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LGBTQ+ History | BIG History | Wisconsin Historical Society

LGBTQ+ History | BIG History

LGBTQ+ History in Wisconsin, featuring a rainbow background with 3 men, 2 standing, one,  Governor Lee Dreyfus, sitting signing of AB70 into law on February 1982

Celebrating BIG Moments: LGBTQ history in Wisconsin

History is happening right now. Across the country, and in our own communities, people are protesting the racism and social inequalities that communities of color have faced for hundreds of years and continue to face today.

Stories like these are not new— protest is a tenent of our Democracy.

As a history organization, our mission is to collect and share the stories that shape how we understand our state, our nation, and ourselves. We are committed to cultivating inclusion and doing more to work with the Black community and others to center these stories, ensuring that their voices are heard now and in the future.

In June we take time to honor another story of protest and community. June is LGBTQ Pride month, commemorating an uprising in response to a police raid at a New York City gay bar called the Stonewall Inn. The Stonewall Riots took place from June 28, 1969 through July 3, 1969. Pride started as a riot, a protest led by queer and trans people of color. Today it is a celebration rooted in advocacy, identity, and community.

The Society has put together a page with stories, images, and artifacts from our LGBTQ collections to commemorate the progress and struggle in the LGBTQ community. These collections just scratch the surface of the history of the LGBTQ community in Wisconsin. Please take an opportunity to explore these resources.

Wisconsin's Gay History | Book Series

By R. Richard Wagner

We've Been Here All Along Book Cover

In We've Been Here All Along, R. Richard Wagner draws on historical research and materials from his own extensive archive to uncover previously hidden stories of gay Wisconsinites. This book, published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press honors the legacy and confirms that gay Wisconsinites have been fundamental to the development and evolution of the state since its earliest days. Read Free Excerpt

Buy the Book
Coming Out, Moving Forward: Wisconsin's Recent Gay History

Coming Out, Moving Forward, the second volume in R. Richard Wagner’s groundbreaking work on gay history in Wisconsin, outlines the challenges that LGBTQ+ Wisconsinites faced in their efforts to right past oppressions and secure equality in the post-Stonewall period period between 1969 and 2000. This is the second book in the collection published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press.

Buy the Book

Two Spirit People

In American Indian communities, the term Two Spirit has been used for many generations, predating western religion and LGBT terminology, and describes individuals who have both a male and female spirit and are uniquely blessed to see life through the eyes of two genders. Two Spirit people possess a unique identity and should be recognized as such, as the term is not necessarily interchangeable or synonymous with other commonly used LGBT terms. Someone who is Two Spirit embodies two genders residing in one person. A Two Spirit person may be gay, but a gay person is not necessarily Two Spirit. You can learn more about what it means to be Two Spirit in the article from Indian Country Today below.

Learn More

Explore more LGBTQ history

Learn more about the gay experience in Wisconsin and beyond through these historical essays.

Features a greek-style drawing of a man on the front, and on the back a depiction of a naked man and woman wearing broken chains, with the words: 'Gay Brothers & Sisters Unite! Free Ourselves / Smash Sexism'

LGBT Rights Movement in Wisconsin

Poster promoting a meeting of M.A.H.E. (Madison Alliance for Homosexual Equality) at the St. Francis House.

Madison Alliance for Homosexual Equality

Steve Gunderson posing outdoors in front of the U.S. Capitol building.

Steve Gunderson

More Historical Essays

Gay Purge of 1962 | Eldon Murray | George Lachmann Mosse

Fascinating Items from Our Historical Collections

The Society has many items related to LGBTQ history available to explore in our online collections. Here are a couple highlights.

An elaborately beaded jacket worn by pianist, performer, and Wisconsin native Liberace during his performances in the late 1970s.

Liberace’s Jacket

Rainbow flag carried by a protestor at a lecture by Ralph Reed.

