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Before Stonewall the Fight to Love Who You Want Unfolded in MN

Minnesota pioneers Michael McConnell and Jack Baker were America's first same-sex couple to marry.

By Daniel Bergin

"It's about love. And if you can participate in love, you have infinite power." - Michael McConnell

Among the many powerful, painful, and profound soundbites I heard doing interviews for our documentary Out North: MNLGBTQ History, this statement about love and infinite power continues to stand out. The phrase came from Michael McConnell, author of The Wedding Heard Round the World. Along with his husband Jack Baker, he fired the first shot in the same-sex marriage revolution in 1970, when they began their fight for the right to marry. While the focus of LGBTQ history is often on the coasts, this revolutionary act – along with other seminal steps in the "Gay Liberation" movement – happened right here in Minnesota. Our film explores the era from the late '60s to the early '90s through a series of stories from the state's queer past.

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In his interview, Michael acknowledged that some people in the LGBTQ community didn't fully support their fight for legal marriage. He countered this view by pointing out that, for one thing, marriage is the means through which wealth and resources are passed along within families. So, on a practical level, marriage is important for equity and familial stability. But on a much deeper level, Michael also talks about his marriage to Jack as a powerful affirmation and expression of their love.

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In the end, I realized how Michael's statement weaves its way through all the stories of Out North. For example, project advisor, Stewart Van Cleve, titled his book on the state's queer history, Land of 10,000 Loves. The power of love, in various forms, drives the rise of the LGBTQ community out of the closeted darkness and into the light of day. It is seen in the love and support of family, like the parents of the late Minneapolis City Council member Brian Coyle. The love of self, and the empowerment that comes from it, is a powerful thread in the history of transgender people, such as oral historian Andrea Jenkins and political pioneer Susan Kimberly. Looking for love was dangerous and difficult, and it underscores the historic role of gay bars for an oppressed community. We see the opposite of love in the late 1970s, when voters in Saint Paul opted not to grant LBGTQ people what should have been their basic human rights. But ultimately, love defeats prejudice two decades later in another statewide fight for human rights.

Out North is another in a long line of TPT documentaries about our region's past. It is about the power of place, activism, family and community. But in many ways, as Michael McConnell says, these stories are about the infinite power of love in its many forms.

Jack Baker and Michael McConnell featured in Time & Look Magazine — photo by Charlotte Brooks.
Jack Baker and Michael McConnell featured in Time & Look Magazine — photo by Charlotte Brooks.

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