Listen MPR 50th: The fight for LGBT rights
Listen From the archives: Spokesman for St. Paul Firefighters Union, 1974
Listen From the archives: Senator Allan Spear on why he ran for office, 1975
Listen From the archives: Senator Allan Speak on human rights, 1975
Throughout 2017, Minnesota Public Radio will celebrate 50 years on the air by sharing highlights from our archives, connecting Minnesota's past to its present. | These interviews originally aired in 1974 and 1975.
Last Sunday, members of the LGBT community and supporters marched in the annual Ashley Rukes Pride Parade in Minneapolis. The parade, and others like it around the country, celebrate the LGBT community, the current fight for equal rights and the hard-won victories of the past.
One of the largest steps forward for Minnesota started gaining traction in the 1970s.
In 1974, the St. Paul City Council was considering an ordinance that would prohibit discrimination within the city based on sexual orientation. It was a move that saw a great deal of push-back from religious groups, conservatives and certain professional groups.
"Firemen eat, work and live together, they're different from any other employment," said George Jurgenson, a spokesman for the St. Paul Firefighters Union, during a 1974 interview with MPR reporter Sam Ford. "And they just are not going to accept a person of that type."
When asked if a gay person's ability to fight a fire was in question Jurgenson said "yes and no," adding that the few times he'd encountered people he thought were homosexual, he believed they didn't have the "build nor the inclination" for the job.
The St. Paul ordinance passed but was repealed through a voter referendum four years later.
Also in 1974, State Senator Allan Spear, who represented Minneapolis, publicly announced that he was gay — becoming one of the first elected officials in the country to do so.
"I think right now because of the kind of prejudices that have existed, and because of the kinds of barriers that have existed for gay people in public life it's important to say: 'I am a public official, I am gay,' and people can make what they will of that," Spear said in a 1975 interview with MPR.
• Listen: Allan Spear made politics personal
Spear also spoke about how he hoped one day no one would consider sexual orientation a factor when running for public office, and encouraged his fellow legislators to vote their conscience even if it might be unpopular in their district.
"I do not believe that human rights issues ought to be determined on the basis of majority rule," Spear said. "If you do that then you trample on the rights of the minority."
Spear served in the Minnesota Senate for 28 years and was president of that chamber from 1992 to 2000. He said his proudest legislative achievement was leading the effort which resulted in the Minnesota Human Rights Act.
That law, which went into effect in 1993, guaranteed that LGBT people in Minnesota were protected from discrimination in education, employment, and housing. Spear died in 2008 at the age of 71.