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Jean Tretter was born in 1946, in Little Falls, Minnesota, into a German-Catholic family who had immigrated to the United States a century before. During WWII, Jean’s parents hid their German roots and passed as Norwegian-Americans, even speaking Norwegian at home. It wasn’t until after his mother’s death in 1999 that Jean discovered documents revealing his German heritage.  

Jean served as a decorated linguist in the Navy during the Vietnam War. He left the Navy in 1972 and, inspired by the Stonewall Riots in 1969, came out as a gay man. In 1972, he organized the first Stonewall commemoration in Minneapolis-St. Paul. The event became the annual Twin Cities Pride festival, one of America’s largest LGBTQ celebrations. 

In the early 1970s, Jean also began collecting gay and lesbian books and other materials he came across. He began studying cultural anthropology at the University of Minnesota in 1973, hoping to turn his love for history and the preservation of queer culture into a full-time vocation. When the university refused to let Jean formalize gay and lesbian anthropology as a course of study, Jean dropped out and began studying LGBTQ history on his own. Along the way, he produced and hosted a gay and lesbian music radio show, and co-chaired Minnesota’s Gay Games committee in 1982. 

Since the 1980s, Jean’s full-time pursuit has been the preservation of LGBTQ history. He organized careful, elaborate systems for collecting and organizing materials ranging from books, documents and photographs to artifacts like buttons and campaign posters. In 2000, Jean donated his entire collection to the University of Minnesota Libraries, where it now occupies 3,000 linear feet of space, and receives rightful recognition and respect as the Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collections in GLBT Studies. Jean retired as full-time curator of the collection in 2011, but continues to serve on its advisory board.

Perhaps because he has never received proper recognition for his efforts, Jean expressed deep appreciation that OUTWORDS was willing to travel all the way to snowy St. Paul, Minnesota to interview him. But in our opinion, the honor was all ours. Jean is a titan in the field of queer history. He expresses his pride as a gay man in the most tangible form possible: collecting, curing, and caring for our history, both for its own sake, and because the whole world stands to gain from studying our community’s extraordinary gains.
Betsy Kalin: [00:00:00] Are we rolling?
Natalie Tsui: Yup.
Betsy Kalin: Okay. Jean, can you give me your date and place of birth.
Jean Tretter: September 9th 1946, Little Falls Minnesota St. Gabriel's Hospital.
Betsy Kalin: Great. Thank you. I'm going to start asking you questions about your childhood and where you grew up and your family.
Jean Tretter: Okay.
Betsy Kalin: [00:00:30] Yeah. Why don't you tell me where you grew up and what your family was like and what their background was?
Jean Tretter: One of my only real claims to fame as I grew up in the same hometown as Charles A. Lindbergh, which is Little Falls Minnesota. It's up in Morrison County, my family were pre-territorial pioneers, we came to Minnesota before Minnesota was even a territory. My great grandfather was a stonemason in Germany
Jean Tretter: [00:01:00] and helped to build the Morrison County courthouse. If you look at the early maps from the 1840s and before, of Morrison County in Northern Minnesota, you would think that we were the land barons of the time because they're all marked for Tretters one way or another of Tretters. Rather large family,
Jean Tretter: [00:01:30] my father was one of 26 children. It was a great place to grow up. I was particularly interested in growing up as a child in, let's say, nature, collecting bugs and insects and all that kind of stuff. Northern Minnesota,
Jean Tretter: [00:02:00] the variety of wildlife up there was tremendous. We had wolves and bears and porcupines and raccoons and fishes and martens and just anything and everything, animals, all types of fish. We went fishing often. White-tailed deer, it was a marvelous place
Jean Tretter: [00:02:30] for a little kid basically to grow up, especially one that was interested in all things natural. I used to make little zoos out of things. l collect bottles instead of throwing them away. Of course, we didn't have recycling in those days nobody knew what recycling was. I take all these bottles and wash them out real clean and change them into cages for various types of bugs
Jean Tretter: [00:03:00] and things like that. I would create my own zoos and that sort of thing. Like I say, a marvelous place. Right where the deciduous forest changes into the coniferous forest and I was also kind of lucky in the fact that my father owned his own sawmill
Jean Tretter: [00:03:30] and he was in logging and lumbering and so I could go up with him on weekends when I wasn't in school and help out around the sawmill and things like that. It was great for exploring. I can remember as a little kid going out, we have lots of, as you know Minnesota land of 10,000 lakes. We have lots of ponds and lakes and glacial depressions with water all over.
Jean Tretter: [00:04:00] In the middle of winter I'd love to go out in the middle of some of these little ponds and with the fresh snow on top of them, I realized that probably nobody had ever maybe stepped in this place, in this pond, or this lake, or whatever and so that was real exciting
Jean Tretter: [00:04:30] and adventurous for me to be able to step somewhere where no other explorer, no other person had ever been and that I would have been the first person to be there. That was important to me.
Betsy Kalin: That's great.
Jean Tretter: Yeah.
Betsy Kalin: Okay.
Natalie Tsui: Can we pause for a second?
Betsy Kalin: If you can just start and tell me about your family and Minnesota and their history.
Jean Tretter: [00:05:00] Like I said, we were pre-territorial pioneers which is
Betsy Kalin: Do you want to one more?
Natalie Tsui: Yes, start again.
Betsy Kalin: Okay. Tell me about how your family when your family ended up in Minnesota and where you grew up.
Jean Tretter: Actually, to go way back during the time of the reformation, my family were Roman Catholics
Jean Tretter: [00:05:30] in towns in Northern Germany like Flensburg and that sort of thing. Of course, when the reformation came to Germany, the Roman Catholics in those towns ended up going south down towards Munich, which remained in that part of Germany catholic. There was a priest by the name of Pierz , Father Pierz, and gathered up a group of these refugees from Catholic Germany
Jean Tretter: [00:06:00] and brought them to Minnesota. Hence, you have all these little tiny towns in Northern Minnesota. Pierz, Flensburg all those that are catholic towns, but in Germany, they're all Lutheran towns. It's interesting because my part of the family is very, very Lutheran and we're not Catholic. The reason for that is like
Jean Tretter: [00:06:30] I said my father was in logging and lumbering and in between World War I and World War II, my parents were provisioned enough to realize that World War II was coming along. With it being with Germany, again, they were quite afraid that we would lose, I don't want to say a lot of money, I don't want to make it sound like Trumpian. Or that we're in any way related to ...
Jean Tretter: [00:07:00] have ideals like the Trumps did. It was a concern that the family would have difficulties being German in America during World War II. World War I was bad enough. You'll notice down here just south of or down by South St. Paul that we have a place called Yankee Doodle Road. Before World War I, that was Kaiser Wilhelm Road.
Jean Tretter: [00:07:30] During World War I they changed the name from Kaiser Wilhelm to Yankee Doodle Road because we are at war with Germany. They did lots of things. They hid the statue of Hermann the German down in New Ulm so that they couldn't melt him down and make shells and bullets and things out of him, did not bring him out until after the end of World War II.
Jean Tretter: [00:08:00] Anyway, my family decided that the best thing to do and it was a little bit complicated because my mother was actually adopted and she was adopted by her in the olden days, the nurses that went and helped women with their pregnancies, what were they called? I've forgotten.
Betsy Kalin: Midwives?
Jean Tretter: [00:08:30] They were nurses that went to the houses, doctors didn't go but you had a nurse that came.
Betsy Kalin: Not a midwife?
Jean Tretter: Midwife. Midwife, that's what I'm trying to think off. They had a midwife and my mother was like the 10th child in this German family and the last thing they wanted was another girl. They told the midwife that they didn't have enough money to pay her, which they didn't.
Jean Tretter: [00:09:00] That they would give her this baby girl since she didn't have any children even though she was a midwife, that they would give her this baby girl as payment for helping them with this last pregnancy. The thing was, this is a midwife, was Norwegian and so my mother grew up in a Norwegian household. They spoke Norwegian,
Jean Tretter: [00:09:30] had Norwegian customs, all that sort of thing. When World War II was coming, my mother and my father both of whom were German but didn't really want to be German at that time said, "We're going to move to Little Falls." Little Falls was very strictly divided at that time, basically into four sections. You had the Norwegian Lutheran section of town, the Swedish Lutheran section of town,
Jean Tretter: [00:10:00] the German Lutheran section of town and then the section of town for everything else. Polish Catholics, German Catholics, Baptist, Methodists, all those other kind of strange and unusual religions that you didn't find in Northern Minnesota in those days. They moved to, since my mother had been raised by Norwegians, moved to the Norwegian Lutheran section of town
Jean Tretter: [00:10:30] and became Norwegians. They told everybody that, well, they had experience with my grandmother, my mother's adopted mother speaking Norwegian so they spoke Norwegian at home instead of German. They grew up with the customs, the foods, the whole thing, everything from lutefisk to the hymns
Jean Tretter: [00:11:00] that we sing in church and we became members of the first Norwegian Lutheran Church, the National Church of Norway. Those sermons were given in Norwegian and everything was Norwegian about our household. The interesting thing about this is also that we not only thought we were Norwegian as kids,
Jean Tretter: [00:11:30] but as kids, we never thought to ask how come we're Norwegian and all the rest of our relatives are Germans. We were kids, that just wasn't a question that crossed our minds. Everybody else we knew was German in the family but we were Norwegian so that was okay. We actually didn't find out until when my mother died at the age of 90.
Jean Tretter: [00:12:00] Back in 1999, she had specifically said she did not want to see the millennium. That she was going to die before the millennium came around and so in July of 1999, she kept her word and died. When we were going through all the family papers and all that, that's when we found out that she was adopted.
Jean Tretter: [00:12:30] Her original name was not [Muriel Eunice Robison 00:12:32]. Her original name was Bertha. A very good German name, German-American name and everything like that. It was a real complicated mess but we found out that we were actually 100% German and not Norwegian at all, even though we celebrated everything from Christmas to Easter as Norwegians.
Jean Tretter: [00:13:00] We've kind of had that cross-section of going back and forth. I think there was a few problems my mother was very upset. My father died in a boating accident when I was about nine years old. A couple of my father's sisters, all of whom were very good Catholics, who understand, paid the Catholic Church
Jean Tretter: [00:13:30] to save him from purgatory. Then presented my mother, I think it was with a picture of the bleeding heart of Christ saying that they had saved my father from purgatory and got him out of purgatory. As you can imagine being a lifelong Lutheran, my mother was not real happy when they presented her with that paper, since my father had changed
Jean Tretter: [00:14:00] to Lutheran like 50 years earlier and everything like that. That was a little bit of a family dispute but it was one of those things and those things were more important in those days. You read some of Roalvangs books about the fights between the Germans and the Irish and the Norwegians and who could marry whom and all these kind of stuff. It was a real interesting time in Minnesota history.
