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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

Call for Art

The Wisconsin Historical Society seeks to commission the graphic design for the We Will Always Be Here: A Guide to Exploring and Understanding the History of LGBTQ+ Activism in Wisconsin traveling exhibit. The current vision for the exhibit design is a graphic novel approach that tells the story of six members of Wisconsin’s LGBTQ+ community.

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LGBTQ+ history in Wisconsin

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.

Celebrate Wisconsin's LGBTQ+ Community

David Carter informal portrait, smiling, medium short hair, a burdundy knit sweater with a plaid collar from a button up poking out.

David Carter

Manonia Evans (left) and Donna Burkett, 1971. Manonia Evans wears a wide labeled dress with short almost capped sleeves, her hair is curly and short, a small smile plays across her lips. Donna Burkett wearing a pork pie hat with a light ribbon, set at a jaunty angle and casual light suit. They stand close together with Evans' arm wrapped around one of Burkett's.

Donna Burkett & Manonia Evans

Judy Greenspan smiles happily at the camera in this outdoor photograph, wearing a leather jacket and a cowl neck like sweater. She used this photo in her campaign for School board.

Judy Greenspan

Lou Sullivan sits dramatically, and somewhat seriously, in a tuxedo with his hair slicked back behind his ears, stylishly. Lou Sullivan pictured in 1974 before attending the GPU’s drag ball.

Lou Sullivan

A formal portrait of Lucia Nunez, her curly hair tousled and slightly two toned, she wears a black turtle neck and a gray sweater jacket.

Lucía Nuñez

Miriam Frank and Charlotte Partridge stand in front of a car, smiling slightly in this informal portrait. They are both wearing long black skirts, and lighter colored blouses. Bespeckled with round frames and both wear hats.

Miriam Frink & Charlotte Partridge

Ralph Kerwineo in a formal portrait, looking slightly away from camera, no hat, and a sharp collar.

Ralph Kerwineo

Ralph Warner, looks almost temptingly at the camera, chin tilted down, hat on.

Ralph Warner

Steve Gunderson gestures animatedly in front of chalkboard with equations behind him. Wearing a suit and fun tie he seems excited and engaged.

Steve Gunderson

Wisconsin's Gay History | Book Series

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

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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.

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We Will Always Be Here: A Guide to Exploring and Understanding the History of LGBTQ+ Activism in Wisconsin

This inspiring and educational book presents examples of LGBTQ+ activism throughout Wisconsin’s history for young people to explore and discuss. Drawing from a rich collection of primary sources—including diary entries, love letters, zines, advertisements, oral histories, and more—the book provides a jumping-off point for readers who are interested in learning more about LGBTQ+ history and activism.

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Two Spirit People

In American Indian communities, the term Two Spirit has been used for many generations, predating western religion and LGBTQ+ terminology. Two Spirit describes individuals who have both masculine and feminine spirits 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 LGBTQ+ 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.

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Queer Art Gallery

An Indigenous figures stands strongly facing the camera, wearing a white shirt, with the words 'My gender is Indigenous' super imposed using light to create shadows to show the words repeated across their body.

My Gender is Indigenous

By Ryan Young (Ojibwe)

As I grew into my queer identity, I recognized that there was a huge disconnect between my gender/sexual identity and my cultural identity. Experiences with homophobia limited my access to certain cultural spaces and it affected my relationship with my culture. It was not until college that I learned about the term Two Spirit, their historical recognition of different gender identities and sexualities in many Indigenous cultures, particularly in Ojibwe culture. That moment was really empowering for me because it introduced me to a term that recognized my queerness through a cultural context, and it was also the first step I took into looking for and eventually finding my Two Spirit community.

I wanted to recreate that experience through my artwork. When creating “My Gender is Indigenous”, it reflected my personal journey to find the language to articulate the intersections of my identity. The phrase itself is meant to empower my Queer Indigenous audience, and to hopefully spark conversations around gender and sexuality through the specific cultural lenses of the viewer.

“I look queer and Indigenous because I am queer and Indigenous, and thus, the definition of what is queer and Indigenous-looking, is defined by my existence, not the other way around.”

More about Ryan Young

Two Spirit artist

Ryan Young (they/them/their) is a Two Spirit Ojibwe multi-disciplinary artist from Lac du Flambeau, WI. They are a graduate from the Institute of American Indian Arts, completing their BFA in Studio Arts (Photography) and a certificate in Performing Arts. Their senior show focused on empowering Two Spirit people, using a variety of mediums, including photography, silkscreen printing, projection and mixed media.

Their first photography project, Indigeneity, promoted representation of Indigenous students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This project led to a photo spread in Native Max Magazine and a position as their Deputy Fashion Photography editor. Young’s photography appeared in multiple issues and in advertisements for JG Indie during New York’s Fashion Week. In 2018, Young was announced as Eighth Generation’s designing artist for the Two Spirit Blanket, which was released later that year. After completing their degree in 2019, they worked as the Native American Student Services Outreach Coordinator at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign before returning to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where they continue to make art and serve on the IAIA Alumni Council. They will be speaking on a panel about Two Spirit identity and activism at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in June 2021.

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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

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'

LGBTQ+ 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

Passing the Nation's First Nondiscrimination Law | 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 for 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

Those 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

Pride Month Merch!

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

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