Long-serving gay legislator to kick off lecture series

Former state Sen. Allan Spear, DFL-Minneapolis, will discuss his experiences as one of the first and the longest-serving openly gay male legislators in the nation tonight at 7 p.m. in Cowles Auditorium.
The former University history professor will kick off the first of a series of speeches sponsored by the Schochet Center for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Studies.
Spear plans to address what his career has been like as a result of being open about his sexuality, as well as to reflect on identity politics and the belief that one’s personal life and politics should be separated.
“(I) don’t think it can be separated,” Spear said.
The history professor taught at the University for 36 years before retiring this past year. He was also a legislator in the Minnesota Senate for 28 years and recently retired from the Legislature and his position as President of the Senate.
Linnea Stenson, the program director at the Schochet Center, said Spear was the ideal choice to have as the speaker at the first in a series of lectures named after him.
“(It) was a way of honoring his life and work as a gay man both here on campus and in Minnesota,” said Stenson. “(Spear has helped) make the state of Minnesota a good place for GLBT people to be.”
Yet, Minnesota hasn’t always been a good place to be for GLBT people, as both Spear and Steven J. Schochet remember. Schochet, a 1959 University alumnus, was responsible for the endowment to the Schochet center. Both Spear and Schochet experienced their share of isolation as they made their way through life in Minnesota as openly gay males.
“(I) didn’t have a lot of role models,” said Spear of his life and career choices.
He said he was afraid he would be over-identified in politics as a gay person and that he may not be considered a person in his own right.
“I was just a senator who happened to be gay,” Spear said.
Schochet, who was forced by University police to receive psychotherapy upon revealing his homosexuality while attending the University in the 1950s, stated GLBT Studies literature that the Center will offer validation to GLBT students. He said it also offers the general public an opportunity to learn about GLBT causes and concerns in a hopefully balanced and accurate way.
Stenson said Schochet left the money to the Center as a challenge to the University to make itself a better place for GLBT students as well as those interested in studying about GLBT issues.
“I’m not rewarding the U, the institution,” Schochet stated in the literature. “The gift is not a gift of amends, but a gift of accountability. The University is accountable for its history even if it is not totally responsible for it.”
Schochet also stated he is supporting the GLBT people on campus and is trying to make their experiences, both individually and collectively, more positive and secure.
The Schochet Center will aim to enhance the creation of knowledge about GLBT lives through academic studies and community interaction by pursuing activities through academic, community and historical focuses.
A GLBT Studies Archive, to be created in association with the University of Minnesota libraries, will preserve documents, artifacts and knowledge about the history of GLBT life in Minnesota and the United States.
“There is a lot of excitement in terms of the work we’re doing here,” said Stenson.