Betsy Kalin: [00:14:30] Yeah. It's so interesting, your personal family history. Are we okay with everything?
Natalie Tsui: Yeah.
Betsy Kalin: Okay, great. One of the questions that Mason sent you from the questionnaire was like when you were growing up, what are three key events from early years that helped make who you are today?
Jean Tretter: [00:15:00] I mean there's a number of things. Like I said, Little Falls was a little bit of a military town because Camp Ripley was so close. That meant that we had soldiers and that all over the place and then of course, my mother rented out rooms because of the housing shortage right after World War II, which had an impact on who I was. I guess, if there are members of my family that don't know,
Jean Tretter: [00:15:30] it's probably about time for them to find this out. When I was a very, very little boy, I would sneak out of my bed at night and crawl into bed with the various soldiers that were staying with us. The thing that I have in later years that has kind of perplexed me and caused me to wonder is all that time
Jean Tretter: [00:16:00] and here I am this little kid and I generally didn't get kick out of the soldiers' beds when I crawled into bed with them. I was the molester at three and four and five years old, not the soldiers, they were just there renting a room. The thing that I've puzzled over as an adult and that I've thought of as an adult is all these soldiers, returning from World War II,
Jean Tretter: [00:16:30] and I never caught anything. I never got a sexually transmitted disease, nothing like that and I was just a little kid. Why that happened or why it didn't happen? I didn't know. That was just how it was. That was kind of a major the availability of young males to me
Jean Tretter: [00:17:00] as a little boy that was I would say that had a pretty significant influence on me. I kind of told you about the family history, so there's that and that kind of goes into the languages. We kind of grew up knowing German and Norwegian, but my parents were very adamant about us not learning German,
Jean Tretter: [00:17:30] to the extent that when I finally did sign up for a German class in school, my mother went up to the school and talked to the teacher and found a way of having me fail the class because she did not want me to learn German. Germany was the enemy. They were bad, they were evil, they were everything like that
Jean Tretter: [00:18:00] and so I didn't really learn proper German until I guess I was in my 40s or 50s, probably my 50s. That was also significant. The idea of multiple languages was always around our home. Norwegian and German and everything like that. My father's work camp, he hired most anything, a lot of Native Americans.
Jean Tretter: [00:18:30] He hired a lot of Polish people, Polish men to work the sawmill because they were good workers and that's what he was interested in. I can remember very distinctly that he said, he basically didn't want to see them around the lumber camp on weekends because they all like to imbibe alcoholic beverages and my family was pretty much teetotalers in that respect.
Jean Tretter: [00:19:00] I should say coffee drinkers because we drink coffee and coffee was the beverage of choice. The last thing my mother did on the day she died was drink a cup of coffee and then she went back to her room and lay down on her bed and passed away. That coffee was always there and we were expected to drink coffee. As we got into high school,
Jean Tretter: [00:19:30] we were to switch from soda pop and things like that and get into drinking coffee. Generally, I'm still a coffee drinker at this age of my life and probably will be for my entire life, mostly Folgers because of Mrs. Olsen. I know all these coffee shops. I think I'm a little bit goofy because I go in and they've got all these ghastly French roasts and all that kind of stuff and I always ask them for Folgers.
Jean Tretter: [00:20:00] We don't have that, we don't carry that and so I said, "What's most like it?" It's usually something from some tiny South American country that's very light because I won't drink any East Africans because Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika have a history of killing lesbians and gays. I won't drink any of those. I hate the taste of French roasts and
Jean Tretter: [00:20:30] we never get along that good with French anyway. This whole thing with the Huguenots which were the French Lutherans and they killed French Lutherans and that, so I can't stand French roasts.
Betsy Kalin: I had a question for you back about the soldiers.
Jean Tretter: Yeah.
Betsy Kalin: You said you were really young, you were like three or four years old.
Jean Tretter: Yeah.
Betsy Kalin: [00:21:00] Did you at the time have an idea of your sexuality or were you just interested in like were the soldiers just interesting to you?
Jean Tretter: Oh no, it was sexual. It was sexual. I wanted to crawl in bed with them because I was able to be sexual with them. Like I said, there were some, of course, that "Get away from me kid. We don't want," kicked me out of bed. For the most part, they were usually quite
Jean Tretter: [00:21:30] amenable to having and of course that was a different day than nowadays. Nowadays, we have television and everybody is always afraid and don't go to bed with somebody that's not in your age group and everything like that. Back then, it was called boys will be boys. If you were single and male and you went with other boys, well, it was just something you did until you got married.
Jean Tretter: [00:22:00] Then, you are supposed to be respectable and not do that sort of thing anymore. Generally, that was very much a part of my sexuality which is why I said that was very much one of the three things that made me who I am today, I imagine. It goes up and down ...
Jean Tretter: [00:22:30] youre placed in positions that you don't want to be and you don't know who's going to do what or anything like that and so you're kind of jammed into corners and you have to make decisions in your life. You didn't talk about homosexuality that was bad and wrong and everything like that but you still had your friends and everything like that.
Betsy Kalin: [00:23:00] When did you come out? When did you realize, oh, this isn't just boys being boys but I'm actually a homosexual?
Jean Tretter: I would say, I started to come out when I was in the military, when I was in the navy. I did some things in the navy of which I'm actually quite proud of.
Jean Tretter: [00:23:30] When I was at security school in Pensacola, Florida, there was a young Jewish guy from Texas that and the navy was very uptight about people being gay at that time. We're talking 60s and 70s now. They weren't necessarily kicking people out because this is Vietnam War and they needed bodies, they needed cannon fodder.
Jean Tretter: [00:24:00] That was important. In this particular instance with this young Jewish man from Texas, they had found out that he was gay so they were going to kick him out. He couldn't have a security clearance, he couldn't all these stuff about security clearances now and everything like that. If we were at security school,
Jean Tretter: [00:24:30] we were being primed for getting our security clearances. There had been people from the FBI that had interviewed family and friends and all that about us to give us our security clearances. They were going to kick this guy out, the reason I say I was kind of proud of myself is because of all the people at Pensacola, Florida, I did not abandon him as a friend.
Jean Tretter: [00:25:00] I stuck with him. Part of it was the fascination of him. He was Jewish and he taught me a lot about the Jewish religion. Things I didn't know, I mean, the little thing with strapping the box in your head and the ceremonies that they go through and all that kind of stuff. I learned to eat gefilte fish. He'd take me with him on Fridays
Jean Tretter: [00:25:30] to the Jewish ceremonies and all these kind of stuff. I was learning all kinds of things from him. In a couple of other times, I actually I didn't admit to being a homosexual, but I defended homosexuals. I said, these are people, we can't be prejudiced,
Jean Tretter: [00:26:00] we shouldn't be prejudiced. We've got to be kind and good to them. I don't know, I used probably all kinds of reasoning with that. The whole thing with the whole Lutheran background in it. You don't judge, that's for God to judge and that kind of stuff. Lutheranism would be another big part of
Jean Tretter: [00:26:30] one of those three things that was big in my life, the soldiers, Lutheranism and all that kind of stuff. That was part of it. Like I say, I was kind of proud of myself when I think back on it now, I'm proud that I didn't abandon him as a friend. I didn't push him away. I didn't react badly towards him and everything like that. I had enough
Natalie Tsui: [00:27:00] We're going to have to pause because they're loud out there.
Betsy Kalin: Also, they're so very loud like ...
Natalie Tsui: It keeps going on and on.
Betsy Kalin: It's on and on [crosstalk].
Natalie Tsui: It's one of those things where we can't control it [inaudible].
Betsy Kalin: There's a little thing right there, you can see the chip.
Natalie Tsui: It's locked.
Betsy Kalin: Oh is it locked?
Natalie Tsui: Yeah.
Betsy Kalin: Okay. Yup we can edit that.
Natalie Tsui: Yeah. We're in a big institution.
Betsy Kalin: [00:27:30] I think we're going to have to just roll through it, I mean, that goes on and it stays on for a while.
Natalie Tsui: Oh really?
Betsy Kalin: Keep going with the noise.
Natalie Tsui: Yeah. You go for it because [inaudible].
Betsy Kalin: Right.
Natalie Tsui: Then, we can get [inaudible] places where there is not.
Betsy Kalin: Okay. Great. You stood by your friend when he was accused of homosexuality when you were in the navy.
Betsy Kalin: [00:28:00] Then, how did that help you come to terms with your sexuality later, or did it have an impact on you?
Jean Tretter: I think it did in the fact that I could look back at myself and say, "I had enough courage to stand up and defend homosexuals even though I didn't have enough courage to come out of my closet at that time." There's a couple of other things that happened at that time
Jean Tretter: [00:28:30] that also made a big difference. Like I said, I was in Pensacola, Florida security group. I ended up with a top secret cryptographic code word security clearance, which is a pretty high security clearance, much higher than Trump's children. I had the legal right to look at these documents whereas they didn't. I was coming out enough
Jean Tretter: [00:29:00] and with this friend and everything like that that I realized, I probably need to come to terms with this. Okay. I'm still a teenager at this age. I mean, I joined the navy very young right out of high school. I think I was probably 19 at best, I was 19, I could have been 17 or 18. By the time I was in Pensacola.
Jean Tretter: [00:29:30] My solution in those days, I knew we had a Lutheran chaplain on base. I went to the Lutheran chaplain and confessed and said, "Hey, I'm gay." I've probably used the word homosexual then, I wasn't real into the correct terminology
Jean Tretter: [00:30:00] like I am now everything like that. Of course, he was appropriately horrified. He made a real big mistake, as most lesbians and gays know out there, the worst possible thing
Jean Tretter: [00:30:30] you can say to a lesbian and gay is, you can't do it because you're lesbian and gay, or because you're gay and lesbian. That's exactly what he told me. I'd already been for at least one tour in Vietnam. I'd been on an aircraft carrier. I'd been through a year of language school studying Russian. I was in Pensacola learning security
Jean Tretter: [00:31:00] and pretty much had my security group and I already had from Vietnam and all that kind of stuff. I was one of those silly little seaman that had a chest full of metals when the E4s and the E5s and that didn't have any medals at all, because they hadn't done half of what I've done by the time I've gotten to security school. He said, "You can't do it.
Jean Tretter: [00:31:30] You can't be gay and be in the navy, and especially in the security group. You won't be able to stand it with all those guys. You won't be able to contain yourself. You won't be able to act appropriately," and everything like that. I said, There was probably nothing in the entire world that was worse than he could tell me. I quite quickly said, What you and I have talked about together is confidential, right?
Jean Tretter: [00:32:00] You can't reveal that to anybody else unless I ask you too, right?" He agreed. He said, "Jean, no. I can't. I'm bond to those terms. You are absolutely right. I cannot betray you," in other words. I said, "Okay, you just keep it a secret."
