millett is recorded speaking at Macalester not specifically about gay right but about discrimination evidenced by the failure to pass the ERA.
State Senator Allan Spear, prominent equality advocate, is recorded in 1974 talking about the formation of the Minnesota Committee for Gay Rights, a step to move the issue into the mainstream.
In a 1976 interview Senator Spear talks about the need to distinguish between moral and non-moral issues in making legislative decisions. A legislator must represent independent judgment, Spear contends, particular in the case of human rights issues.
There is an interview with Senator Dean Johnson reflecting on the gay rights bill vote in 1993. The bill prohibiting discrimination against gays and lesbians in employment, housing and other areas passed the Senate by a vote of 37-30.
And there’s a March 2004 report by Tom Scheck on the massive anti-gay rights rally at the State Capitol.
The list goes on – and I tracked just one of scores of issues covered in the archives. As with any quest to understand the history of ideas, the visitor is the explorer and the fun is in the find.
This unique digital resource offers the searcher some serious plus features: most important, the spoken word has special power to evoke both memories and emotions. Another serious plus lies in the fact that armchair access eliminates a host of hurdles.
On the down side, the link lacks the olfactory stimulus of that special archival aroma of crumbling paper, drying leather and time. Though somebody has probably invented an archive scented spray capturing the essence of smells lacks the authenticity of audio preservation. Maybe you could light an old wax candle to set the mood…..