Allan Spear, Minnesota, 1976
Allan Spear (D)
Born June 24, 1937
Died October 11, 2008
State Senator, 60th District
Elected November 1972
Came out in 1974
Re-elected in 1976, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996
Elected President of the Senate by the Senate in January 1993 and served in that role until he retired in 2000.
Interview with Allan Spear for Out and Elected in the USA
Q: What is the President of the Senate and what does is it involve?
A: The President of the Senate is the chief presiding officer of the Senate. I’m not the power person in the Senate – the Majority Leader is the person who really sets the agenda and who runs the place. Of course being president does put me in the leadership group, but I am not the leader. That varies from state to state. In some states the President of the Senate is the actual leader of the Senate; in other states the Majority Leader is, and he leads from the floor, whereas I stand up at the podium and I preside over the sessions.
There are two things I do that give me some power. One is that I refer bills. All bills that are introduced to the Senate are then referred to the president – I have an assistant who sort of does this with my approval, and we decide which committee each bill should be sent to. The second thing is that I make the parliamentary decisions. And sometimes those can be fairly crucial. Probably the ones that are most crucial are the decisions as to whether amendments are germane or not. Our rules state that an amendment to a bill must be germane to the subject of the bill, so the question of germaneness can often be a judgement call. So, I’m the one who decides this and it can often be very crucial because sometimes amendments are the way for people to get their issues before the body if they could not get a committee hearing or if the bill was defeated in committee. I’m kind of the traffic cop on that.
Q: You were elected right after Elaine Noble and became the first openly gay male elected to state office?
A: I was in office two years before she was elected. But I hadn’t come out yet. She was elected in November of ‘74 – and there were a lot of factors compelling me to come out – her election was certainly not the only one, but it was one. I saw she had been elected and that helped push me over the line. It was in December, just a month after she was elected, that I gave an interview to the Minneapolis Star and came out.
Q: As a real part of the history of being out and elected, and as a long-time observer of this unfolding phenomenon over the years, what do you think has been the impact of having out elected officials serving in public office?
A: Well, I think there has been a huge impact. I don’t think that it’s just because of anything I individually have done except that I’ve been there. I know a lot of people who have served with me – either colleagues or staff people, lobbyists in some cases, who have told me that they have changed their views on gay issues over the years because I was the only gay person they ever knew. They met me, and they knew I was gay, and they saw me functioning as, you know, a productive human being and that they developed new ideas and new attitudes about what gay people are and how gay people behave because of that. And I think that’s true not just in politics. I think that’s true if you come out in business, or if you come out, certainly in athletics – whatever you’re in. Coming out does have that impact. I’ve always argued that coming out is the most important political decision that any gay person can ever make. We think of it often as personal rather than a political decision, but it also has this really profound political impact on the people around us and in our own society.
Q: Now that you are retiring, any general reflections?
A: I think as a gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender community, we are sometimes too hard on ourselves. We sometimes focus too much on the things that are still not done. There is still a lot undone. The majority of the states still don’t have human rights legislation – we don’t have it at the national level. Issues like marriage are still a ways off. So, I understand there is a lot of unfinished agenda, but I think some of the younger people who haven’t been around as long as I have don’t quite realize how far we’ve come and how different the climate is today from what it was when I was a young person in the 1950s and ‘60s – how much more freedom we have to be ourselves. I think my election as President of the Senate is just one example of that. It would have been unthinkable just a couple of decades ago.