Jean Tretter: [00:32:30] I stayed in the navy. Actually, I even re-enlisted for another tour and went about having what I guess you would call a fairly successful time in the navy. It wasn't that hard. It wasn't as hard as he made it sound. There were probably times that
Jean Tretter: [00:33:00] I would have rather things had been different and that I would have liked to have acted upon my .
Natalie Tsui: There's someone.
Betsy Kalin: Yeah. One second. Where are they?
Natalie Tsui: This might be a good time to adjust this. It's going to move but
Jean Tretter: I'm sorry.
Betsy Kalin: No, that's okay. Are you comfortable in this chair?
Jean Tretter: Yeah. I guess I do move around a little bit.
Betsy Kalin: That's okay, that's fine.
Natalie Tsui: Then the other thing is try to avoid looking at me. I'm trying not to look
Betsy Kalin: [00:33:30] Pretend she's not there.
Natalie Tsui: Just don't look at the camera.
Betsy Kalin: You just focus on me.
Natalie Tsui: Yeah.
Jean Tretter: Okay. Anyway, I'd say I had a relatively successful naval career. I came out speaking many more languages than I'd gone in with, which up until my stroke I kept up to this day with some of the languages or most of them actually.
Jean Tretter: [00:34:00] The stroke was debilitating and debilitating about my ability to speak languages. I lost a number of things when I had my first stroke.
Betsy Kalin: How many languages did you speak?
Jean Tretter: At one time, I spoke seven fluently, Russian, Hindi, Urdu, German, Norwegian, Turkish and English. I could speak like Europeans do
Jean Tretter: [00:34:30] when you're sitting there and you're speaking in German and you switch to Russian because it's appropriate and everything like that and you don't even think about it. That was the thing that my stroke disabled. I then could still speak German but I had to stop and think about the German and think about switching to Russian. I didn't have that natural flow anymore.
Jean Tretter: [00:35:00] I had trouble with words like [foreign language 00:35:09]. I didn't know them. I had to stop and think about them, which is bad. They still didn't quite know what to do with me because they give you all these little tests when you have a stroke and they show you these pictures.
Jean Tretter: [00:35:30] Basically, all they want you to do is say, "Oh, that's a car. Oh, that's a telephone," and everything like that. Then they say, "Well, you've got most of your facilities back. You're good. Go on." There was another one where the doctors made a mistake. They showed me a picture of medals like you win in a war. I'm looking at the picture
Jean Tretter: [00:36:00] and I'm looking at the picture and the doctor, she says, "Oh, don't worry about it. Those aren't real words, that's just gibberish, that's just scribbling on the medals."
Natalie Tsui: Hang on [inaudible].
Natalie Tsui: We're going to just pause one second.
Jean Tretter: That's a good story too bad it got interrupted.
Betsy Kalin: I know.
Natalie Tsui: Shall we move the cart? Did you ask anyone?
Betsy Kalin: No. There's no one here to ask.
Natalie Tsui: Okay, do you want to stay?
Betsy Kalin: [00:36:30] Yeah. Okay. You can actually just start on saying pick up where you said
Jean Tretter: Okay.
Betsy Kalin: your doctor said something that he never should have.
Jean Tretter: Okay. Her.
Betsy Kalin: Her.
Jean Tretter: Yeah.
Natalie Tsui: Ready?
Betsy Kalin: Yeah.
Natalie Tsui: Yeah [inaudible] don't sit too close to the camera.
Betsy Kalin: Yeah. Right here? Okay.
Jean Tretter: Go ahead?
Betsy Kalin: Yes.
Jean Tretter: Okay. It's 2002. I had my stroke, my first stroke, actually my only real stroke. They're showing me these pictures.
Jean Tretter: [00:37:00] They just want simple answers. I'm supposed to be having trouble with things like trestle and what was the other one? Trestle and Anyway, there's two that's really close; one is a thing that plants grow on and the other was a railroad bridge, trestle and what you call it? Anyway, that's immaterial and not important to the story but it just shows the [foreign language],
Jean Tretter: [00:37:30] the mix up in words that I was having because that was the part of my brain that got affected by the thing. I'm looking at this picture of medals and I'm supposed to tell her, "Oh, these are medals, that people wear, that people win and wear." She said, "Oh, that's just scribbling. That's not writing at all," and everything like that. I said, " No, that's not."
Jean Tretter: [00:38:00] I said, "That's actually mirror reversed Russian." I said, "Look." We put it next to a mirror and I said, "Here's the words. These are the Russian words, here's the translation." I translated it for her and everything like that. She sat there and she said, "What can we do with you?" She said, "We don't have the ability to judge you in reference to your stroke
Jean Tretter: [00:38:30] because we know that you're affected and you've told us that you've been affected with some of these things but you're so far above everybody else when you take these tests that we can't come up with a judgment or anything. We don't know how to fix it. We can't fix it because we're not even at your level."
Jean Tretter: [00:39:00] I guess that's a conceited story on my part that was one that I always liked. I thought that was neat.
Betsy Kalin: That's a fantastic story. I think doctors deserve someone like that that they can't put in a box. I wanted to go back to Vietnam. Did you have any experiences there that you wanted to talk about?
Jean Tretter: Are you referring specifically to gay lesbian experiences?
Betsy Kalin: [00:39:30] Anything, but yes.
Jean Tretter: Okay. Vietnam has been an ongoing problem for me because like I said, I had a top secret cryptographic code word security clearance, which ended up making me and then of course I had presidential access also. I never got to see President Nixon per se.
Jean Tretter: [00:40:00] I did get to carry papers a couple of times. When I was back east into Washington DC, and what they do is they put it in a briefcase and then handcuff the briefcase to me. I would walk over to high room [inaudible] sitting in some office somewhere. He would unlock the briefcase and take it away. That was presidential access and that was as close as I got. You never actually got to see the president
Jean Tretter: [00:40:30] but that was considered presidential access because you carry documents to him, for eyes only kind of documents. Vietnam, what that also ended up meaning and what has caused great problems for me, I don't have any military benefits other than
Jean Tretter: [00:41:00] my hospital benefits from Vietnam. I was exposed to Agent Orange any number of times, most of the medical problems I'm having now are due, in one way or another, everything from the blood clots to the diabetes, to the blindness, you name it, are all due to exposure to Agent Orange, okay.
Jean Tretter: [00:41:30] I don't get anything from the government for that at all. The reason being is because of my security clearances, me and other people like me got called to and unfortunately, a lot of those people have already died because doctors would misdiagnose
Jean Tretter: [00:42:00] their problems with Agent Orange. What happened is somebody out in the field, whether it was Cambodia or Laos or on the northern side of Vietnam or wherever it was,
Jean Tretter: [00:42:30] would hear something on their headsets and they'd say, "I think that's Russian. I think they've got Russian people out there advising them how to put their M16s together, how to use these rifles, how to do whatever it was. We can't be sure because we don't know if that's Russian or not." Ding, ding, ding. " Jean, we need you to go in there and listen to this speech
Jean Tretter: [00:43:00] and tell us what's going on." Okay. Off we go. What happens is I'm at Kaneohe Bay Marine Corp Air Station in Hawaii. That's on Oahu, huge air station, a lot of security. About 11:00 at night, we would be told to report to the tarmac, to a particular place for such and such an airplane.
Jean Tretter: [00:43:30] As we walked up to the airplane, we would be handed to what are called TAD orders, temporary assigned duty. Those were our orders for Vietnam. We would get on the plane, fly to Subic or Clark in the Philippines, some place like that. Then, from there to some place in Cambodia, Laos or Vietnam.
Jean Tretter: [00:44:00] We would do whatever it was that they wanted us. We'd usually be there a day or two. They didn't want us there because of our security clearances. They were afraid that they would capture us, make us prisoners of war so they would get us in there and out of there as fast as they could. They wanted us to get in there and say, "Yeah, that's right. He's talking about rifles and he's telling them
Jean Tretter: [00:44:30] how to assemble or disassemble their rifles," or whatever it was that they were talking about. Yes, that is Russian. Then they'd pack us up, put us back in the plane, we'd go back to Clark or Subic. Then we'd fly from there back to Kaneohe Bay Marine Corp Air Station. As we got off the plane in Kaneohe, there'd be a guy with a little card table and a paper shredder. He would take our TAD orders
Jean Tretter: [00:45:00] and shred them immediately. Mr. Nixon was very paranoid. We continually got things from President Nixon about you can't tell anybody where you were. We were never in Cambodia. We never did those things, yadda, yadda, yadda, yadda, yadda. If you talk about any of this stuff, we will send you to Leavenworth as a prisoner.
Jean Tretter: [00:45:30] When I got out of the service, there is no record except for when I was on the USS Ranger which is an aircraft carrier. There's no record of me ever having been basically in Vietnam. They destroyed it all. In fact, they went through my personal records and I had a number of things like letters of recommendation. I'm sorry.
Jean Tretter: [00:46:00] I had a number of things like letters of recommendation and letters of geez, you did a really great job. Letters of commendation I want to say.
Natalie Tsui: Can I adjust?
Betsy Kalin: Yes. She's going to adjust the mic. I'm sorry.
Jean Tretter: Okay, sorry. I didn't
Natalie Tsui: I'll go back right to that, I know exactly where you were.
Jean Tretter: Okay.
Betsy Kalin: [00:46:30] As it was happening, I was like, no.
Jean Tretter: Sorry.
Natalie Tsui: It's okay. It's actually mostly in place. It's just your shirt is not as in place. Okay.
Betsy Kalin: Great.
Jean Tretter: Okay.
Betsy Kalin: Say your name again.
Jean Tretter: Jean Tretter.
Betsy Kalin: Is that okay?
Natalie Tsui: Yeah. It's as good.
Betsy Kalin: Okay. Say again about when you got back.
Jean Tretter: [00:47:00] The letters of commendation, all those things that I had in my service record, because of my security clearance were withdrawn and destroyed. Anything that I did that was good and anything that I did in reference to Vietnam especially what we used to call it and what they do still sometimes call it was Mr. Nixon's secret army, because they'd fly us in, we'd be there like I say a day or less a lot of times. We do what they wanted us to do.
Jean Tretter: [00:47:30] Tell them who was saying what to whom and they would fly us out of there as fast as they could. They didn't want us to get captured by any means. There's no record of me ever being in Vietnam so they don't have to pay me anything special. They don't have to pay me any money or any of the things that you get paid for Vietnam service
Jean Tretter: [00:48:00] or anything like that. That's all gone. It's all destroyed. There's other things that we did at the same time. It's really interesting and funny. I got
Betsy Kalin: That's horrible that you can't get your benefits and what's owed to you because all of the records are destroyed.
