Inside the growing LGBTQ archive in Minnesota

If you laid out all the materials in the Jean-Nickolaus Tretter collection at the University of Minnesota, it would span the length of more than three cruise ships. The collection is believed to be the largest LGBTQ+ archive in the Midwest, and one of the largest in the country.

"For Jean, there was a fear of anything being thrown away or destroyed that proved LGBTQ folks have a history," said the collection’s director, Aiden Bettine. 

The Tretter Collection is housed at the Andersen Library on the Twin Cities campus and includes pieces dating back to at least the 1950s, featuring material in 58 languages – everything from Pride festival memorabilia to the legal documents from Minnesota’s first gay marriage petition.

"Without an archive like the Tretter Collection, younger LGBTQ people can’t see themselves represented in history," said Bettine.

Tretter was a Twin Cities LGBTQ advocate and archivist until his death in December 2022. Bettine said he started collecting after being rejected from the university’s School of Anthropology.

"He came to the U of M to study anthropology and he specifically wanted to focus on homosexuality. The U said, no, there’s nothing to study there — he started collecting in that moment," Bettine said.

The Tretter collection is open to the public, but it's preferred that anyone wishing to visit call ahead. 

The collection is supported by donations. Contributions can be made through the website.