View the Milwaukee Pride Celebration TimeLine.
Beginning in 1970, just after the June 1969 riot at the Stonewall Bar in Manhattan (which began the gay rights movement in the country), gay civil rights organizations sprang up all over the country. In Milwaukee, both the Gay Liberation Organization and the Gay Liberation Front came into being in November 1970. The Gay Liberation Organization, fearing it would be confused with the more radical GLF, renamed itself the Gay People’s Union (GPU) in 1971.
The GPU became the first organization in Milwaukee to host an event that had “Pride” appeal, with over 350 people attending the GPU Ball in 1974. Other dances and parties were hosted in the years that followed, including marches and street festivals as early as 1981.
After the 1987 March on Washington, a more formal Pride Movement took hold in Milwaukee. Having attended the march in the nation’s capital, several people thought it was time to organize a major, gay/lesbian self-affirmation event. The first official Pride event, hosted by the new Milwaukee Lesbian/Gay Pride Committee (MLGPC), was held in 1988, complete with a softball tournament, ball, town hall meeting with elected officials and film festival. Several hundred people participated in the various events.
In 1989, a march was organized in June. Approximately 500 people marched the two miles from the bar district, around City Hall and to Cathedral Square for a rally where another 500 people had gathered. This particular event generated a great deal of controversy in the City of Milwaukee, especially when the proclamation from Mayor John Norquist ended with the words, “We are proud of who you are.” Both the mayor and county executive were threatened with recall campaigns initiated by religious-based conservative groups. By the end of the day, the MLGPC march and rally was the opening story on all three major news telecasts and featured on the front page of the Sunday Milwaukee Journal. However, the experience did not deter planners for the following year. In fact, the experience turned out to be a rallying point for many people in the LGBT community, spurring more people to get involved with the community.
The march and rally were held at Cathedral Square again in 1990. In 1991, 1992 and 1993 the rally was moved to Juneau Park along the lake front, an area that could accommodate the growing crowds. Entertainment and food were added, creating a festival atmosphere.
As with many Pride organizations, a transition occurred leading up to the next year. The MLGPC was dissolved, and a new organization was formed to take over Milwaukee's annual pride celebration: PrideFest Inc. was born. PrideFest developed the celebration into multi-day events, and beginning in 1996 acquired a place on the Summerfest Grounds calendar.
Credits: design and arrangement by Don Schwamb,
with materials contributed by PrideFest and Ted Berg.
Last updated: September-2010.