November 1995: PrideFest gets a permanent home

Screenshot 2015-11-03 22.39.22PrideFest Milwaukee is believed to be the only LGBT+ pride celebration in the world with its own permanent festival grounds. [Read more…]

November 1985: MAP combats the AIDS crisis

MAP1985“1985 was the year of AIDS,” wrote Neil D. Rosenberg, medical reporter for the Milwaukee Journal. “It dominated the media, perhaps as no other single topic did all year.” [Read more…]

November 1975: Lily Tomlin plays the PAC

Photo by Shirley Borchardt for AMAZON

Photo by Shirley Borchardt for AMAZON

“You don’t have to be one to play one,” said Lily Tomlin, when asked about playing a heterosexual character. “I did a lot of research.” [Read more…]

October 1975: Milwaukee nightlife at a glance

factory-entWhat was gay and lesbian nightlife like in Milwaukee forty years ago?

G Milwaukee magazine, a hand-typed and mimeographed “bar rag” of the era, provided a Bar Guide that included a dozen local bars.  Only one of the twelve is still open to this day (This Is It) and only two other businesses (C’est La Vie and Ball Game) survived into the 21st century.

In 1975, Milwaukee’s gay bar scene was not contained to a neighborhood or even a ZIP code. One strip had started to take shape in the Old Third Ward warehouse district.  Another was taking form around 2nd and Pittsburgh, in the former Fifth Ward light industrial corridor.

Today, neither of these neighborhoods bear any resemblance whatsoever to their 1975 appearances.  For example, Milwaukee’s premier disco of the 1970s, The Factory, is now the site of our proud partner, Skylight Music Theatre.

Other bars were scattered all over the city, from Washington Park (Beer Garden) to Brady Street (Martins) to Riverwest (Finale, Ten Hundred East) to downtown (Mint Bar.)  The only bar in Walker’s Point was Your Place (1st and National) — today the home of a gentlemen’s club.

The Mint Bar retains the title of the longest-running gay bar in Milwaukee history. Opened in 1949, the Mint Bar was a known “men’s bar” for a generation before Stonewall and openly advertised as early as 1971 as a gay bar. Demolished in 1987 for Bradley Center construction, the Mint Bar moved to 819 S. 2nd Street (now the location of Fluid) but only survived until 1990.

In addition to bars and nightclubs, Milwaukee also offered two gay bathhouses in 1975:  the Club Milwaukee (704 W. Wisconsin Ave.) and the Club Finlandia (707 E. Knapp.)  Both businesses closed in the 1980s.

Fun fact: G Milwaukee was sold by mail order at 25 cents per issue.  At the time, the price of first class postage was 13 cents per stamp.

The Wisconsin GLBT History Project is a self-funded, community-driven project devoted to documenting the evolving face of local gay and lesbian life. We are honored to be affiliated with this important and irreplaceable historical initiative.

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October 2005: Naked Boys Singing triumphs over Vice Squad

Naked Boys 2Two months after being closed by the Milwaukee Police Department, “Naked Boys Singing!” returned to the stage on October 29, 2005 for an eight week run.

On August 18, 2005, the city’s vice squad had closed the production over “lack of license and public nuisance.”  The police claimed they were responding to a public complaint that the location lacked a small theater license.  The Common Council eventually determined that the non-profit venue did not need a theater license, after all, and the show was finally allowed to go on.

Rather than expressing civil disobedience, the producers decided to host a press conference.  The Milwaukee Gay Arts Center filed a $634,420 notice against the city, claiming free speech and due process had been violated.  The Center stated its civil rights were violated when city employees selectively enforced the ordinance, in violation of the constitutional rights of the Milwaukee Gay Arts Center and the staff of Naked Boys Singing, due to the organization’s focus on gay-related and AIDS-related causes.   Many, including the ACLU of Wisconsin, felt this selective enforcement was blatantly homophobic.  The show’s producer reported receiving a threatening phone call and intimidating visits from vice police.

Queer Life News followed the case closely, as did the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, in which two full-page advertisements appeared, demanding a public apology.

The case was ultimately dismissed by a U.S. District Judge who did not see these violations as a “custom or policy by the municipality.”  The Center did not appeal this decision, but hosted several fundraisers to recover the costs of pursuing legal action.

Mayor Tom Barrett called for a full review of the police shutdown, as well as the city’s licensing policies and processes.  The mayor also hosted a town hall meeting at the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center to hear out public concerns.  The City of Milwaukee settled the case five years later, with a $20,000 payment of damages on July 14, 2010.

“Naked Boys Singing!” shows faced similar scrutiny in other cities, including San Juan, Provincetown and Atlanta, but productions continued throughout the decade.

October 1995: Q*Voice magazine launches

qv-9510Twenty years ago, Jorge L. Cabal and William Attewell launched Q*Voice, a LGBT magazine covering Milwaukee and Wisconsin “in depth and with style.”

At the time, the state had four thriving gay and lesbian publications, including Wisconsin Light, In Step, QUEST and Q*Voice.  Milwaukee Magazine called Q*Voice ‘a promising new voice… sassy, readable and easily the best-designed free publication in town.'”

Within one year, Q*Voice had expanded 33% to a print run of 12,000 issues, making it the second largest print run of any LGBT publication in the state.  The magazine was unique in that it prohibited advertising for 1-900 phone sex services.  The magazine is remembered for high-quality photography on its covers, as well as in-depth interviews with high-profile LGBT leaders of the era.

Q*Voice lasted almost three years as an independent publication, before merging into In Step in August 1998.

Were you a Q*Voice reader?  Check out the Q*Voice cover gallery at the Wisconsin GLBT History Project website.


October 1985: The Village People play 219

villagepeople219Believe it or not, there was a time when America didn’t quite understand that the Village People were, by design, exaggerated gay stereotypes of the “macho” straight ideal.  When America figured it out, the record label’s PR team spent time and money desperately trying to convince audiences that the band wasn’t really gay.

Feeling dismissed by a band they made popular, many gay men tuned out on the Village People for good.

In October 1985, SSBL Milwaukee hosted over 600 American and Canadian athletes at the 9th Gay Softball World’s Series. The Awards Banquet, held at the Crystal Ballroom at the Marc Plaza Hotel, featured PrideFest favorites City Of Festivals Men’s Chorus as well as Mamma Rae, who performed “Somewhere” from West Side Story.

Later that night, the Village People returned to Milwaukee for a special Series 9 performance at Club 219. Only three of the original six Village People were still part of the production, including Felipe Rose, Alex Briley and Glenn Hughes.  The band had recently adopted a new look to go with their new album, “Sex Over the Phone,” which was banned by the BBC due to its controversial subject matter (paid phone sex.)

The Village People played to a full house — almost too full, as it turns out.  During the concert, someone reported the venue was over capacity.  A city inspector showed up, but did not shut down the show — something that made the audience very happy!

The band broke up shortly after this show, but have reorganized several times, and have played Milwaukee many times over the past three decades.