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David Thorstad Collection

Identifier: Tretter-426

Scope and Contents

The David Thorstad Collection is composed of the personal, political, and professional collection and papers of the gay activist, NAMBLA co-founder, and author David Thorstad (1941-2021.)

The collection comprises correspondence, newspaper and magazine clippings, Thorstad’s writings, readings, and journals, internal records from various left-wing and gay liberation organizations and the North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA,) as well as Thorstad’s voluminous personal records of his involvement in broad swaths of gay liberation, socialist, and pro-pedophilia political activity from the late 1960s to the mid 2000s, hundreds of books, magazines, leaflets, newsletters, flyers, journals, and other publications, many of them rare, cassette tapes and DVDs of political actions, conferences, and discussions, personal records of Thorstad’s family, childhood, education, and relationships, and photos from throughout his life.

More detailed inventories of the collection's materials can be found in the series-level descriptions of this finding aid.


  • Majority of material found within 1963 - 2021


Conditions Governing Access

Open for use in the Elmer L. Andersen Library reading room.

Conditions Governing Use

This collection may be protected by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). It is the user's responsibility to verify copyright ownership and to obtain all necessary permissions prior to the reproduction, publication, or other use of any portion of these materials. Researchers may quote from the collection under the fair use provision of the copyright law.


David Thorstad was an American gay activist, writer, political organizer, and editor from Northwest Minnesota. An outspoken socialist, gay liberation, and anti-war activist, he was most active from the late 1960s to early 1990s.

Thorstad was born in Thief River Falls, Minnesota on October 15th, 1941 to a working-class and devoutly Pentecostal Norwegian-American family. After graduating from the local Lincoln High School in 1959, he moved to Minneapolis to attend the University of Minnesota, where he earned a BA in French and German (1963) and an MA in French, German, and Scandinavian Languages (1966.)

During his time in Minneapolis, Thorstad became politically active in socialist and anti-Vietnam War circles. A member of the Minneapolis chapter of the Young Socialist Alliance (YSA,) Thorstad attended the 1966 founding convention of the Student Mobilization Committee and was a member of the Paris Secretariat of the Bertrand Russell War Crimes Tribunal in 1967. In 1967, he joined the Trotskyist-aligned Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP,) becoming a full-time organizer for the party the next year. He additionally ran as the party’s candidate for Congress (1968) and mayor of Minneapolis (1969.)

Thorstad moved to New York in 1969 to work in the YSA’s national office; he would remain in Lower Manhattan for the next twenty-five years, and most of his political activity would take place there. Still an ardent member of the SWP, Thorstad worked as a staff writer for its newspaper The Militant until his 1973 departure from the organization over its refusal to take up a pro-gay liberation stance.

After leaving the SWP, Thorstad joined the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA,) an offshoot of the post-Stonewall Gay Liberation Front (GLF) that focused on organizing for policy changes to benefit gays and lesbians in New York. He additionally served as the organization’s president from 1975 to 1976, and in 1977 was a founding member of the similarly-focused Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights (CLGR.)

An outspoken gay rights activist in the city, Thorstad was also a working author and book editor whose writings were featured in a number of magazines. Most notably, he co-authored The Early Homosexual Rights Movement (1864-1935) with fellow GAA activist John Lauritsen in 1974.

Thorstad’s exit from conventional gay and left-wing politics began with his co-founding in 1978 of the North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA.) NAMBLA positioned itself as variably a political organizing coalition, communication hub, affinity organization, and prisoner support network for gay men seeking, engaging in, or otherwise defending the validity of sexual and romantic relationships with boys below the legal age of consent (known within NAMBLA as “intergenerational intimacy.”) Controversial from the outset, NAMBLA was consistently a target of public scorn, police interest, and political condemnation from all corners.

Thorstad remained actively involved with NAMBLA until the mid 2000s, serving on its Steering Committee, attending most conferences and meetings, helping handle press relations, finances, internal correspondence, and the operations of the NAMBLA Bulletin and other organizational publications.

Upon leaving New York in 1994, Thorstad returned to Minnesota to live for a time on the East Side of Saint Paul, where he worked primarily as a freelance writer and editor while remaining involved with NAMBLA and in touch with friends and colleagues. In 1999, he bought 60 acres of land on the east side of Island Lake, just south of Lengby, Minnesota and within the boundaries of the White Earth Indian Reservation. Thorstad continued to be politically active during his final years in Northern Minnesota, remaining outspoken around issues of Native sovereignty and the preservation of the Big Bog, and was an avid gardener. Thorstad died on August 1st, 2021, at the age of 79, during an angioplasty at Sanford Medical Center in Fargo, North Dakota.


71.25 Linear Feet (55 Paige boxes, 1 flat box, hundreds of photos, hundreds of uncatalogued books, newspapers, pamphlets, newsletters, comics, magazines, and other publications, with hundreds more catalogued, 215 cassette tapes, 6 DVDs, 1 CD, 80 microfiche cards, 68 floppy disks, 1 poster)

Language of Materials



The collection is organized into the following series:

I. Correspondence

II. Clippings and Files

III. Writings, Readings, Research Materials, Journals, and Speeches

IV. Political Materials

V. NAMBLA (North American Man/Boy Love Association) and Related

VI. Personal, Family, and Miscellanea

VII. Audiovisual and Digital Materials

VIII. Photos

Related Materials

In 2019 David Thorstad donated to the Tretter Collection a letter from his friend Carstie Clausen, detailing Clausen's involvement in the founding of University of Minnesota student group Fight Repression of Erotic Expression (FREE). The letter can be found in the Tretter Collection Information Files here:

Processing Information

Initial accessioning, processing, and finding aid creation was completed by Joshlynn Borreson in 2018.

Finding aid editing and additional processing and reorganizing was completed by Eliza Edwards and Rachel Mattson in the summer of 2021.

Upon Thorstad's death and the transfer of materials from his executor to Tretter, additional processing and finding aid editing and creation was completed by Myra Billund-Phibbs from October 2021 to January 2022.

Additional periodicals processing was completed by Carter Thurmond in December 2021.

David Thorstad Papers
Joshlynn Borreson; Eliza Edwards & Rachel Mattson; Myra Billund-Phibbs
February 2018; edited July 2021; edited December 2021
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Collecting Area Details

Contact The Jean Nickolaus Tretter Collection in GLBT Studies Collecting Area