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Milwaukee & beyond

From the state Capitol to the Milwaukee Art Museum, from a library in West Bend to the Milwaukee post office, the top local stories of 2009 were born in a variety of settings, proving that we are indeed everywhere.

1. State enacts domestic partnership registry

Beginning Aug. 3, same-sex couples in Wisconsin were allowed to register as domestic partners under a law that Gov. Jim Doyle inserted into the 2010-2011 budget. Since then, more 1,200 gay and lesbian couples have signed up, gaining such basic protections for their relationships as hospital visitation rights, end-of-life decision-making, and the ability to take family medical leave to care for sick or injured partners.

The law made Wisconsin the first state to enact domestic partnerships despite a constitutional amendment banning both same-sex marriage and civil unions.

Wisconsin Family Action condemned the law as an “end-run around the Marriage Protection Amendment and an assault on the people, the state constitution, the institution of marriage and the democratic process.”

The organization filed suit to halt the registry with the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case without comment in November. WFA has vowed to take the case to a lower court of jurisdiction.

Meanwhile, a suit challenging the legality of the 2006 referendum that enacted Wisconsin’s marriage and civil union ban is winding its way through the court system.

2. Milwaukee hosts Gay Softball World Series

Milwaukee won out over Chicago to become the host for NAGAAAFest 2009, which brought 128 gay softball teams and about 1,700 players to the city Aug. 31-Sept. 5 for the annual Gay Softball World Series. The event was the largest in the organization’s 33-year history.

The Saturday Softball League hosted the festivities, which included an opening ceremony at Summerfest featuring a warm welcome from Mayor Tom Barrett, banners placed along Wisconsin Avenue by VISIT Milwaukee and a street fair in Walker’s Point.

A talent show held in conjunction with the event raised $14,000 for local non-profits.

3. West Bend library controversy stirs national debate

In West Bend, a couple’s petition to have books with gay content removed from the local library’s young adult section set off Christian right calls for a good old-fashioned book burning and led to four members of the library board getting sacked by city council.

The story sparked a debate that raged for months in the national media and blogosphere. In mid-July, the Pew Research Center’s Project on Excellence in Journalism ranked it among the top five blogged-about topics in the news.

Jackie III

In the end, library director Michael Tyree and his staff prevailed and kept their stacks intact. They also were awarded the 2009 Robert B. Downs Intellectual Freedom Award by the faculty of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

4. Milwaukee post office stamps out LGBT exhibit

The world will never know if an LGBT display created in June for the Milwaukee Post Office Building, 345 W. St. Paul Ave., would have inspired an outcry similar to the one in West Bend: The exhibit was dismantled just hours after staffers of the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center assembled it up in the building’s lobby. The chair of the post office’s diversity committee had asked the center to create the exhibit to honor Pride month.

News of the snub was heard as far away as Los Angeles, where the publicist for Sir Ian McKellan called the center to ask if he could help. After being named Jerk of the Week by the Shepherd Express, postmaster Charles Miller apologized and said he’d consider creating a PrideFest cancellation stamp to use on mail for the entire month of June 2010.

5. MAM hosts acclaimed Warhol exhibit

The Milwaukee Art Museum was selected to launch the national tour of “Andy Warhol: The Last Decade,” the first U.S. survey exhibition of work from the gay pop-art icon’s final years. Nearly 50 works loaned by private collectors and institutions were on display at MAM from Sept. 26, 2009, to Jan. 3, 2010. The exhibit bolstered both gay and straight tourism and helped to solidify Milwaukee’s growing reputation as a Midwest center for arts and culture, as well as a forward-thinking city.

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