GLBT collection displays diversity

Jennifer Schneider

With Minneapolis’ Gay Pride celebration less than five weeks away, the installation of the Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in the West Bank’s Elmer L. Andersen Library couldn’t come at a better time.

Boasting hundreds of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) materials, the Tretter archives allow visitors to trace the turbulent path of this culture through place and time. Presented by the Schochet Center for GLBT Studies and the University of Minnesota Library, the collection strives to document GLBT struggles, histories and accomplishments with it’s wide array of memorabilia.

Artifacts range from political (campaign buttons, a state proclamation signed by former governor Rudy Perpich) to historical (WWI-era photo of a lesbian couple, book titled Anthropology of the Sexual and Social Life of Strange Peoples on Four Continents) to pop-cultural (recordings by gay composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, 1955 issue of Life magazine featuring Rock Hudson on the cover).

Early materials providing commentary on GLBT culture contrast sharply with items created by gays and lesbians themselves. For instance, a 1964 issue of Life magazine referring to the gay subculture emerging in San Francisco as “a sad and often sordid world” lies next to a book exploring the history of lesbian hair.

Other items include paintings, t-shirts, a video of the 1989 Supreme Soviet debate on GLBT rights, tin lunch boxes, matchbook covers, sports programs and a pink banner standing three floors high.

When Tretter began collecting these materials over twenty years ago, he had no idea it would evolve into one of the world’s premiere GLBT archives. “I first started collecting to help me with my own research,” says Tretter, “then I found out more and more how much other people needed it also.”

Today, the collection stands as the largest source of GLBT materials between San Diego and New York. Tretter says his collection stands out because it is paired with the University’s strong GLBT Studies program.

While the collection’s primary purpose is to assist GLBT scholars and University students with their research, Tretter also receives numerous calls from authors, artists and members of the media who are looking for statistics and general GLBT history.

The archives are in greatest demand during Gay Pride month, Tretter says, and when high-profile incidents involving gay people (such as the murder of Matthew Shepard in1998) occur.

Both Tretter and Linnea Stenson, Program Director at the Schochet Center for GLBT Studies, stress the important role community played in bringing this collection to the University. “There wasn’t a hope of having an archive here in Minnesota without us getting together and doing it ourselves,” says Tretter. “I’m from Minnesota and I liked the idea of helping Minnesota students do research.”

They also encourage researchers and activists to contribute their own GLBT materials to the collection. “A great library needs to be a window to the world,” Tretter told visitors at Wednesday night’s celebration of the installation. “It needs to have a lot of stuff, and the more stuff it has, the better it is.”

Ultimately, Tretter would like his collection to be the best place to research GLBT issues not only between coasts, but across the globe. “My dream is that the GLBT community of Minnesota will take the collection to heart, will think about it when they go places and see GLBT materials,” he says, “that we will become the best place in the world to go for GLBT studies.”