Jean Tretter: [00:48:30] Yeah. Yeah. No, Mr. Nixon was very adamant about that. I was going to say, you can see the difference between administrations because when President Obama was in, and remember that guy got shot and killed in Iraq? He came out and he begrudgingly admitted that, "Yes, we had people like this
Jean Tretter: [00:49:00] and that he was an Iraqi linguist. He was in there and we was doing translating for us," and everything like that. Obama admitted that he had people like that behind the lines and that they were what you call it? Those people will be fine because it'll be recorded in their records. Of course, the guy is dead so it's not going to matter to him.
Jean Tretter: [00:49:30] At least Obama, as a president, had enough courage to come out and say, "We did." Obama had what? Fifty-seven people in Iraq I think was the number, linguists and that. Some of us that were in what they called Mr. Nixon's army, there's no way. We keep appealing and everything like that but there's nothing we can do about it, probably never will be. It's just the way it goes.
Betsy Kalin: [00:50:00] I want to move on to Stonewall. I wanted to ask you, when you heard about Stonewall, what happened and what did that inspire you to do?
Jean Tretter: When I heard about Stonewall, I really didn't know what it was or what it meant.
Jean Tretter: [00:50:30] I was still in the service and didn't quite understand, I didn't have a good concept yet of the GLBT community, the gay community. Actually, what I saw of it, I had been reading At that time,
Jean Tretter: [00:51:00] Life Magazine had come out with a couple of articles on gays in the United States, not even in the military but gays in the United States. They showed us wearing fluffy sweaters. I put a mental note in my head that I somebody had to go and get a fluffy sweater, which I think I actually have got one or two of those fluffy white sweaters at home yet. I don't wear them very often, they're scratchy and itchy.
Jean Tretter: [00:51:30] Since that was what gays were supposed to wear, I made sure I got some and they're in my closet. What I saw about it was maybe about that big or about the size of a tall Post-it stamp in a newspaper, I was in, I think, Sinop, Turkey at the time.
Jean Tretter: [00:52:00] It was a newspaper from Washington, D.C. and it was just a little thing that said something about gays rioting at the Stonewall in New York and that was about it. Like I said, it was very confusing and I didn't really know what it meant. It was fuel for the fire and it was getting my interest.
Jean Tretter: [00:52:30] I didn't really get interested and really want to jump out and start being openly gay until I was on the east coast, I was working out at the you hear it all the time in TV now, not the foreign services because I worked with the foreign services for a while.
Jean Tretter: [00:53:00] One of the departments, defense department things. We sat there and we translated stuff and then we did all kinds of minuscule things. One of the other things is, again, TAD trips. This wasn't quite as hidden as they couldn't really hide it because everybody knew what was going on. They sent a group of us,
Jean Tretter: [00:53:30] they sent me and a whole bunch of Cuban linguists to Cuba because Russia was sending MiG airplanes there. This was a little bit later. They had sent some before but this was in the later time. I'm telling this because this is another one of those kind of fun and interesting stories. It also shows you how I didn't always abide by the rules
Jean Tretter: [00:54:00] that they told me to abide by. We get on this destroyer and they want us to listen to what they're doing with these airplanes near Havana. We actually go within the three-mile limit of Havana. I think we were only like a mile offshore instead of three miles off shore
Jean Tretter: [00:54:30] like we're supposed to be, and we're listening to the Russian planes. They put me, I'm not sure exactly where they put the Cuban linguists but they had to have Cubans there too because half of the pilots were Cuban and the other half were Russian and that. They would stand me right next to the captain, in the captain's chair.
Jean Tretter: [00:55:00] His directions to me was, he wanted to know what these pilots were saying. Okay. The pilots flew off the base in Havana and flew out towards the ships that we were on and they would drop things on either side at the front of the ship, the bowel of the ship and then fly back.
Jean Tretter: [00:55:30] The captain doesn't know what they were saying because they were either saying drop, which was like a flare and they were just dropping flares on either side of the ship to show us that they weren't any more intimidated by us than we were by them. Or they were saying fire, which meant that they were a torpedo and they were going to blow the ship up.
Jean Tretter: [00:56:00] The words in Russian for dropping fire are [foreign language] If you're not a native speaker, it's almost impossible to tell them apart. Until you tell the difference between [foreign language 00:56:25]. You got to know immediately when they say it and it's being said by native speakers
Jean Tretter: [00:56:30] flying over a plane at the same time that they're dropping or firing these things. After the first day or so, and I took my little Cuban guys aside, because I wasn't exactly sure what they were doing but it was something similar to that that they were doing with the Cubans and I didn't speak Spanish at the time. I didn't know what words they were using there and everything like that but I explained it to them. I said,
Jean Tretter: [00:57:00] "We don't know. We can't be sure because we're not native speakers if they're saying drop or fire." I said, "Look at it this way, always figure that they're saying drop. That way, if they drop a flare, we're perfectly okay and we're [inaudible]. If they drop a torpedo, we're dead anyway," because we're sending this to the captain and that's where the torpedo is going to off.
Jean Tretter: [00:57:30] Don't worry if they drop a torpedo, figure they're saying drop not fire. I said, "That solves your problem." We were out there for a couple of weeks, I think, something like that. When we got back into port, I mean, all of us, me and my Cuban kids, we were just they were giving us tranquilizers from the Washington Zoo
Jean Tretter: [00:58:00] to try and calm us down because we were that shaky. It was kind of almost terrifying for us. That was what we had and that was our duty and we did it and we got back safe. They must have been saying drop fortunately, because we never blew up
Jean Tretter: [00:58:30] so we got back safe and sound. That wasn't what I should have been telling them. I should have been saying, "Make sure you know what they're saying," and all that kind of stuff. I never was real good at that, even though I was an E6 and I was supposed to be this hard-nosed navy guy. It just seem much more practical to me to do it that way.
Betsy Kalin: [00:59:00] Makes a lot of sense.
Jean Tretter: Yeah, yeah.
Betsy Kalin: That makes a lot of sense. It's a great story.
Jean Tretter: Yeah.
Betsy Kalin: When did you start the Twin Cities' commemoration of the Stonewall riots? When did you start that and how did you get involved?
Jean Tretter: I got out of the navy in '72 and we were back here and that was at the same time that Jack Baker
Jean Tretter: [00:59:30] had run and had won the position of president of the student body, an openly gay man running as president of the student body at the University of Minnesota. Okay. That was '71. It was Steven Dean and Carrie Woodward and I and we kind of got together. Because what happened is Chicago
Jean Tretter: [01:00:00] asked Jack Baker to come out and be grand marshal at their pride event, because, after all, he had gotten to be one of the big important gays in the United States at the time. He was president of the student body and University of Minnesota has a huge student body as you all know.
Jean Tretter: [01:00:30] After he had been in Chicago, we sat around, Steve and Carrie and I, and we said, "We can't be letting our people go to Chicago and celebrate pride in Chicago. We need to celebrate it here." We decided to celebrate gay pride in Minneapolis,
Jean Tretter: [01:01:00] in St. Paul. That was when we got together and decided that the next year, 1972 would be when we had our first gay pride here in Minneapolis in St. Paul.
Betsy Kalin: What was the first pride like?
Jean Tretter: It was about 50 people. Another funny story about the
Jean Tretter: [01:01:30] 25th anniversary, I think, or so, when I used to do the history pavilion at the pride festivals. We put out a book on the 25th anniversary and we said, "If you were at the first pride here in Minneapolis in St. Paul, please write down your names so that we can get a hold of you because we want to try and contact all the people that were at the very first pride."
Jean Tretter: [01:02:00] We knew for a fact that there were only about 50 people at that very first pride. That book that we'd set out, it would be like autograph book or just a general sign in book at a funeral or a wedding or something like that, I think we had 145 people sign up that swore that they were at the very first pride here.
Jean Tretter: [01:02:30] We knew it was only 50 people, but 145 signed up saying that they were definitely there and they were at it. We had to go by our memories instead. The question?
Betsy Kalin: I'm curious to know, because you started the first pride celebration here in the Twin Cities, which is a huge accomplishment.
Betsy Kalin: [01:03:00] When did you notice that other things about LGBTQ history was like disappearing and what made you want to start collecting materials?
Jean Tretter: That was fairly obvious because when I go to do anything, the stuff would disappear. We'd hand out, I mean, that day, one of the big communications things was to stand outside a bar on Saturday nights and say, "We're going to have such and such an event."
Jean Tretter: [01:03:30] Whether it was a dance at the university or whatever it was, and we'd hand out fliers. The fliers either got thrown away, got crumpled up. Some people kept them but if that person left, died or anything like that, his relatives or whatever would throw them all away. I would try to put something together remembering the history of that event
Jean Tretter: [01:04:00] and there'd be nothing left. That was when it was I had decided to do a big exhibit on our local history basically on the 50th anniversary of the burning of the Hirschfeld library in Berlin and was having trouble finding anything that I didn't do it.
Jean Tretter: [01:04:30] I wanted to put together an exhibit on that, on our history here and everything like that and just could not find anything, because people when they were done with it would throw it away. If something were to happen to them if they died for whatever reason,
Jean Tretter: [01:05:00] their relatives would throw it all away and everything like that. I knew that if we were going to preserve it, we had to do it. I had to start picking it up and preserving it myself because that was the only way it was going to get saved. I couldn't count on anybody else. That takes us to another interesting little historical fact. I'm sorry if I keep going off record with all this stuff,
Jean Tretter: [01:05:30] but Steven Dean was a great guy and he's the one that got us started politically here in Minnesota. He was great. Except, Steven felt that history was a tool to be used. History was like a wrench or a screwdriver and when you're done with it or if you broke it, or something like that,
Jean Tretter: [01:06:00] you just threw it away. You didn't need it anymore. Steve never saved anything like that. He always came back when he needed something like that, then he'd always come back to me and say, "Jean, did you save the stuff from here?" or "Did you save it from there?" or whatever. I'd dig it out and with luck, I'd get it back at some point in time, not always. There's still stuff I'm trying to
Jean Tretter: [01:06:30] get from other people that Steve borrowed it from me and then when they were writing his autobiography into the mainstream, those people borrowed it or got it from Steve to write his autobiography. I still haven't had the papers returned to the archives here from those initial and early attempts to
Jean Tretter: [01:07:00] sway the legislature, whether it be the senators or the representatives or whatever. It was real hard because people didn't save anything. I discovered that you had to save it all because there was none of it left. Whether it was match books or whatever, you saved it all somehow because that was the only way you could keep it and keep it from being destroyed
Jean Tretter: [01:07:30] and you had to be responsible for it. When people didn't return it, you had to go hunt it down, hunt them down, get it back from them and put it back in the collection as what you have left.
Betsy Kalin: Also, I read that you also were trying to study gay and lesbian history at University of Minnesota.
