Sue Cook: Creating Pride
"I think back to the bomb threats and death threats, and now we can say 'gay' and 'lesbian' openly pretty much anywhere. Sometimes it was necessary to get in their face. But this is the result. And that was one of the messages that I would always say at opening ceremonies, about PrideFest, we come here to be with ourselves, to be with our family and friends, but it doesn't have to end when we leave the gates. So when you leave this festival, tell one person that you're gay, that you're lesbian, that you're bisexual, that you're transgender. Tell one person. Then you can take PrideFest out of the gates."
Sue Cook did it twice - she helped create LGBT community in Milwaukee by starting the Milwaukee Lesbian and Gay Pride Committee (MLGPC) in 1987, then worked with the new PrideFest from 1997 to 1999.
But in 1983 she wasn't even out of the closet yet. She was in a relationship with a woman, but neither of them acknowledged being lesbian, even to each other. She got involved in MLGPC through Grapevine, a women's organization. The first organizers of MLGPC sent invitations to Grapevine and other groups to send representatives to a meeting.
As MLGPC became more visible, Cook and other members endured bomb and death threats. Out of those threats in 1989 came a large meeting of lesbians, who decided to create the Lesbian Alliance of Metro Milwaukee.
Cook decided to come out to her mother in 1987 because she knew she would be in the news as co-chair of the first Pride March. She heard her mother bemoaning the fact that lesbians and gay men would march in the streets of Milwaukee. So Cook picked her mother up from work one day, took her home, and, very nervously as they sat in front of the house, told her, "Mom, I'm a lesbian." "Oh no," her mother replied. "Just tell me you're not going to march." "I'm one of the organizers," Cook said. "I'm the Co-chair of the march."
The original Pride celebrations in Milwaukee were very political, with the march and speeches. Even as it adopted more of a festival atmosphere in the late 1990s, Cook believes that PrideFest helped to bring about many other achievements for LGBT persons in Milwaukee. The PrideFest committee knew that the other summer festivals all hung their flags along Wisconsin and Water streets. PrideFest wanted rainbow flags, so they went through the process just as everyone else did- and Milwaukee had Rainbow flags flying downtown.
Cook recalls one year that a car stopped suddenly while they were putting up flags, and two men got out. "We're from San Francisco," they said, "and we feel at home here." "You are at home here", they replied.