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Wisconsin GLBT History Project


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

The concept for this web site was envisioned by Don Schwamb in 2003, and over the next 15 years, he was the sole programmer and primary contributor, bearing all costs for hosting the web site personally. About the same time, a small group of community members began collecting Oral Histories of some prominent early groundbreakers in the LGBT community, and that reinvigorated the History Display at PrideFest each year. Unfortunately the oral history collection petered out after a year or two, but in short order several others in the community began to work to create informative panels and other displays for that annual History exhibit, often using the growing web site to help gather information.

Over time, others in the community began to contribute photos and recollections to the web site. In 2009, Jamie Taylor (once a photographer for "In Step" magazine) started a similar Facebook page, which gathered a lot of information which fed into this site. Michail Takach also had a deep concern for researching Wisconsin LGBT history, and began collaborating, eventually publishing his first book: "LGBT Milwaukee", which contains a significant amount of his original research from hours spent at the Milwaukee County Hsitorical Society and from numerous other sources. He asked Don Schwamb to write the forward for that book. The book is believed to be the first comprehensive social history of LGBTQ Milwaukee ever published, tracing the rise and fall of over six dozen landmark bars, gathering places and pride celebrations.

With contributions from many local elders and icons, LGBT Milwaukee celebrates the resilience, determination and unity required to bring a community out of the shadows and into the spotlight.


Two new books about Wisconsin LGBT History

In 2019, Madison LGBT activist and author R. Richard Wagner authored the first of two groundbreaking volumes on gay history in Wisconsin, "We've Been Here All Along" provides an illuminating and nuanced picture of Wisconsin's gay history from the reporting on the Oscar Wilde trials of 1895 to the landmark Stonewall Riots of 1969. Throughout these decades, gay Wisconsinites developed identities, created support networks, and found ways to thrive in their communities despite various forms of suppression--from the anti-vice crusades of the early twentieth century, to the post-war labeling of homosexuality as an illness, to the Lavender Scare of the 1950s.

"Coming Out, Moving Forward: Wisconsin's Recent Gay History", the second volume in Wagner’s work on gay history in Wisconsin, was released mid-2020. The revealing book outlines the challenges that LGBT Wisconsinites faced in their efforts to right past oppressions and secure equality in the post-Stonewall period between 1969 and 2000. During this era, Wisconsin made history as the first state to enact a gay rights law prohibiting discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation. It also became the first state to elect three openly gay/lesbian persons to Congress.

In this second volume, Wagner draws on historical research and materials from his extensive personal archive to not only chronicle an important movement, but also to tell the stories of the state’s LGBT pioneers—from legislators and elected officials to activists, businesspeople, and everyday citizens. The book documents the rich history of Wisconsin’s LGBT individuals and communities as they pushed back against injustice and found ways to live openly and proudly as themselves.

The webmaster of this site has found this second volume especially fascinating. It includes many comprehensive histories and delves into areas and analyses which I have only begun to touch on within this website. This book is highly recommended for anyone wanting to delve into the nuances of Wisconsin's LGBT history. (And as Dick Wagner says in his Acknowledgements in the second volume, thanks to the Wisconsin Historical Society staff and the Wisconsin Historical Society Press for opening themselves to LGBT history as part of the Wisconsin story!)

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.)

Licensed under Creative Commons  

        All contents on this web site is hereby licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License as "Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike", and may only be used under the terms of that license or any later version of a Creative Commons Attribution License. Under these licensing terms, you may Share the information (copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format) provided you (a) give full credit to this web site and its sources; (b) you may not use the material for any commercial purposes; and (c) if you remix, transform or build upon the material, you must distribute your contributions under the same license as the original.

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

Credits: website concept and design by Don Schwamb.
Last updated: September-2020.


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.