Jean Tretter: [01:08:00] Yes. That was back in the days before it was profitable to teach gay and lesbian history. Steven Schochet eventually is the one who convinced the University of Minnesota that it was worth their while. He donated $500,000 to them before he died on the condition that they start a gay and lesbian studies program. When he did that, all of a sudden then
Jean Tretter: [01:08:30] the university became interested in gay and lesbian studies which they hadn't been before. That then became very important and something to work on and to be able to give kids credit for and things like that. It was just another one of those things that we had to work on.
Jean Tretter: [01:09:00] When I first tried to study, I went at it from the perspective that if we went at it from modern social and cultural anthropology, I could study that and I could make it adapt it to gay and lesbian history and gay and lesbian culture and gay and lesbian studies. Except that
Jean Tretter: [01:09:30] they weren't interested. It didn't make any difference. I even picked as my primary counselor, a professor in the anthropology department who I knew was gay because I kept seeing him down at the gay bars on weekends. He was like, "You should really pick something else." Nobody believed in gay history or gay culture, lesbian history or lesbian culture because
Jean Tretter: [01:10:00] we were just a sexual anomaly. We weren't real. We just happen to be something that happened and therefore, we weren't really history, we weren't really anything at all and therefore, we weren't worth studying. That's why we really had to work at it.
Jean Tretter: [01:10:30] We really had to save all this stuff to show people that it was worth. Now, as the years have gone on, we've been digging up more and more stuff, finding more and more stuff and seeing its value and how it's been hidden and everything we're good at. Kepner did that long before any of us and Kepner, I've met Kepner through another friend. He's the one that taught me a lot about this
Jean Tretter: [01:11:00] and taught me a lot about archives and necessity of saving this stuff and Because we needed to have some way of proving to the disbelievers that if you are gay and you live and you do anything that you produce history.
Jean Tretter: [01:11:30] If you create anything, you're creating gay and lesbian art. If you build anything or cause a social custom to happen that then you are actually doing something and you are creating gay and lesbian history, you're creating gay and lesbian thought, you're creating gay and lesbian music. I mean, each and every one of those was a fight.
Jean Tretter: [01:12:00] People would say they don't exist. You're being silly. We had to fight on each and every one. Fortunately, there were people like Kepner. Fortunately, I met people like Kepner who helped me understand what the fight was and other people like here in Minnesota, Toni McNaron. She not only would say,
Jean Tretter: [01:12:30] "Yes, you're right, this story does contain gay and lesbian facets to it." But she had us go out and look for it and search for it and find it, which is something that the others weren't doing. They were just saying you're being silly. There's no such thing. You're a sexual anomaly.
Jean Tretter: [01:13:00] You're not real. It was a very hard lesson to learn. People still don't believe us sometimes. They still laugh at us, still make fun of us in the bars and things like that when we try to talk about gay and lesbian history. It's getting there.
Jean Tretter: [01:13:30] There are more books published and people are realizing that it's real and it's true but it's something that It's like pounding bent nails. You really have to pound at people to make them understand that it does exist and that we do exist and that simply by the fact that we exist,
Jean Tretter: [01:14:00] we produce history, we produce culture, we produce music, all that stuff. It's not easy. It's hard work but you've got to do it otherwise, it doesn't get done.
Betsy Kalin: And then it disappears and then we disappear.
Jean Tretter: Yeah, exactly. That's it exactly. Yeah, it all disappears if you don't do it and you've got to do it. It's just like
Jean Tretter: [01:14:30] when they used to tell us that we couldn't play sports. What we had to do was go out and form sports teams and play softball and play baseball and play football and play ice hockey. That was a big one. That one was one that they felt that gays and lesbians would never play hockey but we formed one of the first gay and lesbian hockey leagues here in the Twin Cities
Jean Tretter: [01:15:00] and it ran for, I don't know, three or four years. It was great and we did it but you have to go out and do it. You've got to just throw all the rest of them aside and just say, "I'm not going to listen to you. We're going to do it." When we'd actually go out and play softball, then all of a sudden, yeah.
Jean Tretter: [01:15:30] Then we could have a softball game with the police and we could beat the police and then people would say, "Oh well, maybe they can play sports." It's just hard work. It's just something that you have to do and we were Even though we have centuries of our history behind us, we were having to
Jean Tretter: [01:16:00] create our own culture, history, everything all over from a scratch. We had to do it because nobody else had done it and preserved it and kept it. Like you say, they'd thrown it away and then it didn't exist and therefore, we didn't exist. That was one of the ways of getting rid of us.
Betsy Kalin: [01:16:30] Fantastic. We're going to take a break. I think it sounds good
Natalie Tsui: Yeah.
Betsy Kalin: to take a little break.
Jean Tretter: Because
Betsy Kalin: Oh, we're rolling.
Natalie Tsui: We are?
Jean Tretter: I'm sorry.
Betsy Kalin: No, that's fine. We were just talking about the archive and starting the archive. Can you tell me about how did the creation of the official Tretter Collection, how did that come about?
Jean Tretter: [01:17:00] Well, the emphasis behind it was the fact that after the university wouldn't teach me and wouldn't train me or anything in GLBT history, I still had a reputation within the community of knowing GLBT history.
Jean Tretter: [01:17:30] I've read, of course, GLBT books when I found them and became knowledgeable about GLBT history and other people realized that and so more and more people would ask me to come out and speak to their group, whatever group it was. The more I did that, the more I needed what I thought was research to back me up
Jean Tretter: [01:18:00] so I would buy more books and buy this and buy that. After I'd tried to do that exhibit, I'd gotten into the habit of trying to save things instead of throwing them away. After I met Jim Kepner out in Los Angeles and at first There's a couple of things that are out there now that I feel badly about that would be nice to have for the Tretter Collection here,
Jean Tretter: [01:18:30] but I gave them to James and the archives out there because we didn't have anything here. As that thing grew and as it got more and more, and more and more people started coming to me because there wasn't anything here.
Jean Tretter: [01:19:00] Then when Schochet donated the money to the university, then it got to be even more people that really, really needed and wanted an archive and people would call me up and they'd come over to my house and spend time going through old newspapers or books or whatever, sometimes just talking to me. I'd use it for my own research. I wrote newspaper columns. I wrote especially a column called Baldur's Gate.
Jean Tretter: [01:19:30] Baldur, as you know, is a Norse God. The one that was Loki's brother but Baldur was the good one and he was blond and blue eyed and Loki who had black hair and black eyes and all this kind of stuff. But Baldur was the good one. We called it Baldur's Gate because since gays and lesbians really
Jean Tretter: [01:20:00] weren't fighters and that sort of thing, they couldn't get into Valhalla by killing vast quantities of Englishmen and Irishmen and Frenchmen and things like that. They had to have some other way of getting into Valhalla. They became the musicians and the poets and the singers and that.
Jean Tretter: [01:20:30] They got into Valhalla through Baldur's Gate, the gate for the good. They weren't exactly servants but they were the ones that brought culture to Valhalla. I was writing newspaper columns, especially Baldur's Gate and things like that and it just grew and grew and grew.
Jean Tretter: [01:21:00] Then Beth Zemsky and her assistant at the time for the GLBT Programs Office came to me and said, "Jean, we really can't have " Her assistant had come over to my place and had been writing a book on GLBT handicapped people and how they managed to struggle along
Jean Tretter: [01:21:30] and do what they had to do in life. They called me and they said, "Jean, can we come over and look at the collection some more?" They said, "What's happening is we now have this GLBT studies program and yes, the university library has got some books on GLBT people but it really doesn't have a GLBT studies collection.
Jean Tretter: [01:22:00] Would you consider donating your collection to the university libraries?" I said, "Well, yeah, because it would be nice to have it here instead of just sending it out to California, it would be nice to have one in flyover country." Then they started inviting university librarians to come out,
Jean Tretter: [01:22:30] especially Tim Johnson and some of them. Tim Johnson was in charge of the big generic collections within the university archives and university librarians were impressed, I guess you could say, because I developed my own
Jean Tretter: [01:23:00] systems of the whole thing of keeping track of all this stuff and how to keep track and listing it and everything and was using Library of Congress. I eventually switched to the
Jean Tretter: [01:23:30] universal book numbers that they used now internationally and things like that. They were really impressed. The Minneapolis Star Tribune came out and did an interview and looked at it, so did the St. Paul Pioneer Press and the papers declared it to be one of the best GLBT collections anywhere,
Jean Tretter: [01:24:00] including worldwide and things like that. I thought it'd be really nice so we put together this little thing with the help of the librarians in which we did a display of things from my collection and presentation and let people come and see it and touch it
Jean Tretter: [01:24:30] and feel it and see that there is value and we did it by dividing it up into all these categories. We tried to have something for every study area at the university. If you're doing architecture or if you're doing nursing or whatever you were doing, you could come to that exhibit which only lasted one day. You could come and see
Jean Tretter: [01:25:00] what was in the collection and how it could help you study and how it could help you write papers or whatever else you needed to do. It so impressed the people of the university and of the higher ranking people in the library Or I mean Yeah, in the library at the university and everything like that, that then decided that it would be a valuable addition to
Jean Tretter: [01:25:30] the university collections to have a collection there. Fortunately or unfortunately, however you want to look at it, my friends and the cheerleaders for me said that the collection had been named after me which I wasn't quite as enthusiastic about that but they didn't give me a choice
Jean Tretter: [01:26:00] so it got named the Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Transgender Studies. I said that, "That's fine, I will donate it. I won't even charge you for it. I'll just give you the whole thing," because it was getting to be a bit overwhelming for me anyway. I was getting crowded out of my apartment and all that sort of thing.
Jean Tretter: [01:26:30] I said, "We have to write a contract and we have to write a contract that's going to be favorable to the collection and that's going to preserve the collection." There were certain elements that I wanted in that contract, most of them going back to the time when the Nazis had destroyed the Hertzfeld collection in pre-World War II Germany.
Jean Tretter: [01:27:00] I said, "We can write a contract like that and you accept it and I will donate the collection." Much to my surprise, they said, "Sure. Fine. Great. You write the contract and we'll accept it." I did. We put in all those little things in there that were so important that said the collection wouldn't get destroyed. If any level of government tries to destroy the collection
Jean Tretter: [01:27:30] or get rid of it, the university has to pack and ship the collection to another place where it's safe. That's one of the clauses in there. There's a couple of other clauses in there, that sort of thing that protects the collection. The collection can't be burned, can't be thrown away, it can't be gotten rid of. The head of the collection, the curator,
Jean Tretter: [01:28:00] should be gay or lesbian and they're the ones that can decide what can be the deaccessioned and what can accessioned to the collection. Because we've seen what had happened at Cornel. They had just eviscerated the gay and lesbian collection that they've gotten. It just made you want to cry.
Jean Tretter: [01:28:30] It couldn't be changed from a gay lesbian collection to a collection in human sexuality and all this kind of stuff, all that.
Natalie Tsui: We'll just hold it one second.
