Minnesota is the land of 10,000 lakes, and it also has many interesting books. In this series, we are sharing some of the books we like from Minnesota, or Minnesota authors.
We are mapping our literary journey around Minnesota, so you can see all the interesting places where our books are set. Follow our progress on our Google Map, accessible by clicking that link or searching for the title CMLE Reads Across Minnesota!
This is a guest post from CMLE member Violet Fox. Want to write a book review for us? Let us know!
Minnesota isn’t nationally recognized as a queer enclave like San Francisco or New York City, but its lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer history is just as fascinating. Drawing on the extensive Tretter Collection at the University of Minnesota, previous Tretter Collection Assistant Curator Stewart Van Cleve wrote Land of 10,000 Loves: a History of Queer Minnesota. The 2012 book is filled with stories of devotion and passion and bravery in the face of hatred and forced invisibility, including the following anecdotes:
- Anti-gay activist Anita Bryant, of the “Save Our Children” (that is, from homosexuality) campaign, famously had a cream pie thrown in her face in 1977. That pie thrower: Minnesota gay rights activist Thom Higgins. The political pie-ing was a turning point in the gay rights movement.
- The Transsexual Research Project at the University of Minnesota was one of the first in the nation to dedicate substantial resources to providing sex-reassignment surgery and to study its effectiveness.
- Here in central Minnesota, a major legal case involved Sharon Kowalski of St. Cloud who lived with her partner in 1983 when she was physically and intellectually disabled in a car accident. Courts initially gave Kowalski’s parents guardianship, but after greater publicity and the involvement of LGBTQ advocacy groups, judges listened to Kowalski’s wishes and she was allowed to live with her partner, Karen Thompson.
- In 1970, two men submitted the first same-sex marriage application in U.S. history at the Minneapolis City Hall, which was immediately rejected. One of those men, Michael McConnell, was later hired as a head of cataloging at the University of Minnesota Libraries St. Paul Campus, but before he began working there, the university regents withdrew the offer based on “his personal conduct”—they objected to his marriage license application with another man. He sued and won his discrimination case against the U. McConnell was later hired by Hennepin County Library, retiring after 37 years.
The majority of the entries are centered on the history of white gay men in the Twin Cities area because those are the people who have the most resources within the LGBTQ community and therefore are able to maintain the most well-documented histories; the materials in the Tretter collection reflect that bias. I appreciated the author’s acknowledgement of this and efforts to focus on less well-documented histories, like that of trans people and LGBTQ people of color. It’s astonishing that he was able to recover so many stories, given that queer people often communicated among themselves via only word of mouth or in code, since their safety was often at risk from a hostile society.
Van Cleve also takes care to recognize the changing terminology in the past 150 years of queer history, discussing how, for example, while berdache was a commonly accepted term (among settlers) that French explorers used to describe Native Americans who were born male but identified and accepted as females, Native American scholars and activists have rejected the term as being derogatory and now prefer their own terminology such as Two Spirit or tribe-specific terms.
Dip into the intriguing stories in Land of 10,000 Loves, or even better, take a queer history-focused walking tour with the author via the Minnesota Historical Society tours, and learn more about the hidden stories of Minnesota!