The theme for SCMN Pride’s 2009 Pridefest is “In the Spirit of Stonewall.” We celebrate the 40th anniversary of the historic uprising of gay men, lesbians, and drag queens that took place at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village on June 28, 1969. Stonewall was the shot heard ’round the world that marked the beginning of an organized, visible LGBT movement. Stonewall made it possible for LGBT people to live open, honest, dignified lives. In this moment of celebrating our past, we honor a man who has made it his life’s work to keep LGBT history alive.
Jean-Nickolaus Tretter grew up in Little Falls, MN. Born in 1946, Tretter felt an attraction to men since childhood, but didn’t come out until after the Stonewall rebellion of 1969. In 1972, following his service in the Vietnam War as a decorated linguist, Tretter and his friends organized the first Twin Cities commemoration of Stonewall Riots in 1972.
Tretter studied social and cultural anthropology at the University of Minnesota in the mid-1970s and wanted to specialize in gay and lesbian anthropology but dropped out when he could not get the institutional support he needed. He began studying gay and lesbian history on his own, beginning the accumulation of the thousands of books, photos, and documents that now make up his collection. When working on a lesbian and gay history display in St. Paul in the early 1980s, Tretter observed, “Our gay history was disappearing as fast as we were producing it.” His interest has always had a special focus on his home state.
Jean Tretter has a distinctive relationship to the LGBT community of the Mankato area. Jean was friends with Mankato native Jim Chalgren, founder of Minnesota State Mankato’s historic LGBT Center, and Tretter has an impressive collection of Mankato LGBT memorabilia. He displayed his Mankato-area collection at the first six Pridefests, as long as his health would allow, helping keep this history alive for all who attended.
Because Tretter currently has a larger collection than any other libraries or archives in the area, he is in the ironic position of being a major resource for students getting degrees in lesbian and gay studies—a field of study for which he found no support in the 1970s.
Explains Tretter, “It’s important we create a historical legacy to pass along to future generations. It’s how the Jews endured thousands of years of persecution, because they had a tradition and a history. I would like to have a part in giving gays and lesbians of the future something similar to hold on to.”