Steps to LGBT progress in Milwaukee


In 1975, the Gay People’s Union established a gay and lesbian community center in a flat on Milwaukee’s East Side. Called The Farwell Center, it played host to community meetings and housed the GPU VD Examination Center, which later became the Brady East STD (BESTD) Clinic. The Farwell Center location is currently occupied by Bronze Optical, a gay-owned business.

Milwaukee’s lesbian community was turning on to women’s music and culture in 1975. The publication Amazon lists concerts by national artists such as Margie Adam, Cris Williamson, Casse Culver and the Berkeley Women’s Music Collective. Women organized carpools to the National Women’s Music Festival. Natural Woman, a monthly event at the Women’s Coalition, showcased local women poets, singers and visual artists.


In 1985, the Milwaukee AIDS Project began its first full year of providing services to people with HIV/AIDS. The project evolved into the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin, which coordinated a more comprehensive response to AIDS. 

The Gay and Lesbian Community at UW-Milwaukee held a Gay Awareness Week in March 1985 that included appearances by Vito Russo, author of The Celluloid Closet; the lesbian comic Robin Tyler; and the singing duo Romanovsky and Phillips.

In April, the Cream City Business Association gave its “Torch Bearer” Award to Gov. Tony Earl for his contributions to the community’s well being.

Gov. Earl’s Council on Lesbian and Gay Issues documented anti-gay bias and worked to secure compliance with the state law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation.


In 1995, PrideFest successfully negotiated a lease with World Festivals, Inc., for use of Henry Maier Festival Park as the site of its 1996 festival. In June, PrideFest drew 32,822 to its 20th anniversary.

The Milwaukee LGBT community made other steps toward recognition in 1995. City Hall hosted the opening reception of The Advocate magazine’s  Long Road to Freedom exhibit on gay and lesbian history. The Milwaukee County Commission on Aging launched its first study of the needs of gay and lesbian seniors. 

LGBT 12-Step groups marked a decade of existence at a conference called “Commitment ’95,” and Milwaukee groups were featured on an episode of the PBS series In the Life. The show included a funny bit with the Lesbian Alliance softball team singing the theme to Laverne and Shirley.


In August 2005, the MPD’s vice division shut down a touring production of Naked Boys Singing! at the Gay Arts Center. The cops swooped in after a complaint about the show’s “immoral” content. Police questioned whether the center was a licensed theater.

Given the MPD’s long history of harassing gays, activists saw the police action as censorship and selective law enforcement. The ACLU of Wisconsin won a $20,000 settlement for the Arts Center from the city in 2010. It was determined that the Arts Center, as a non-profit, was not required to have a theater license.

Ironically, the MPD had initiated a new slate of diversity training for officers and command staff in 2005. The training was overseen by an openly gay captain named Mary Hoerig. A 24-year veteran of the MPD, Hoerig now holds the rank of inspector.

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