Betsy Kalin: Yeah. This is really important and I don't want any sound over it.
Natalie Tsui: Yeah.
Betsy Kalin: [01:29:00] What's so important, I think, about your story is that so few people would have dedicated so much of their lives to rounding out of this material, finding it and then preserving it and then preserving it in a way that's incredibly professional. Then, have the foresight to know that when you do donate it that this material has been destroyed over centuries, throughout our history. I just wanted you to talk a little bit more about that and why that's so crucial and so important.
Jean Tretter: [01:29:30] When you think back and you think back of all the things that have been destroyed over the centuries that shouldn't have been destroyed. I can't remember his name right now, I'm sorry. As I'm getting older, I'm forgetting things so it's probably good you're getting this down anyway. All the books that have been thrown away because they're too sexual are destroyed or whatever.
Jean Tretter: [01:30:00] You sat there and you say to yourself, "My God, I'd love to have read that." The stories of the Arabian Nights that were destroyed. All those sorts of things that even if we're not
Jean Tretter: [01:30:30] gay and lesbians or even if we're not heterosexual or whatever we're not, we still would like to know what they said. The original "Iliad" was a love story between Achilles and Patroclus and that got rewritten and destroyed during the Middle Ages by the monks and it shouldn't be. Someday, that was one of the things I always kind of wished that I could do but hopefully,
Jean Tretter: [01:31:00] someday somebody will do it. I'd love to see an opera, a real opera written about the "Iliad" but written from the aspect of the love story between Achilles and Patroclus. Just imagine how beautiful that would be for gay men everywhere. I mean, there's other things like that. For lesbians and other wonderful, wonderful lesbian stories
Jean Tretter: [01:31:30] that have gotten lost. How many lesbians know that the way Greek women lesbians indicated to other lesbians in Greek society was that they would pick up a strap of their toga and lift it. That was their hidden signal that they used between themselves to say, "Hey, I'm a lesbian. If you're interested, come on."
Jean Tretter: [01:32:00] Those things need to be preserved so that other people can learn and learn what they are and have and cherish. Something I'd like to say when I do lectures is that one of the ways that the Jews managed to survive the concentration camps was the fact
Jean Tretter: [01:32:30] that they had traditions to fall back on. They had that strength of their culture and their society that they could use. Gays and lesbians need that too, that's why we need an archive like this or a history. We need that music and we've gotten some of it. Some of it we've had for a long time and just never realized it.
Jean Tretter: [01:33:00] Look at "Billy Budd", beautiful, beautiful opera written by Benjamin Britten. It goes back to those myths in gay and lesbians and goes back eons of time that never got written down about the blind angel. We've got blind angels all over, every place. We know that the blind angels were basically gay
Jean Tretter: [01:33:30] and that the reason they were blind is because when an angel was gay, there had to be something they had to have a flaw. That's how come they became blind. You have "Barbarella", this sexy story of Barbarella and sex and heterosexuality and all that kind of stuff and who's in there but a blind angel.
Jean Tretter: [01:34:00] How beautiful that blind angel is in there? Billy Budd was that blind angel brought into human form and put on a whaling ship written in a story form by Melville, who was gay who then Benjamin Britten, who was gay wrote that story,
Jean Tretter: [01:34:30] that novel into an opera using one of the primary parts he wrote for his lover, Peter Pears, who was gay. The libretto was written by E. M. Forster who was gay. Here's this whole string over a period of thousands of years that we've had this whole thing about the blind angel
Jean Tretter: [01:35:00] and this whole thing that existed, that if you don't have it all in one place, you don't understand it. You don't see it. You don't get it. Now you can go to one place. You can go to this collection in Minnesota and really study it. I know people would make fun of me because they'd say, "How come you want all those copies of "Billy Budd"? How come every time you go into a bookstore
Jean Tretter: [01:35:30] and you find a different copy of "Billy Budd", you buy it?" Each one of those stories saved something. Each time you save a different edition of the "Iliad", you're saving a part that was lost some other time, some other way. You need them all. You've got to take all these little tiny itty-bitty pieces
Jean Tretter: [01:36:00] and put them all back together again and that's how you get them. Yeah, it's more work for us but what a wonderful job, what a wonderful work that we have that we can actually do this and bring it back and give it as a gift to all those young lesbians out there and all those young gay men and those transgenders.
Jean Tretter: [01:36:30] That sitting out there wouldn't have the chance to have all that at all, if we didn't do it and if we didn't put it together for them. How important that is? That's not work. That becomes part of life. That becomes a battle of life.
Jean Tretter: [01:37:00] That becomes something that you can do that you can put together that you know you're going to pass on to others. You may not be the best person to do it and you may get it wrong and you may get this part upside down instead of right side up but at least you're doing it and you're getting it there and you're getting it to them. There'll be other people to come along and make it right
Jean Tretter: [01:37:30] and change it and rewrite it. We do that all the time. In history, that's why we have scholars and books, universities and things like that so that it can rewritten and redone. We may never ever get it exactly right but we can keep trying. It's worth our effort to keep trying
Betsy Kalin: [01:38:00] It's more than worth your effort. It's amazing. I think that your collection at the university, it just won an award in 2016 which was, what's it called, the American Library Association Award. It was the GLBT Round Table gave the award to your collection at the library in 2016.
Jean Tretter: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Betsy Kalin: [01:38:30] It's an amazing collection.
Jean Tretter: Yeah. We've gotten actually a couple of awards from various library That was mine. It kind of just talks once in a while. We've actually gotten a couple of library awards from different libraries and things like that. As people are realizing it, I mean we sloughed it aside for so many years and said it's not worth it. It's of no value.
Jean Tretter: [01:39:00] When the Salvation Army burned the archives in New Zealand and I went around all the bars and put out jars asking people to donate change to help rebuild the archive in New Zealand, people would laugh at me and thought that was really funny. An archive, a gay and lesbian archive. I know they would say things like, "What did they archive there? Old condoms?"
Jean Tretter: [01:39:30] Just all these kind of stuff. We get it. It's there. More learning. It takes time. Think of the changes in China. The People's Republic of China now not only has a gay and lesbian archive in Beijing but has changed completely. Has gone away from that old thing of Mao and the red book about
Jean Tretter: [01:40:00] homosexuality was brought to China by Europeans and it's a European disease. They now have gay pride in Shanghai, gay pride in Hong Kong, everything like that. We've rediscovered what's called the Temple of the Rabbit. That was the gay and lesbian temple in old China, was the Temple of the Rabbit.
Jean Tretter: [01:40:30] That's where gays and lesbians would go to have their lives consecrated and everything like that. Lost for hundreds of years and now it's being reborn again.
Betsy Kalin: I need to push on, as much as I would love to stay on this topic.
Jean Tretter: Sure. You got to be careful with me. I chatter on.
Betsy Kalin: [01:41:00] I need to go back to your Night Rivers Radio Show. It was the only gay and lesbian classical music show in the country. Can you talk about that?
Jean Tretter: Sure, I did that for
Betsy Kalin: Can you just say what it was called and that it was a radio show?
Jean Tretter: Yeah. It was a radio show. It was called Night Rivers.
Betsy Kalin: Continue on.
Jean Tretter: I thought you said, never mind. Night Rivers and it was. It was the only regularly broadcast gay and lesbian classical music show.
Jean Tretter: [01:41:30] I opened every single show for almost 20 years, I think it was 20 years. I opened every single show with a piece by Tchaikovsky because I've always kind of felt that Tchaikovsky was the master and the leader of gay and lesbian classical music.
Jean Tretter: [01:42:00] I played them all that I could find. Obscure lesbians from the middle ages to modern ones. It was amazing. The people that ... the ones that got to me was or were the teenagers that would call me up because it was an overnight show,
Jean Tretter: [01:42:30] and they'd call me up at like 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning and say, well, I forget the name of the one opera unfortunately. I wish I wouldn't forget things so much but I knew there's an opera about yellow fever in Venice. The kid dies and the guy that loved him was trying to find him and hoping to save him and can't.
Jean Tretter: [01:43:00] It's typical opera stuff. They all die except that it's gay. It's wonderful. The things that I remember the most is the kids that would call me up at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning and say, "Oh my god, I fell asleep." What happened? Because they never knew
Jean Tretter: [01:43:30] that that existed. Actually, what they can now do and I don't know who they're hiding from, because this kid told me that he had the blankets over his head and a flashlight and he was trying to listen to it but he just fell asleep. He couldn't stay awake. He can go out and he can buy that opera and he can listen to it as much as he wants and nobody's going to understand a damn thing about it because
Jean Tretter: [01:44:00] it's in Italian, I believe. If it's his parents that he's afraid of or whoever he's afraid of, he's been liberated a little bit. That wasn't uncommon. I had Mormons call me. I had Muslims call me in the night and say, " Oh, thank god for your show." We did some wonderful things. We did,
Jean Tretter: [01:44:30] during the St. Paul Winter Carnival, we'd always do one ice skating show. We'd play mostly in waltzes by Tchaikovsky so that you could go out to one of these ice rinks in the middle of the night, put on your headsets and skate to Tchaikovsky waltzes all night long. That was a number of those things. For Halloween, we used to play,
Jean Tretter: [01:45:00] and there's all kinds of wonderful spooky gay and lesbian music. Everything from Schubert to Death of a Child to Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain and things like that. We would read science fiction guy. I can't remember right now. I'm sorry but we'd read his short story
Jean Tretter: [01:45:30] about the Halloween tree. Ray Bradbury wrote "The Halloween Tree" and we'd intersperse it with spooky gay classical music and then so as always. People loved those shows. They love the themed shows that we always did and redo.
Natalie Tsui: One second, there's a noise in the background.
Betsy Kalin: It sounds like kids.
Natalie Tsui: [01:46:00] Yeah. Kids.
Jean Tretter: Yeah.
Natalie Tsui: Those pesky kids.
Jean Tretter: Kids are appropriate for the Halloween tree.
Natalie Tsui: The lighting has changed a little bit, I just need to
Betsy Kalin: Okay.
Natalie Tsui: adjust it.
Betsy Kalin: It's a little warmer.
Natalie Tsui: It got brighter outside, it actually got a waive right here. It's like kind of noticeable but on the camera, I can see it.
Betsy Kalin: Okay. It's okay?
Natalie Tsui: [01:46:30] Yeah. No, they'll have to fix it a little bit but just a thing but I have adjusted it as much as I can with the moving lights.
Betsy Kalin: I think we're going to have to keep going, is it quieter?
Natalie Tsui: Yeah, they left.
Betsy Kalin: Oh they left. Okay. Great. I think the only line that we missed was your very last line where you were talking about Night Rivers and that you did a lot of amazing stuff and that was it.
