An ode to paper bags and names withheld upon request

When researching history I have often found myself happening upon odd little tidbits and fragments clinging to larger tales — tidbits and fragments that never add up to a satisfying whole but which exist nonetheless. Each makes me feel like I’ve found a puzzle piece in my couch cushions when neither my husband nor I do jigsaw puzzles.

Here is one example. For many decades, what is now the Jim Chalgren LGBT center hosted peer panels where LGBTQ students would go into classrooms and the community to talk about their experiences. But did you know that those who participated in the earliest peer panels wore paper bags on their heads to protect their identity? Who then were those who wore paper bags on their heads? Did any of them eventually come out publicly?

Then there is the curious case of Michail Sellner.

Michael Sellner ran for Student Senate in 1972 on the platform of gay liberation. However, I have found no other information about Michail Sellner besides the fact that they were running for an off campus senate seat. All I know is their name and party platform appear alongside everyone else running for election in an ad for Student Senate Elections in the Nov. 29, 1972 edition of The Reporter.

To put this into the context of the time, the Mankato Area Gay Consciousness Group had only just held its first publicly advertised meeting on Nov. 20 of the same year.

Up next: Who was A MSC Homosexual?

A MSC Homosexual wrote a letter to the editor of The Reporter in 1971 in order to stand up for Mankato’s gay population. They criticized stereotypes and used academic research to argue their points.

“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.

Even though they chose to remain anonymous, A MSC Homosexual was the first example of a queer Mankatoan standing up for the local LGBTQ community.

Next question: Who were the two lesbians who got married in Mankato on January 18, 1975?

This marriage is described as an alternative marriage by Jim Chalgren when he wrote a Tomorrow column on the topic.

“One of the women wrote an article for the Tomorrow column, but the Reporter refused to print the announcement because the woman was forced to use a pen name. She could not use her real name because of possible social recriminations facing her lover,” wrote Chalgren in The Reporter.

This last tidbit is more complicated than the rest: Were there people of color who participated in the Trader and Trapper protest?

In January 1976, multiple signs were found around downtown Mankato encouraging “jocks and broads” to patronize the Trader and Trapper Discotheque but also warned “blacks, gays, and hippies” to stay away.

In a planned protest, members of the Mankato Area Gay Consciousness Group went to the Trader and Trapper Discotheque. Subsequently six men were kicked out for dancing together. The incident was significant enough to draw national attention, with Chalgren being interviewed by Time magazine about the incident in April 1979.

The Trader and Trapper incident was driven by both racism and homophobia. Accounts from the time period describe the incident being preceded by racist and homophobic comments from the owner of the Trader and Trapper. For example, one Black DJ was fired by the owner for wearing their hair in cornrows.

However, while accounts from the time clearly describe gay men and lesbians participating in the protest, the language around whether or not there were Black people or people of color participating as well is extremely unclear.

I doubt most of these questions will ever be answered. But perhaps the asking here is as important as the answers. In any case, maybe one of these pieces might find their way back to the puzzle box they came from.

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