Rainbow Flag

This button was made for Tammy Baldwin’s first campaign for Wisconsin State Assembly in 1992

Girlfriends of Tammy Baldwin

This t-shirt was worn by Bonita S. 'Bonnie' Augusta of Madison, who participated in the March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation, held on April 25, 1993

Defend LGBT Civil Rights Shirt

More Historical Items

Tammy Baldwin Campaign Flyers | Better Gay than Grumpy button | National March for Lesbian & Gay Rights T-shirt 1979

Compelling Images from the Our Historical Collections

Poster produced by the Madison Gay Liberation Front promoting their weekly meeting at the St. Francis House, located at 1001 University Avenue. A young man wearing only a necktie is surrounded by a decorative border

These Gay Boys Are Taking Over

Handmade poster entitled 'Lesbian Love'. Announces gay sisters meetings at 10 Langdon Street and a women's party after the meeting. Objective is to plan for Gay Arts Nite.

Lesbian Love

A neon sign with a bottle of Miller Lite for the 'i' spells “Pride” in the window of the 'Chances R' gay bar on Jay Street. The word 'Pride' is underlined with a neon rainbow. The window is framed in wood and surrounded by stucco painted blue.

Gay Bar Pride Sign

Cover and back page of 'The Gay Endeavor,' a publication for gay women and gay men. Includes an image of Paul Soglin and Nichols who were interviewed for the issue.

LGBTQ Flyers

Poster proclaiming the need for an urgent lesbian meeting. Poster depicts Athena with shield. Agenda for meeting includes a speakers bureau, counseling groups, sports, W.I.L.D (Women Incensed against Lesbian Discrimination) and your own ideas. The meeting was held Sunday September 30th at 8:00 pm at 550 State Street.

LGBTQ Posters

Cover illustration of a calendar promoting gay pride. The calendar features numerous photographs, illustrations and quotations for each month from March 1971-February 1972. The cover illustration features an analog clock as a bomb, butterflies, and a montage of various pop culture logos and traffic signs.

Gay Is Angry

Outside Resources

The Society has put together this page with stories, images, and artifacts from our LGBTQ collections; however, these collections just scratch the surface of the history of the LGBTQ community in Wisconsin. Please take the opportunity to explore these additional resources from other Wisconsin sources.

The UW-Madison Library Resource Image of a group in front of the ROTC building protest, due to discrimination.

UW-Madison Library LGBTQ Resources

Image from the UW-Milwaukee collection featuring the AIDS Walk Wisconsin: Walkers standing in front of a banner that reads 'Together in Pride'

UW-Milwaukee Library LGBTQ Resources

Cat Parra's We Stand United Poster, depicting a group of people wearing masks facing a threat. It is a diverse group adults, children, essential workers, etc

Cat Parra

Local Artist

Cat Parra is a Madison based comic artist and illustrator. Cat is a participant in the Wisconsin Historical Society COVID-19 Poster Project, the poster featured here is her contribution!

Her work primarily explores themes of adventure and self discovery through the lens of historical fiction. In 2015 she and her good friend Zora Gilbert, who she met at a Madison high school, founded Margins Publishing, a small press publisher focused on producing work by and about people of marginalized identities.

Margins’ flagship publication is Dates! which collects short comics, prose, and illustrations assembled with the goal of showcasing tragedy-free historical queerness. They’ve published three volumes so far, the most recent of which features nearly 50 talented artists and writers from across the queer continuum and the world.

Other recent publications from Margins include A Survey of Queer Looks, an illustration zine of historical queer aesthetics and signifiers, and The Elusive Mr Vanderbridge, a sapphic jazz age mystery about two reporters on the gossip beat.

Margins Publishing

Pride Month Merch!

Shop pride month related merchandise from our online store. 100% of the proceeds support the Society.

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Support the Preservation of Wisconsin's History

Make a big impact

Explore Wisconsin's History

You can find out more about our history in these pages focusing on other monthly celebrations!

Explore Black History in Wisconsin

Black History

Explore Women's History in Wisconsin

Women's History

Explore WHS's Response to COVID-19

History Is Happening

Explore Earth Day History in Wisconsin

Earth Day History

Explore the Women's Suffrage Centennial History in Wisconsin

Women's Suffrage Centennial

Explore the Wisconsin's History during WWII

Wisconsin During WWII

Explore the Wisconsin's Political History

Political History

Explore Hispanic Heritage Historyin Wisconsin

Hispanic Heritage History


History is a story with many voices, always growing and evolving — a story we tell together.

Let us know if there are ways we could improve!