Lisa Vecoli is the longtime curator of the University of Minnesota’s Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection and the founder of the Minnesota Lesbian Community Organizing Oral History Project.
For those who’ve never visited, can you describe what the Tretter Collection is?
The Tretter Collection is an archive of the GLBT community at the University of Minnesota Libraries. We have over 4,000 linear feet (millions of pages!) of books, periodicals, organizational records, personal papers, textiles, artwork, buttons, and more. Some donors are well-known, others are people who participated and saved things. All the material helps document the emergence of the GLBT community and the fight for full representation and equality. There is much more to do, but we have come a remarkable distance in the last 50 years, and the archive tells that story.
You’ve spent a lot of time organizing, diversifying, and expanding the collection over the years. Do you have favorite things in it from Pride celebrations? (The Pride pins are some of mine.)
In the Pride Collection, my favorite things are the early photos. The hair styles, the clothes, the signs, the intimacy of the small group—all of it makes it seem very different from my experience of Pride today. I want to step into the photos, talk to everyone and record their stories for the archive.
What about in the archive overall? Are there things that are particularly cool or interesting, or that you revisit?
Asking for a favorite item is like asking a parent about their favorite child. I collect lesbian pulp novels from the ’50s and ’60s, so I especially adore those. But the item that I always show visitors is the book that survived the Nazi book burnings. It is singed around the edges from the flames. It belonged to Magnus Hirschfeld, founder of the first gay rights organization in the world. For me, that book is the soul of the archive and symbolized the need to protect, preserve, and make accessible the voices of the LGBTQ+ community.
Why is it important to preserve this history? And to make it accessible to everyone at the History Pavilion during Pride weekend?
Most members of the LGBTQ+ community don’t grow up connected to the community and our history. (And today when I talk to students, most don’t know what the NAMES Project was—which seems unimaginable to those of us who lived through the AIDS Pandemic.) Having a history display at Pride helps connect visitors with how far we have come and what it took to get here. The LGBTQ+ community continues to be a political target, and it is important to know how we achieved the victories we did and how far we still need to go for full equity and inclusion.