Longtime state Sen. Allan Spear diesby Elizabeth Dunbar, Associated Press
St. Paul, Minn. — (AP) - Allan H. Spear, a former state Senate president who became one of the first openly gay legislators in the country, has died. He was 71.
Spear died Saturday of complications following heart surgery on Thursday, said Don Jorovsky, a longtime friend who used to work for Spear.
A member of the Minnesota DFL Party and resident of Minneapolis, Spear was first elected in 1972 and retired in 2000. He was Senate president from 1993 to 2000 and was the first non-attorney to chair the Senate Judiciary Committee.
In 1974, Spear announced that he was gay in an interview with the Minneapolis Star newspaper, becoming one of only two openly gay legislators in the country.
In the 1970s, Spear started working to amend Minnesota's Human Rights Act to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. The legislation finally passed in 1993.
Former DFL state Sen. Roger Moe, who served as the Senate's majority leader while Spear served as president, said Spear never became impatient when the human rights legislation failed to pass.
"He was an excellent student of the legislative process. He knew that you had to be tenacious and you had to educate people," Moe said Sunday.
Spear, a University of Minnesota history professor, was known in the Legislature for his knowledge and speaking skills. He used both to build bridges with some of the more conservative members of the Legislature, Moe said.
"Without a doubt, everyone who served with him would rank him as one of the brightest members who served," Moe said, adding that he asked Spear to broker the divide on issues such as prison reform and judicial reform. "Knowledge is power, and because of that he had the ability to bring people together."
Spear was recently named by the Minnesota Historical Society as one of the 150 Minnesotans who shaped the state as part of the sesquicentennial celebration.
Spear is survived by his life partner, Junjiro Tsuji, and his brother, Richard Spear.
Plans for a memorial service are pending.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)