On Nov. 17, 1972, a small ad appeared in The Reporter stating, “Mankato Area Gay Group. Gay Discussion Group Mon. Nov. 20, 7:30 p.m. For further information call Y.E.S.”
With apologies to Neil Armstrong, one might say this was one small ad for The Reporter and one giant leap for Mankato’s LGBTQ community. As a community, we were no longer closeted.
The Mankato Gay Consciousness Group grew out of small, privately held pizza parties which were organized by gay men. The only way to know about the early pizza parties was by word of mouth.
In a later interview that Jim Chalgren, the founder of the LGBT Center on campus, gave before his passing, he described the first meeting that followed the placement of the ad as having only the three people, who organized the meeting, in attendance.
In Jan. 1973, an article describing the first publicly advertised meeting for the Gay Consciousness Group was published in The Reporter. It describes the group as a gay liberation group and quotes two individuals, neither of whom use their real name.
“Randy [a fictitious name] is confused about his sexuality. He told some members of his family he is gay, but now wishes he hadn’t. The group felt his problem is no longer being gay, but having the guilt bury his identity,” was included in an issue from The Reporter on Jan. 24, 1973.
Another ad was placed in the newspaper and another meeting was held that month, with more people in attendance. Within a few months, the group was able to apply for, and successfully receive, recognition from the college senate.
A few years later the Gay Consciousness Group hosted events that drew in individuals not just from Minnesota, but from states across the midwest.
In addition to holding social events, the group advocated for LGBTQ rights throughout the 70s, including a push for the Mankato City Council to pass an ordinance banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
The Gay Consciousness Group formed the basis of the Jim Chalgren Center LGBT Center at MSU, which is the second oldest college LGBTQ center in the United States.
Later documents would state that the founders of the Gay Counsciosness Group were Lane Patterson, Fred Alden, and Jim Chalgren. Lane Patterson was a professor at MSU who taught classes in the home economics department. He left Mankato for Arizona, where he founded an antique business before passing away from cancer relatively recently. Jim Chalgren, of course, would later go on to found what is now known as the Jim Chalgren LGBT Center here on campus.
While significant, the founding of the Mankato Gay Consciousness Group was not the only example of early local queer activism in the Mankato area.
In 1969 Frank Kameny, who was the president of The Mattachine Society, one of the first national gay rights organizations, gave a presentation on campus called “The Homosexual Dilemma: What every Heterosexual Should Know.”
This would be followed by presentations and workshops over the next few years on gay and lesbian issues by Minnesota-based organizations.
In 1971, a letter to the editor by an anonymous MSU student advocated for greater acceptance of gays and lesbians and was signed “A MSC Homosexual”. This letter represents one of the earliest examples found of a queer Mankatoen publicly advocating for the queer community.
“I know of several prominent people from the area who are gay. They are good people and respected. Above all, they are human beings who simply want to be accepted as they are,” wrote A MSC Homosexual in an issue of The Reporter on May 4, 1971.
Hopefully one day, we’ll all be able to be accepted for who we are. Until then, we’ll have to continue to ask, “Why not today?”
Write to Jeremy Redlien at Jeremy.Redlien@mnsu.edu