Oberlin Alumni Magazine

Winter 2008-09 Vol. 104 No. 2 OAM Home | Oberlin Online


Allan Spear ’58

Minnesota State Senator

Allan Spear, a former Minnesota State Senate president who became one of the first openly gay legislators in the country in 1974, died October 11, 2008, of complications following heart surgery. He was 71. Having rallied for civil rights at Oberlin and against the Vietnam War at Yale, where he earned his doctorate in African American history, Spear was teaching at the University of Minnesota in 1972 when he ran for and won a Senate seat as a member of the Democrat Farmer Laborer (DFL) Party, Minnesota’s equivalent of the Democratic Party. "I saw myself as a gadfly, which is how I was perceived," he once told OAM. "For example, when the issue of bonuses for Vietnam vets came up, I suggested we also give bonuses to conscientious objectors. Such things weren’t likely to pass."

In 1974, in a gutsy move for the times, Spear announced he was gay during an interview with a newspaper reporter. While the response from his constituents was mild, his announcement drew national attention and criticism. Even so, his revelation did not hurt him politically, and in 1992 he became chair of the State Senate’s Judiciary Committee. Later that year, he was elected by his colleagues as Senate president and passed what he considered his most important legislation—the Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual and Transgender (GLBT) Human Rights Act, which outlawed discrimination in housing, jobs, and other areas. As he told OAM in 2000, "That was a 20-year struggle. People realized the world was not going to end, and I was able to put together a coalition [in the Senate] to pass a state law that I hadn’t been able to do before." Spear continued to serve as Senate president until retiring in 2000 and was recently named one of "150 Minnesotans Who Shaped Our State" by the Minnesota Historical Society. He leaves his life partner, Junjiro Tsuji, and a brother.