Former Minnesota Legislator Allan Spear, Gay Pioneer, Dies at 71

Allan H. Spear, a former Minnesota state senator who was one of the nation's first openly gay legislators, has died. He was 71.

He died Saturday of complications after heart surgery performed Thursday, said Don Jorovsky, a longtime friend who used to work for Spear.

Spear, a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party — Minnesota's version of the Democratic Party — was first elected in 1972 and was state Senate president from 1993 to 2000, when he retired. He was the first non-attorney to lead the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Spear announced he was gay in a 1974 interview with the Minneapolis Star, becoming one of only two openly gay legislators in the country. Spear started working that decade to amend Minnesota's Human Rights Act to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. The legislation passed in 1993.

Former DFL state Sen. Roger Moe, who served as the Senate's majority leader while Spear was president, said his colleague never became impatient when the legislation failed to pass.

"He was an excellent student of the legislative process. He knew that you had to be tenacious and you had to educate people," Moe said Sunday.

Spear, a University of Minnesota history professor, was known in the Legislature for his knowledge and speaking skills. He used both to build bridges with conservative legislators, Moe said.

"Without a doubt, everyone who served with him would rank him as one of the brightest members who served," Moe said. "Knowledge is power, and because of that he had the ability to bring people together."

The Minnesota Historical Society, as part of the state's 150th anniversary celebration, recently named him one of the 150 Minnesotans who shaped the state.