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Crossing the Barriers

The Autobiography of Allan H. Spear

2010
Author:

Allan H. Spear
Foreword by Barney Frank
Afterword by John Milton

Crossing the Barriers

The memoir of a prominent Minnesota politician and one of the country’s first openly gay elected officials

Perhaps best known for coming out as openly gay during his first term in the Minnesota Senate, Allan Spear had a long and distinguished career as a historian and senator. He passed away in 2008, leaving his memoir slightly incomplete. A stirring afterword by John Milton completes his story, chronicling Spear’s accomplishments as a politician and activist during his final years.

Crossing the Barriers reveals in intimate detail the social, political, and personal evolution of an exceptional man in transformative times. Allan Spear’s autobiography paints a vivid picture of the history he lived…and the history he made. Allan was a devoted son and partner, a gifted teacher, astute politician, skillful legislator, cherished friend and mentor, and a role model for all of us who wish to pursue the career of our dreams and be honest about who we are.

U.S. Representative Tammy Baldwin

Allan Spear had a long and distinguished career as a historian and as a Minnesota state senator. Perhaps best known for coming out as openly gay during his first term in the Minnesota Senate—becoming one of the first elected officials in the nation to do so—Spear was also a leader of Eugene McCarthy’s run for the presidency, an organizer against the war in Vietnam, and a key proponent for the establishment of the African-American studies department at the University of Minnesota.

Spear’s memories are fascinating and moving: in early chapters on his childhood and college years, he writes with great introspection about his growing self-awareness of being gay. Later he writes about his development as an intellectual, particularly as a white man fighting to win legitimacy for the study of African-American history and culture. During his time at the University of Minnesota, Spear became deeply involved with the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL) and the antiwar movement. At the same time, he was increasingly active in the emerging gay rights movement and began the process of coming out to his friends and colleagues.

After a failed run for the Minnesota House in 1968, Spear was elected to the Minnesota Senate in 1972 and served as Senate president from 1993 to 2000. In 1993, he was instrumental in the passage of the Minnesota Human Rights Act, which protected LGBT people from discrimination in housing, education, and employment—an achievement he considered one of the finest of his career. A skilled parliamentarian, he remained a progressive leader in the legislature until his retirement in 2000.

Spear passed away on October 11, 2008, leaving his memoir slightly incomplete. A stirring afterword by John Milton completes the story of Spear’s life, chronicling the recognition of his accomplishments as a politician and activist during his final years.

Crossing the Barriers

Allan H. Spear was elected to the Minnesota Senate in 1972 and served for twenty-eight years, retiring in 2000. He was president of the Senate from 1993 to 2000. He was one of the first openly gay state legislators in the country, and he fought to amend Minnesota’s Human Rights Act to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. He was associate professor of history at the University of Minnesota from 1964 to 2000 and author of Black Chicago: The Making of a Negro Ghetto, published in 1967. The Minnesota Historical Society named him one of 150 Minnesotans who shaped the state.

Barney Frank is the United States House Representative for Massachusetts’s Fourth Congressional District and chairman of the Committee on Financial Services. In 1987 he became the second openly gay Congressman in U.S. history.

John Milton was elected to the Minnesota Senate in 1972 and 1976, where he was a colleague of Allan Spear’s. He has been a contributing writer for several state and national publications and is author of the historical novel The Fallen Nightingale and the political novel Time to Choose.

Crossing the Barriers

Crossing the Barriers reveals in intimate detail the social, political, and personal evolution of an exceptional man in transformative times. Allan Spear’s autobiography paints a vivid picture of the history he lived…and the history he made. Allan was a devoted son and partner, a gifted teacher, astute politician, skillful legislator, cherished friend and mentor, and a role model for all of us who wish to pursue the career of our dreams and be honest about who we are.

U.S. Representative Tammy Baldwin

I join with all Minnesotans who mourn the loss of Allan Spear. His evenhandedness, command of the issues, and ability to reach across the aisle and work with colleagues of both parties were legendary and should inspire us all. He was a man of great courage who served as one of this nation’s first openly gay legislators.

Senator Barack Obama, October 2008

Spear’s autobiography is a must-read for anyone interested in Minnesota politics, civil rights, and the gay rights movement. Vivid imagery and remarkable detail bring the story of this iconic man and his times alive. The book also holds a few surprises, especially for those who remember Spear primarily as a politically savvy state senator and gay rights icon. The reader is left wanting to hear more.

Minnesota Magazine

Crossing the Barriers is the engaging, thoughtful, and beautifully written story of the late Minnesota state senator’s personal, intellectual, and political development.

Minnesota History

Spear takes us deep into the mystifying world of academic politics, whose machinations are often more difficult to negotiate than actual politics, and engages in some literary minutiae that might be too much for some readers.

The Gay & Lesbian Review

Crossing the Barriers will introduce many gay progressive activists who had never heard about Allan Spear to the life of a remarkable person who was both a pioneer in the movement and a role-model.

Beyond Chron

Crossing the Barriers

Contents


Foreword Barney Frank

1. A Difficult Child, 1937–1954
2. Bright College Years, 1954–1958
3. Discovering the African American Past—and Present, 1958–1964
4. Becoming a Minnesotan, 1964–1967
5. Love, War, and Politics, 1967–1969
6. Campus and Community, 1969–1972
7. The Turning Point: Coming Out and Getting In, 1972
8. Entering the Senate and Leaving the Closet, 1973–1974
9. The First Struggle for Gay Rights, 1975–1978
10. Settling into a Legislative Career, 1978–1982
11. A New District, a New Partnership, and New Responsibilities, 1982–1988

Afterword John Milton

Index

Crossing the Barriers

UMP blog: Remembering Allan H. Spear

By John Milton
11/02/2010
Allan and I took oath as newly elected senators in January 1973, on a day when many of the Minnesota Senate's traditions were shattered. Spear and Jack Kleinbaum became the first Jewish senators. Bob Lewis was the first (and only, to-date) African-American. Sam Solon was the first (and only) Greek Orthodox member. Every other senator was white, male, and at least nominally Christian. There were no Latinos, no Native Americans, nor any members of the GLBT community, at least none that had come out. And for the first time in the 114 years since statehood, Democrats had control of the Senate.
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