Person of the Year(s): Tim Campbell’s Half-Century of Gay Activism

Tim-Campbell-featureTim Campbell is Lavender’s 2015 Person of the Year(s). This year saw the greatest victory ever for the gay community, the Supreme Court of the United States decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage throughout America. Thus, it’s appropriate to recognize Campbell now for his half-century of gay activism that helped pave the way for such a victory.

Born in 1939, Campbell became passionately involved in the gay community when he relocated from Texas to Minnesota in the turbulent decade of the 1960s before the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion in New York City, a catalyst for gay liberation. From 1979 to 1992, he was publisher and editor of the GLC Voice newspaper, the first successful local gay publication, which he founded as a venue for gay advocacy journalism. Two accomplishments during that 13-year tenure stand out. First, his relentless coverage of the AIDS crisis and promotion of safe sex saved countless lives. Second, his championing of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution during the local Andrea Dworkin/Catharine MacKinnon antipornography crusade in 1983 well served the Minnesota gay community. Ever a gay activist, Campbell is now retired in Texas.

Full disclosure: Three decades ago, on November 4, 1985, Tim Campbell hired me as his assistant at the GLC Voice, which launched my now 30-year-tenure in gay publishing. I have always considered this gay pioneer to be my wise mentor.

You are best known as the publisher and editor of the GLC Voice newspaper in the Twin Cities for 13 years, which you often called advocacy journalism. What did it accomplish during those years?
Tim Campbell: Every two weeks, the GLC Voice newspaper placed 15,000 copies of a gay newspaper on over 100 strategically placed newsstands throughout the Twin Cities. We hit college campuses to reach the young, government buildings to reach the politicos, and gay and lesbian bars to reach our core constituency. The GLC Voice was a billboard that taught the Twin Cities that we had a big and active community with all kinds of things happening. We fostered all those activities.

What was your first awareness of your gay identity, your coming-out experience, and your initial involvement in gay activism?
TC: I knew I was fem before I was eight. My coming-out experience was in early 1962 at the draft call-up. Still a virgin, I was asked by Uncle Sam if I had “homosexual tendencies.” I checked the YES box. They required a visit to a psychologist. I got a 1-Y draft qualification. My seminary got notified. The psychologist sent the bill to my parents. Every time I filled out a job application from 1962 until 1973 or later, the application asked, “What’s your draft status.” I answered, “1-Y.” There was a time when the Army asked, and some of us told.

In one of your finest hours, how did you champion the First Amendment rights of adult establishments such as bookstores, especially during the Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon antipornography crusade in Minneapolis in 1983?
TC: In fact, when I see the word “finest” and the name “Andrea Dworkin” in the same sentence, I smile.

GH: When you were again at your best, what was your contribution to the fight against HIV/AIDS in Minnesota in the 1980s, particularly your insistence that condom use during sex would prevent the disease?
TC: Tricia Fabry (who, sadly, passed away recently), a regular illustrator for the GLC Voice, created an eye-catching poster in yellow, white, and black with a hot guy (she was actually the model!) bending over to drop his pants, with the simple message: “Use condoms and live.” As well as printing it in the newspaper, we had several hundred copies of the poster printed, and gave them out to all the bars and gay gathering spots. Many of them stayed on walls in the bars and men’s rooms for several years.

You are the only person in the gay press to whom famed local gay activists Jack Baker and Michael McConnell, the local gay men who were the first to attempt to be legally married in the United States in the early 1970s, would grant access over the past three decades. What are your memories of them?
TC: They taught me in 1970, while we were doing sensitivity training on gay issues for the University of Minnesota Department of Education, that our goal was to change the way people think about gayness. Jack predicted that it would take 50 years, but that if lots of new college grads helped, we could and would do that. And we did. Jack and Mike are our number-one superheroes.

Although you have described yourself as a feminist, you have had a strained relationship with the lesbian community at times. Why?
TC: I think your question is unfair. Who defines “the lesbian community”? It speaks not with just one voice, as you oversimplify. Lots of lesbians supported my work and worked for the GLC Voice. Only those lesbians oppose me who basically see all men as the enemy, because my priorities are gay- or homosexual-rights issues. Their priorities are women first and über alles [above all]. They have the problem.

In 1985, in your only foray into politics, you ran for mayor of Minneapolis on the Independent Demoblican ticket (a clever spoof on the Democratic and Independent Republican parties). What is your view of the role of politics for the gay community?
TC: Anything that gets in the news and reminds the world that gays are citizens cures the idea that we are perverts.

You grew up Catholic and attended a Catholic seminary, yet you later became an atheist. Did your atheism impact your gay activism?
TC: Yes and no. My atheism is based on the search for evidence for theories and other beliefs…always pursuing accurate knowledge. Antigay bigotry is just one example of how people’s beliefs tend to be made up out of whole cloth as opposed to based on evidence.

How will history (or historians) judge you now and in the future? What is your legacy for the gay community?
TC: For the next 20 years or more, feminists will be ruling court and revising history. Xenophobias seem to sweep across the continents in half-century waves. Feminist sense of superiority and entitlement will wane, as did Nazism. After 2050, gay men will probably be seen in a much better light, probably as equal to women once again.

In an article about you in the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 1986, you called yourself the Moses of the Twin Cities gay community, predicting that like him, you would lead your people to the Promised Land but would not actually set foot there yourself. Would you say the same now, 29 years later?
TC: No. I think we’ve reached the Promised Land, and gays won. The rest is all small potatoes.

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  1. […] for his retirement community, according to The Star-Tribune. Two weeks before his death, he was named person of the year for 2015 by Lavender Magazine, a Minnesota LGBT publication. “In lieu of flowers or other memorials, persons so moved are […]

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