Jean Tretter: Oh. Okay. Yeah. That was fun. I love doing theme shows for the holidays and things like that. People seem to really love those
Jean Tretter: [01:47:00] and it was amazing how many people would stay up late at night or turn their radio on and go to bed and fall asleep during the show, for the most part and everything like that and listen to it. It was another one of those areas that nobody had really touched in their lives. Classical music has always been such a big thing in gay and lesbian lives.
Jean Tretter: [01:47:30] Then to find out that it is yours. It's part of your life. It's something you can have. It's something you can incorporate into your life and all those wonderful things. You become the owner of those things. Your heart, your mind and your soul possesses them and that's what's great.
Jean Tretter: [01:48:00] It belongs to you. Once that happens, nobody can take it away whether you're in a concentration camp or whatever. You have it. It's yours.
Betsy Kalin: That's such a powerful message. That's really, I think, that's such an important theme not even for like the past but for today as well.
Jean Tretter: [01:48:30] Yeah. People need to learn that. They need to learn that those are things they can have. They become palpable and real in their lives.
Betsy Kalin: I had a next question that I wanted to talk to you that's kind of related, it's about the Gay Games.
Jean Tretter: Sure.
Betsy Kalin: How you changed the history of the Gay Games.
Jean Tretter: [01:49:00] Yeah. It was like the thing I was saying about sports. People told us we couldn't play sports and this was another one of those things where I saw little tiny thing but this was in a gay newspaper saying that Tom Waddell wanted to startup gay Olympic games
Natalie Tsui: Sorry. I had to make an adjustment.
Betsy Kalin: Sure.
Natalie Tsui: Right now you're sitting in such a way where I'm getting a lot of
Betsy Kalin: I think you have to turn towards me more. Yeah.
Jean Tretter: Oh. I'm sorry.
Natalie Tsui: That's okay. It's just the noise.
Jean Tretter: [01:49:30] Yeah. Anyway, an announcement that Tom Waddell was going to start Gay Games and I got involved, wrote to them. Basically, it was his idea and a couple of other people had gone along with it and everything like that but they had nothing. One of the things that I did was I wrote their original rule book
Jean Tretter: [01:50:00] for all the games and changed it to apply to gays and lesbians as opposed to heterosexual rules. One of the things that we fought the hardest for was that in the regular Olympics, there were always sports that women can't do that and men shouldn't do that and things like that.
Jean Tretter: [01:50:30] In the Gay Games, we just said that, "No, everybody can do any one whatever they feel like doing," and we changed it. We changed the history of sports in that. You've seen that in the regular Olympics and of course, they got real snotty about it and said that we couldn't use the name Olympics, even though there was a Rat Olympics and there was this Olympics
Jean Tretter: [01:51:00] and that Olympics and the retarded Olympics and everything like that. One of the few times that it was great that it was San Francisco and not here. They sued the San Francisco Arts and Sports Federation or whatever it was called at the time, telling them that they had no right to use the term Olympics. We kept the word Olympics here in Minnesota
Jean Tretter: [01:51:30] and called ourselves the Gay Olympic Games, even though we weren't supposed to and they never, like I said a couple of times, we're flyover country. They never got around suing us. We weren't important enough because gays and lesbians in the middle of the United States, you talk about flyover country. Of course, they wouldn't sue us. Why would they bother?
Jean Tretter: [01:52:00] We weren't anything. We were just flyovers. We kept the name and used it for quite a few years. That was fun in and of itself and being able to kind of defy them. We kind of had that sword of Damocles hanging over our heads that they might sue us
Jean Tretter: [01:52:30] but we were never as far as they were concerned, like I said, we were just flyover country. We're just gays and lesbians.
Betsy Kalin: How did you get the torch to go through the Twin Cities?
Jean Tretter: I called up the torch committee and said, "What the hell are you doing? You're running a torch across the United States and you're not even going to go through Minnesota? We've got one of the biggest teams that are coming there." I said, "You send the torch through Minnesota and we'll give you the runners for the whole thing."
Jean Tretter: [01:53:00] We had to do a little bit of jumping up and down and yelling and screaming and things like that. We had to change a few things so that we could get it done but we managed to take and have them move the torch so that it came up through Wisconsin into Minnesota and we took it down through Iowa, through Kansas and Nebraska
Jean Tretter: [01:53:30] then, eventually on out to California. That was something we did, our committee here specifically did Robin Caris and I. We wanted it. Our biggest problem was the fundraising for that. We were talking about fundraising a little while ago. We were afraid we weren't going to be able to get enough money. We had to change it.
Natalie Tsui: [01:54:00] Maybe we could tell them they can't be able to
Betsy Kalin: Anybody up there? Hello.
Natalie Tsui: Hello.
Betsy Kalin: Hi. We're filming down here. Is it possible to be quiet up there or go somewhere that's not right near here? Thank you.
Jean Tretter: Okay.
Betsy Kalin: [01:54:30] You're good. You're talking about fundraising.
Jean Tretter: Right. What we did because the distances, we're so much longer by sending the torch up through Minnesota and all those other states that otherwise the torch would have never gone through it. Because they were going to send it like from New York right to Los Angeles or San Francisco, rather. We said that,
Jean Tretter: [01:55:00] if you wanted to pledge, because people pledged per mile, if you pledged for over 100 miles, you could do it for a penny a mile instead of a dollar a mile. People were able to do that because then they can get 100 miles for under a buck.
Jean Tretter: [01:55:30] That made it a little bit easier and they were more willing to pledge the money. You just have to change things and manipulate. I mean, yeah, it's too bad that we had to do it that way or been nicer if we could have left it at a dollar a mile but we just knew we'd never make the money. We made it a penny a mile and we got enough money to send the torch all the way across the
Jean Tretter: [01:56:00] not only across the country but to pay for it too. Yeah. That was one of our more interesting things that we worked on and did. Yeah.
Betsy Kalin: I think it's fantastic.
Jean Tretter: Yeah. It was fun.
Betsy Kalin: I know, it's a great story. Let's see. I just want to make sure I have all of the questions. Here's one. Jean,
Betsy Kalin: [01:56:30] I have an answer in my head for this but I need to ask you, would you consider yourself an activist and why?
Jean Tretter: Yeah. I mean it's kind of like do you consider yourself gay? I'm gay because I'm interested in people of the same sex. Of course, I'm an activist and I'm very proud of that. I think that's wonderful. Far too many people don't One of the things that used to make me
Jean Tretter: [01:57:00] before I started having health problems and going to the VA Hospital all the time instead of doing the things I'd rather do. It used to make me the angriest was going to these we'd have these great big events and gays and lesbians from all over and we'd have these renowned gay activists, usually politicians, go upfront
Jean Tretter: [01:57:30] and they would start out their speeches with, "I am," how would they do that. They would say, "I am not just a gay politician. I am a politician who happens to be gay." That was when I wanted to throw rotten tomatoes at them. I mean, my god. Why not be happy? I mean be happy that you're gay
Jean Tretter: [01:58:00] and all these people, they seem to think when they were in the senate or in the house or something like that, when people would accuse them of being gay that this was the most terrible insult that could ever happen to them. That was a load of crap. If somebody calls you gay, you should be proud that you are gay, my god. That puts you at level ground with Michelangelo,
Jean Tretter: [01:58:30] Leonardo Da Vinci, all these wonderful, wonderful people who've accomplished incredible, incredible things and you don't want to say that you're gay and you're embarrassed to say that you're gay. That's a bunch of bullshit. That used to make me so angry. It still does I guess. A little bit, it shows up here and there.
Jean Tretter: [01:59:00] No, I'm definitely an activist. I'm glad I'm an activist. I'm glad I had the chance to be an activist. How wonderful that I was born gay and could actually do this and get out and do the things that I have done and proclaim this stuff to the world. It's so important. It's so important and so much to do. Yeah.
Betsy Kalin: [01:59:30] You made a huge contributions and you're still making a contribution.
Jean Tretter: Hopefully a little bit here and there, not as much. I show that you can get old and crippled and blind and everything else and still contribute a little bit here and there in the edges, I like to think.
Betsy Kalin: [02:00:00] Yes. Definitely. What would you regard as the most significant change that GLBTQ people experience today as compared to 50 or 60 years ago?
Jean Tretter: What significant change they experience?
Betsy Kalin: What's different today?
Jean Tretter: [02:00:30] Computers. Before, we only had the option to be hidden, maybe stuck in our ranch in South Dakota and not be able to get out and everything like that. With the computer, you have the whole world and you can talk to gay and lesbian people any place in the world. You may have to learn another language, heaven forbid. That's not that awful. It's not that hard. It's not that terrible.
Jean Tretter: [02:01:00] Just do it. Just do it. Sometimes it's hard. I've had trouble with a few languages. I always wanted to learn Chinese and it never quite worked out for me to learn Chinese and be able to spend a lot of time with Chinese friends and everything like that. I think computers are probably the thing that made the biggest difference in gay and lesbian lives.
Jean Tretter: [02:01:30] Because we no longer have to just sit at home and feel sorry for ourselves.
Betsy Kalin: It's true. I think that's true. What would you name as the most important underlying reason for the progress that the LGBTQ community has made?
Jean Tretter: That's because we learned a lesson and it was a very hard lesson to learn.
Natalie Tsui: It's okay [inaudible].
Betsy Kalin: We don't have to.
Natalie Tsui: 12:15.
Betsy Kalin: [02:02:00] Yeah. We need to, yeah.
Jean Tretter: We had this evil woman out there by the name of, oh what was her name?
Betsy Kalin: Anita Bryant?
Jean Tretter: Anita Bryant. Thank you. She's one of them that I hope to outlive. They always say, the best way to get even with your enemies is to outlive them. I've outlived Jerry Falwell and a few of those, Billy Graham. I'm hoping to outlive Anita Bryant
Jean Tretter: [02:02:30] and she was evil. I mean, there was any number of people that were killed, were found with notes stuck to their bodies saying, "Another fag killed for God and Anita." Things like that and she's never apologized for any of that. None of it. What we want to say about
Jean Tretter: [02:03:00] that and about Anita is that How did you originally form that question? I'm sorry.
Betsy Kalin: What's the most important underlying reason for the progress?
Jean Tretter: Oh, for the progress. Yeah. What happened with us is Anita came along and she said, "Okay. We don't want to have our children threatened in Dade County," and she was going to change it and she was going to come up to St. Paul and change the St. Paul thing and
Jean Tretter: [02:03:30] all this kind of stuff that she was going to change and do. She did manage to make a few changes here and there. I think we made more at the same time, because we brought it out and brought her out and kind of taught her a lesson. The lesson that we learned was that when we had trouble in Dade County,
Jean Tretter: [02:04:00] we started off with the old, we're going to send people from the big cities from New York and Los Angeles down there and we're going to give them lots of money and we're going to save the day and the big cities are going to go down and really save everything and save the day and save everybody. It didn't work. We lost. What we found out then is that what we need to do
Jean Tretter: [02:04:30] is come out of the closet. We learned that if we just stay home and say, "Mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, brother, sister," whoever it is, "I'm gay. I'm still your brother. I'm still your grandson. I'm still your son. I love you. Now you can kick me out. You can beat me up. You can say I'm going to go to hell. You can do whatever you want.
