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Wisconsin GLBT History Project

Photo of Gay Peoples Union booth at Brady Street Days, 1976 (courtesy Rick Chris)

 
 

Welcome to the web site chronicling the History of the Gay/ Lesbian/ Bisexual/ Transgender Community
in Milwaukee and all of Wisconsin.

2012 was a year when Milwaukee and Wisconsin celebrated several anniversaries. It marked the 30th anniversary of Wisconsin's landmark Gay Rights bill becoming law. Originally known as AB70, with its signing into law in 1982, Wisconsin was the first state in the country to ban discrimination for sexual orientation. Also 2012 marked the 25th PrideFest, Milwaukee's trend-setting pride celebration. Although pride celebrations occurred prior to 1988, that was the first year of a central group coordinating the city's Gay Pride celebration. 2012 was also the year that the Cream City Foundation celebrated its 30th anniversary, well past a quarter century of grant giving to benefit the LGBT community in southeastern Wisconsin.

This web site is largely about the men and women who have made today's LGBT community what it is. This web site is thus dedicated to these people, as well as those who will move the LGBT community forward into what it will become over the next 40+ years.

 

The beginning of the History Project goes back many years by individual efforts of a great many people in storing documents and memorabilia of LGBT life in the Milwaukee area, whether it be social life, businesses (bars, restaurants, etc.), or groups such as PrideFest and the Community Center. A few organizations made some efforts to collect and preserve similar materials. But the real beginning of this project was an effort connected with PrideFest which sought to bring together and display photos, archives, and memorabilia for a His/Herstory display at the festival in 1995 and 1997.

After a hiatus, PrideFest 2001 again opened a history display, which was very well received. The 2002 festival attracted even more interest, and sparked an idea by several people to make a more concerted effort to collect and maintain historical materials. Much of the impetus for the current effort stems from the knowledge that a large amount of the most important material relating to gay and lesbian history may be on the verge of destruction at the hands of people unaware of its value to us as a community. The people who created and led the earliest organizations and businesses are reaching the ends of their lives (someone who was 35 when Stonewall occurred in 1969 would be almost 70 years old when this project became an organization in 2003).

 

The History Project

The major effort for the period summer 2002 through early 2003 was directed toward creating a history display for the June 2003 PrideFest. Read about that effort, and the people involved in it, on the History Project pages.

The Archives

A major effort is underway to gather remaining archival meterials from people and organizations while they still exist. In cooperation with the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee, these items are being deposited into the UWM Archives where they are cataloged, stablizied, and preserved for future study and reference by the public. Also read about that effort on the main Project page.

The Web Site

Meanwhile, others in the community are working to collect information to form the background for present and future displays, and to form an overview tapestry of all things gay and lesbian from the past. We have created five categories to help organize this story: People; Organizations; Businesses; the Media; and Events. Each of these areas has its own section on this web site (see links on the left), and as we collect materials, we attempt to categorize and display them in this open fashion. (Note that, especially on this web site, we may edit certain materials to obscure names of living persons who may object to appearing in a public forum for privacy reasons.)

Finally, we are stitching together a Timeline to allow comparisons of people, organizations, businesses, media, and events over time. The first draft of a Timeline was unveiled at PrideFest 2005, and repeated at PrideFest 2006 at Festival Park on the Milwaukee lakeshore.

Curious what's new on the website? Check out the "What's New" page!

We Welcome Community Input

We welcome your contributions of information for this site. It is very much a work in progress. For example, we may have quite a few detailed history pages for bars, but few for other businesses or media. These will be filled in and fleshed out over time. Feel free to browse the various sections and pages herein, and send us any corrections or additions. If you have any information which might help us, please send us an email. If you have materials or archives or memorabilia to donate, contact us also.

Email us at:

(Please note that we will often use the terms “gay” and “lesbian” by themselves on this site. Our purpose in doing so is not to exclude bisexual, transgender, or any other persons, but to reflect accurately the historical period in question. For example, the National Gay Task Force did not add “Lesbian” to its name until 1986. Historians of bisexual activism have noted that many of the earliest “gay liberation” activists during the 1970s were bisexuals who saw no reason at the time to distinguish their bisexual identity from the gay liberation movement. Only later, when some “gay rights” activists began to use the term “gay” in a more exclusive manner, did bisexual activists and lesbians also begin wide use of exclusive terminology to represent themselves. So please look upon use of the terms as an evolution that is not always easily distinguishable at any one point in time.)

PDF files are used extensively on this site. To view them,
download Adobe Reader (aka Acrobat Reader) from:

Credits: concept and format by Don Schwamb.
Last updated: April-2012.