Volume 7, Issue 164 – September 7 – September 20, 2001
By Michael Dahl. Photos by Sophia Hantzes.

You know you’ve come to the right place when the first things you see is Lucy Lawless plastered on a poster inviting you to READ. And directly below the warrior princess is the sexy, badboy mug of Matt Dillon seducing you to pick up a paperback. The two-dimensional celebrities stand as guardians of literacy in the foyer that leads to Quatrefoil Library, one of the nation’s handful of GLBT circulating libraries, and one of the Twin Cities’s greatest queer resources.

Dean Johnson, a Wisconsin native, knows the value of a gay library. “When I was coming out in Madison, there was a queer community center that I visited a lot,” he says. “It helped me in my coming-out process, gave me good information.”

Safe Space

How many of us, when first sensing the queer impulses skateboarding through our hormones, went to the library or the local Barnes & Noble, and stared at the gay and lesbian section? Only stared. Or maybe we took furtive glances at the latest issue of The Advocate while our girlfriends glommed onto Mademoiselle and our buddies picked up Sports Illustrated.

Johnson serves as the volunteer head of Quatrefoil Library’s development committee. He sees the library as a “safe space,” a haven where GLBT people can read about themselves, and their history and culture, apart from prying or judgmental eyes.

“Not everyone has ready access to the Internet,” says Kathy Robbins, volunteer coordinator at Quatrefoil, as well as chair of the operations committee. Not everyone can read or research GLBT issues on a quiet, private computer; hence, the need for physical archives of books, newspapers, videos, magazines, CDs, and tapes. Even the most intrepid net-surfer is limited to material entered (manually) into the worldwide databases.

The earliest gay material will probably remain only in hard-copy form. “We have newspaper issues of The Mattachine Review [for men] and The Ladder [for women] that were published in the ’50s,” says Robbins. (The Mattachine Society was the first serious signpost of gay liberation in the United States.)

Our Books, Ourselves

Quatrefoil Library is named for the 1950 gay novel by James Barr, the first novel to throw a positive light on homosexuals. The library is located in St. Paul, in the renovated Richards Gordon School building, a pleasing Greco-Roman pile just a few blocks from Snelling and Interstate 94.

Down a short flight of steps, once you get past Xena and Matt Dillon, is a quiet, cheerful room packed to the gills with GLBT goodies. A swift browse through the stacks reveals the latest gay and lesbian murder mysteries; how-to sex manuals; feminist poetry; queer romances; and an out-of print book called The Loving Couple by Virginia Rowans, who was also known as Patrick Dennis, the man who created Auntie Mame.

A funky paperback from the psychedelic ’60s bears the unforgettable title The Man From Pansy, a spoof of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., with a hero named Buzz Cardigan, a “limp-wristed spy.” Even the edges of the paper are purple!

Hundreds of videos are available for the film buff. And the rental (only a buck apiece) is good for two weeks.

Recently, a patron of the library, the late Peter Hengel, willed his entire video collection of more than 700 tapes to Quatrefoil. These include what Robbins smilingly, and euphemistically, calls “gay male erotica.” Some are classics from the ’70s, the Golden Age of Porn, currently enjoying a retro-appreciation among younger fans.

A Front Runner

“Everyone has their favorite library anecdote,” says Robbins. “One of mine is when a young male college student came in to do research on the assassination of Harvey Milk.” The library has copies of the San Francisco gay newspapers printed the day after Milk was shot. Robbins continues, “[The student] was able to get a complete feel for what the gay community was feeling and thinking at the time.”

Another story involves a phone call from writer Patricia Nell Warren. In 1974, she wrote The Front Runner, which was hailed by the New York Times as “the most moving, monumental love story ever written about gay life.” Several years ago, Warren called Quatrefoil and asked if it had any early Blueboy magazines. One of her earliest short stories had appeared in an issue, and she had lost her copy. The staff of Quatrefoil found the issue and faxed Warren the story.

More than 8,000 volumes are available at Quatrefoil Library. Abby Miller, one of the volunteer desk workers, says she gets “a little disappointed that more people don’t use the library.” She adds, “There are so many good books and magazines and videos. And if people don’t want to check something out, they can always photocopy what they need.”

A brand-new photocopier sits by the door. A library patron, Dallas Drake, who heads up the Minnesota Homicide Project, donated the machine. “He and his colleagues have been going through newspapers for the past year, checking on local unsolved gay and lesbian murders,” Robbins says. Quatrefoil is his best source of information.

Quatrefoil serves a number of needs in the GLBT community. It’s not only a great place to pick up a good read, but also an excellent meeting ground for like-minded spirits.

Are brainy boys or warrior grrls in glasses listed high on your hobbies? Go to the back of the library, find a quiet chair, and sit down with Amazons! from 1979, a collection of sci-fi and fantasy stories all focused on sisters-in-arms.

Or pick up the out-of-print hardcover Chorus of Witches by Paul Buckland, a gay romance from 1959 with a happy ending. No one ends up in jail or commits suicide, and the story has more kissing than a whole season of Will & Grace. Who would have thought that queers living back then could actually have a good time?