History of Gay and Lesbian Life in Milwaukee, Wisconsin - Organizations - Social

 

Founded:
Disbanded:
Re-established:
Disbanded:

1980
1997
1999
(still active 2014)
Target:

Multi-racial

View the Black & White Men Together (Milwaukee chapter) web site at this link (will open in a separate browser window).

 
       
 

Milwaukee's Chapter of BWMT, Black and White Men Together, began in the fall of 1980 some seven to eight months after the original formation of a chapter in San Francisco. During this intervening period nine other chapters had started up in large and small cities across the United States, including New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Los Angeles, Memphis, Chicago, Detroit and Atlanta.

The full history of the group is best presented in the following excerpts from the group. While there were various ups and downs, including renamings, and a period of decline during which the group briefly went out of existence, the group has rebounded and is again nationally a player.

The group is hosting the 2014 national convention in Milwaukee in July 2014.

 

The following basic information of Black & White Men Together is from the Group's web site:

    VISION
    Black and White Men Together - Milwaukee (BWMT-Milwaukee) is a gay, multi-racial, multi-cultural organization established in 1981 as an outlet for social interaction for men of all ethnic persuasions. We are committed to fostering a better understanding of issues across color lines. We are also committed to combating discrimination in the lesbigay community and society at large.

    MISSION
    To these ends, we foster a supportive environment for interracial relationships and friendships and engage in educational, political, cultural, and social activities as a means of dealing with the racism, sexism, homophobia, and other inequalities in our communities and in our lives.

The following history of Milwaukee's 'Black & White Men Together' is D.A. Leonard's personal account (circa 2004.

    In The Gitgo

    Milwaukee's Chapter of BWMT, Black and White Men Together, began in the fall of 1980 some seven to eight months after the original formation of a chapter in San Francisco. During this intervening period nine other chapters had started up in large and small cities across the United States, including New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Los Angeles, Memphis, Chicago, Detroit and Atlanta.

    The Early Years

    In Milwaukee as in the other cities that saw the rise of BWMT groups, the primary purpose of the groups were two-fold, to combat racism in the Gay Community and homophobia in the majority and Black communities. The size of the group quickly grew in the early 80's to forty to forty-five members. At its peak size in 1986-87 BWMT-Milwaukee had a membership of sixty-five men, with an additional twenty-five to thirty friends regularly attending social functions, i.e., house parties, picnics, etc.

    In Milwaukee, the BWMT Chapter combated racism and homophobia, and also took on a mission of education and political action in the local community. Further, BWMT-Milwaukee provided a safe environment for interracial couples and those singles interested in interracial dating. The members of the chapter challenged some of the discriminatory entry policies of a number of the gay bars in the metropolitan area. The membership also provided financial and letter writing support for the campaign for passage of the first state Gay Rights Law in the United States here in Wisconsin.

    Through out the 1980's the Milwaukee group hosted three regional meeting of other chapters of the BWMT network from throughout the Great Lakes and Midwest region. These weekend meetings would see approximately sixty to seventy out of town guests coming to Milwaukee for workshops and political action sessions along with socials such as Friday evening receptions, Saturday evening banquets and dances. These "regionals" would be held at smaller downtown hotel such as the Ramada or Holiday Inn. During the years when Milwaukee did not host a regional the local group sponsored an anniversary weekend that included a reception and banquet with a guest speaker. The Banquet keynote speaker for either an anniversary or regional usually was a state politician friendly to the Gay/Lesbian Community. Speakers over the years included: State Representative Marcia Coggs, State Senator Gary George, Judge Stanley Miller, State Representative Tim Carpenter, County Supervisor Betty Coggs-Jones and County Supervisor Dorothy Dean and the Governor's Liaison to the Gay/Lesbian Community, Earl Bricker.

