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Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Rights Movement in Wisconsin

LGBT Rights movement in Wisconsin | Wisconsin Historical Society

The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Rights movement in Wisconsin began in 1969, after the Stonewall riots in New York City brought gay, lesbian and transgender protest to the national news and spawned local gay rights groups across the US.

EnlargeFlyer for the Magic Picnic, a celebration of the lesbian and gay community, which took place in Brittingham Park.

The Magic Picnic, 1979 ca.

Madison, Wisconsin. Flyer for the Magic Picnic, a celebration of the lesbian and gay community, which took place in Brittingham Park. View the original source document: WHI 59228

The first organizations for homosexual rights formed in Wisconsin were student organizations at the Madison and Milwaukee campuses of the University of Wisconsin. In the 1970s, college towns across Wisconsin established political and social service organizations that reached out to gay and lesbian communities.  The 1980s saw a wealth of new social, political, campus and religious groups formed across the state. In 1982, under the leadership of Rep. David Clarenbach, Wisconsin passed the first statewide anti-discrimination law in the nation. Shortly afterwards the first AIDS cases hit Wisconsin, and political activism was directed towards the fight against the epidemic, which struck the gay community especially hard.

In the 1990s, the movement diversified further, explicitly including transgender people and offering support to high school students, as well as reaching out to elderly LGBT people. A network of political and support organizations evolved that covered large parts of the state, reaching from Door County and Green Bay to southern Wisconsin. This trend continued in the new century, when the most visible issue for the movement became the struggle for gay marriage.

After opponents succeeded in passing a constitutional amendment that banned gay marriage and civil unions in 2006, LGBT activists secured a 2009 state law creating a state Domestic Partner Registry.

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Sources: "Timeline of Wisconsin LBGTQ History" by Dr. Richard Wagner, Wisconsin GLBT History Project