Tim Campbell, In-Your-Face Gay Activist, Dies at 76

Tim Campbell
Tim Campbell

Longtime Twin Cities gay activist Tim Campbell, known for his attention-grabbing tactics and clashes with politicians, has died. He was 76.

Campbell died December 26 at a hospice in Houston, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. He had suffered from an aggressive form of esophageal cancer.

He founded the Twin Cities LGBT newspaper GLC Voice in 1979 and served as its editor until abruptly closing the paper in 1992. It was not a profitable venture; Campbell once said he “earned a starving” on the publication. He also was frequently quoted in other media, as he was one of the few openly gay men who would speak to reporters on LGBT issues in the 1980s, the Star Tribune notes.

He was a “confrontational” activist, according to the Minneapolis paper. He nearly came to blows with Minneapolis Mayor Barbara Carlson on several occasions, and he had conflicts with Allan Spear, a gay state senator who objected to Campbell’s approach.

“I know there are those who think he makes the rest of us look more moderate, but the truth is he makes it difficult for everyone in the gay and lesbian community who are trying to work responsibly,” Spear said in a 1986 article.

There was often a touch of humor in Campbell’s activism, and sometimes a bit of a threat. “Unafraid of public spectacle, he once brought a cream pie to an AIDS task force meeting,” the Star Tribune reports. “He dressed as a campy Lady Liberty to protest the Rev. Jerry Falwell and set a fire in the Minneapolis Civil Rights Department to protest the handling of gay issues.”

“He was the queen of guerrilla theater,” his longtime friend Dean Amundson told the paper Sunday.

But Campbell was a serious activist. He partnered with early marriage equality advocates Jack Baker and Michael McConnell, who managed to obtain a legal marriage license in Minnesota in 1971, to conduct sensitivity training on LGBT issues for students, police, social service agencies, and businesses. And he lobbied for the media to use the terms “gay” and “lesbian” instead of “homosexual.”

A native of Kansas who grew up in Texas, Campbell taught at the University of Minnesota’s Morris campus in the early 1970s. About 10 years ago he returned to Texas, where he was an activist within his retirement community, the Star Tribune notes.

“He had a caring, gentle side to him,” Amundson told the paper. “Very nurturing, he wanted to be loved and love other people.”