    By 1982 Milwaukee's chapter sent delegates to the National Convention. Milwaukee has subsequently been represented at the National Association of Black and White Men Together, NABWMT national convention every year. In 1987 Milwaukee hosted the NABWMT National Convention. The Convention Committee received letters of commendation and welcoming notices from the City of Milwaukee Mayor, Henry Maier, Milwaukee County Executive William F. O'Donnell and the governor of the State of Wisconsin Tommy Thompson. In addition, a sign was posted on the south side of City Hall welcoming the delegates to the NABWMT Convention. This was the first time that the city hall sign welcomed a gay organization to Milwaukee.

    A Decade of Decline

    In the late 1980's and early 1990's the membership in BWMT-Milwaukee began to wane as many original members moved to other communities or succumbed from AIDS or other natural causes (although several were murdered, including four who died at the hands of Jeffrey Damner). In addition as times changed, a number of the Black members were pressured by Afrocentric politics to renounce their interracial preferences and claim same race partners or dating patterns. Others who maintained their interracial relationships were more closeted regarding their relationship in the greater community. For the white members, there still continued to be overall pressure from within the LBGT community to not openly cross the racial line for relationship or dating.

    To combat the decline membership, the organization changed its name twice. In 1993 the group changed its name to Men of All Colors Together, MACT, and in 1995 the name was changed again, this time to People of All Colors Together, PACT. These name changes by and large did not endear the organization to other racial or ethnic groups as members had hoped. One Hispanic did join the group for a year in 1994 and when the name was PACT a Black Lesbian couple did maintain membership for two years. In fall of 1997 the group ceased to function, although a few of the long-term members maintained contact with one another and continued individual membership in the NABWMT. In the fall of 1998 five couples attempted to resurrect an interracial men's support group called Milwaukee Men Together. This group never expanded beyond its original five couples, and only met infrequently for dinning out occasions.

    BWMT Milwaukee Born Again

    In the fall of 1999, two Milwaukeean's, one a long time member of BWMT (the writer) and another (the webmaster) who had been in a long interracial relationship but had never been a member of the organization made contact with each other via the Internet. At the bequest of the National Organization these two men attempted to resurrect a chapter in Milwaukee.

    This attempt met with complete success. First this website was created (August 15, '99). Then the first meeting (September 20, '99) was advertised in the INSTEP newsmagazine and the Wisconsin Light and was held at the then LBGT Center, then on South 2nd Street. The small meeting room was overflowing with interested men.

    Subsequent monthly meetings developed a nucleus of twenty-some men both singles and couples who have continued to meet to discuss interracial issues and provide safe social space for themselves and like minded people. One of the especially nice things about the current Milwaukee BWMT is that it is group of men who genuinely like one another even when they disagree about issues being discussed.

    The new group is primarily social in outlook and function; however there are periodic political or educational discussions. The group sponsors a number of house parties each year, frequent dinning out experiences and attendance at museums (The Black Holocaust Museum) and cultural activities in addition to regular monthly meeting at the LBGT Center on West Court Street.

    The new Milwaukee BWMT group sponsored a successful Midland Regional for the eleven chapters of the BWMT organization in the fall of 2000. The Milwaukee group has sent representatives to Creating Change Conference, other Midland Regional Meetings and the NABWMT conventions. BWMT maintained an information table at Pridefest the past two years and this year will be staffing one of the Beer-Pods by the mainstage.

The UWM Archives LGBT Collection holds some of the Milwaukee Chapter of BWMT's papers. UWM Archives has this description of BWMT in their collection description:

    The collection documents the functions and activities of the Milwaukee chapter of Black and White Men Together (BWMT), which held its first membership meeting in November 1980. BWMT--Milwaukee provided a safe environment for gay male, interracial couples and individuals interested in interracial dating. It also raised awareness about and combated racism within Milwaukee's gay community and homophobia within its black community. The collection includes brochures and fliers, newsletters, correspondence between the Milwaukee chapter and the national association, agendas and minutes from membership and steering committee meetings, and information about the 1987 national convention held in Milwaukee. The collection also contains some general information about the national association (NABWMT).

 

Credits: Bulk of contents from Black & White Men Together's own web site.
Last updated: May-2014.