Jean Tretter: [02:05:00] I'm still gay and I'm still going to be gay. This is the reality of life." We found that we've changed more lives by being open and by coming out of the closet than we ever did by sending money and by sending big guys that thought they knew what they were doing and how they were going to change the world
Jean Tretter: [02:05:30] with their stuff, their right wing and even left wing stuff. They didn't. They didn't change much of anything. We lost those elections. We lost those people. We lost those attempts to turn the clock back or to advance our cause but by just staying home
Jean Tretter: [02:06:00] and just telling people, "Hey, this is who I am and I still love you. Don't you still love me? Don't you remember that Christmas? Don't you remember that Halloween? Don't you remember all the things we used to do together? Where are those shining words about family that you used to tell us about? Isn't it God that's supposed to make the judgment not you?"
Jean Tretter: [02:06:30] By doing that, we changed more lives and more ideas than we ever did by sending money and by sending the head of the International Gay Alliance to Dade County to change things. That's what made the difference and that made the difference with gay marriage, that made the difference with Don't Ask, Don't Tell, that made the difference all the way around,
Jean Tretter: [02:07:00] but we have to keep doing it. Like I've said so often, we live with a window of opportunity and that window can be slammed shut at any time and if we don't keep reminding people that we're here and we're not going any place. You can either hate us or love us and it's a hell of a lot more pleasant to love us than to hate us.
Betsy Kalin: [02:07:30] That is incredibly true.
Natalie Tsui: Just a time check, it's 12:20.
Betsy Kalin: I'm going to do the last four questions.
Natalie Tsui: Okay. Great. I just want you to know.
Betsy Kalin: Yeah. Thank you. The last four questions of this interview are supposed to be like kind of short and pithy kind of answers.
Jean Tretter: Okay, Oscar Wilde kind of stuff.
Betsy Kalin: Yeah. Exactly, one of my favorites. The first question is, if a person comes to you tomorrow and they're thinking of coming out, what advice or guidance would you give them?
Jean Tretter: [02:08:00] Yes. Short and pithy enough?
Betsy Kalin: Yeah. I think that's fine. I mean you might want to say, if a person repeat the question in your answer and say, if a person comes out to you tomorrow, what advice would you give them?
Jean Tretter: I'd say yes because it's actually, it doesn't matter all those other people out there. The person that's going to help the most
Jean Tretter: [02:08:30] when they come out is themselves. That's the person that they're going to help the most, because they're going to be able to live an open and free life.
Betsy Kalin: That's great. That's perfect. What is your hope for the future?
Jean Tretter: [02:09:00] Right now, the only thing I can think of anymore is that Trump be indicted and you know, it's one of those funny things, my whole thought patterns about history have changed. I used to question and wonder about Germany and the people in Germany and how they could accept Hitler, yet I sit here in Minnesota and I say,
Jean Tretter: [02:09:30] "What can I do to get rid of Trump?" It's so hard. I don't have billions. I don't have all the things that we need to overthrow him and get rid of him. That makes me think differently about what the German people were thinking about. They couldn't just go out and just toss Hitler aside. There were threats after them.
Jean Tretter: [02:10:00] Let me make a confession that's not a very nice one. This is where you ask if I lean forward, this is where I need to lean forward to tell you. I have also had to rethink the Russian Revolution. When they took the czar and the czarina and the kids and they shot them and dumped the bodies down a coal mine and poured lye on them so that
Jean Tretter: [02:10:30] they were dissolved and so that they would never have to do that again. I never understood that. I couldn't understand, why would you do that? Just let them go. Let them take their millions and go to France or some other country. I now understand what the Russians felt. I would take Melania, [Malinka 02:11:01], the whole bunch of them, take them to one of those Trump's precious coal mines in West Virginia.
Jean Tretter: [02:11:00] Let's be rid of them forever. I should feel terrible about that and I don't. The only thing that I feel glad about that is that Trumps don't like animals. They don't have any dogs. The czar's dogs got shot at the same time. We wouldn't be killing any dogs or kitty cats or parrots or anything like that
Jean Tretter: [02:11:30] but to get rid of all the Trumps. I'm sorry. That's a terrible thing to say but I'm sure that there's some wonderfully deep coal mines in West Virginia and I'll even pay for a bag of lime.
Betsy Kalin: Okay. We'll leave that there. There's a million people who agree with you.
Jean Tretter: I hope so.
Betsy Kalin: Oh there are. Why is it important for you to tell your story?
Jean Tretter: [02:12:00] If you say there's 300 million people in the United States and I am one of what, 30 million of or 10%, and if the 30 million don't tell their story, the 270 million are never going to accept us. That's why it's important for me to tell mine.
Jean Tretter: [02:12:30] I may only affect one or two other people but it's important and just quickly to kind of round that out for you, when I came out, I knew what was going to happen in my family. I went around to everybody in my family that I knew and told them that I was gay. I then went back and told my mother that I was gay
Jean Tretter: [02:13:00] and I kind of knew that she suspected. I kind of knew what she was going to do, because first thing that she said was, "We can't tell your brother." "Oh, I'm sorry. I already told him." "Well, we certainly cannot tell Aunt May." "Oh, I'm sorry mom. I already told Aunt May." Oh, well we can't tell this and we can't tell that one. I had already gone around her and encircled her with all these other relatives,
Jean Tretter: [02:13:30] all these people that I knew that she was going to say, we can't tell them because we don't want them to know that you're gay. I said, "I told them all and I am now telling you. You're the last one to know." That's the point. Be there. Tell it. Be the first one to tell everybody. Then,
Jean Tretter: [02:14:00] when somebody comes up to you and says, "Oh, we can't tell poor grandma. She's got that terrible condition and she'll have a heart attack." Like the black guy that owns a junkyard on TV that always had the heart attacks and was going to die. He was going to join his wife in heaven. That's basically a bunch of bull. Not just because you're gay. If nothing else, if they really hate you that much, they'll want to live so that they can torture you. Nope. Tell them all.
Betsy Kalin: [02:14:30] That's great. That's great. The last question is about OUTWORDS and if you can just mention OUTWORDS in your answer so we know that you're referring to it. OUTWORDS is the first national project to capture and share our history through in depth interviews. Why is this important?
Jean Tretter: [02:15:00] Because it sounds like OUTWORDS is making a really strong attempt to get a wide circle of people that everybody knows and recognizes. A lot of people don't recognize that Oh I can't even Again, I'm forgetting things faster than I can remember them.
Jean Tretter: [02:15:30] The young woman that was the first to be on the North Pole and the South Pole, she lives here in Minneapolis. A lot of people don't know that she's a lesbian. There's a lot of people in that list that I looked at that people don't know about and they need to. They need to know about George Takei.
Jean Tretter: [02:16:00] They need to know about all of them. The more that they know about, the better off we all will be. The less likely we are to lose our hard won rights, our right to marry, our right to serve in the military, our right to be who we are and where we are and do what we do best, which is just be ourselves.
Betsy Kalin: [02:16:30] That's excellent. That's an excellent answer. I have a quick question for you. The only thing I didn't get to in the questionnaire is the three individuals.
Natalie Tsui: I think
Betsy Kalin: Because we don't really have time.
Natalie Tsui: Yeah, we don't have time. I mean you shouldn't ask me. Actually, what you should ask is do you have a question or does he have any additional questions. I think the three people doesn't it's not necessary.
Betsy Kalin: Okay.
Natalie Tsui: Yeah.
Betsy Kalin: I just wanted to check because I know we're running short, we only have the room until 12:30.
Natalie Tsui: [02:17:00] I mean yeah. We do have a long break in betweens and you are the producer so it's up to you. I'm just going to hold the camera for you.
Betsy Kalin: No. You're a collaborator. Okay. Do you have a question you want to ask?
Natalie Tsui: I don't right now. Just do you have anything to add?
Betsy Kalin: Jean, do you have anything that we didn't talk about that you want to add or any other people that you want to mention that you think made contributions that you want to talk about?
Jean Tretter: Yes. We forget about Steven Dean. When we started the HRC and started gay rights
Jean Tretter: [02:17:30] politically here in Minnesota, we always forget to mention Alan Spear, who actually was elected before Harvey Milk but came out after Harvey Milk. He was elected and most people knew he was gay when he was elected. Then we also never mentioned Linnea Stenson, who's the head of the Academics group in Chicago at the University of Chicago.
Jean Tretter: [02:18:00] She's one of the most brilliant academics in the world today. She should definitely be mentioned and remembered. Steven and Alan have both passed away. Linnea is alive. You could go and interview her in Chicago. You're doing just gays and lesbians?
Betsy Kalin: [02:18:30] LGBTQ.
Jean Tretter: Oh. Okay. Because then you should also do Jennifer Pritzker, who is a good friend of mine too.
Betsy Kalin: Is she activist here?
Jean Tretter: No. She's in Chicago. She owns the Hyatt Hotels, all of them. She's a multibillionaire. She's wonderful. I've got lots of stories about that too and about when she brought me to Chicago to talk to the Pritzker Museum
Jean Tretter: [02:19:00] and everything like that. She's real important. I'm trying to think all the lesbian that went to the polls.
Betsy Kalin: I don't remember her name.
Jean Tretter: Starts with a B. I'm sure.
Natalie Tsui: I don't know if we're out of time but the names could be you can just email.
Betsy Kalin: We can email.
Natalie Tsui: Yeah, because I don't think that's getting them via recording is necessary.
Jean Tretter: [02:19:30] Yeah.
Betsy Kalin: Okay. All right.
Jean Tretter: Right and Ambassador Jimmy Hormel is another one too. I know this isn't on the list. Jimmy Hormel, George Takei, what is her name?
Betsy Kalin: That's okay. We'll figure it out. I think that's it.
Natalie Tsui: Okay.
Betsy Kalin: We're going to have to be quiet for 30 seconds because she's going to just record the room.
Jean Tretter: I can tell my Chinese story then.
Natalie Tsui: [02:20:00] I'm sorry. We have to be quiet for room tone. Just try not to move because we have to just get the sound of the room. Unfortunately, it has to be the mic close to you also so just try not to move too much because your sound will create a sound. Okay, room tone 30 seconds.
[02:21:00] Okay, 30 seconds room tone with that weird sound.
[02:21:30] Okay. Room tone, take three with that other loud sound.

Interviewed by: Betsy Kalin
Camera: Natalie Tsui
Date: March 04, 2018
Location: Carty Heights Affordable Senior Housing, Minneapolis, MN