When Alan Kern anonymously created the “Tomorrow” column for Minnesota State University, Mankato’s The Reporter in October of 1974, he opened the first column with the line, “When a column for gay people is called ‘Tomorrow’ the implication is that gays are looking forward to a future with more freedom. But why the hell don’t we have it today?”
In 1974 in Mankato, organized LGBTQ activism was still in a unformed state. Mankato’s first formally organized gay group, The Mankato Gay Consciousness Group, had only just begun publicly advertising its meetings in 1972 and there was no place in the U.S. where discrimination against LGBTQ individuals had been outlawed.
To write a newspaper column in which one publicly identifies as gay, as Kern did in 1974, carried incredible risk.
Unfortunately, this risk became very real when Kern was nearly fired by MSU in 1975. Kern claimed that he was harassed by a college dean for being gay and that this harassment had played a role in the decision to fire him. He said the college initially told him it was not renewing his contract, but Kern was able to have the decision reversed upon appeal.
He left campus soon afterward anyway. In 1982, he was hit by a car and left permanently disabled. On Feb. 23, 2019, he was struck and killed by a drunk driver in Seattle, where he had been living since 1990. His obituary in the Seattle Times talks about the hobbies he enjoyed, which included gardening, photography and computers.
Kern taught psychology and co-taught courses in human sexuality. One activity he had his students participate in was wearing gay liberation buttons to help them measure the reactions they got from others.
In his first coming out column, Kern spoke of the joys and liberation that accompanied coming out, the difficulties of connecting with other men, and the weight of expectations he felt were placed upon him after he came out to others.
Between the “Tomorrow” column in The Reporter and the courses he helped teach on human sexuality, Kern helped pave the way for the eventual creation of MSU’s LGBTQ center, which is the second oldest of its kind.
The state has come a long way since Kern first came out almost 50 years ago. Minnesota became the first to pass legislation banning discrimintion based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the 1990’s. Unfortunately, incidents of discrimation, harassment and violence against queer individuals are still commonplace. “Why not today?” indeed.
Write to Jeremy Redlien at Jeremy.Redlien@mnsu.edu