Eldon Eugene Murray was a longtime resident of Milwaukee's East Side. Beginning in the late 1960s, when being gay was still a taboo to many, Eldon was proud of who he was, setting an example and freeing many other gay men and women to follow as they themselves "came out". Locally he founded numerous gay/lesbian organizations, many of which were "firsts" nationally. He has often been named and recognized throughout the country as one of just 5 or 6 people nationally who truly made the gay rights movement of the 1960s-1970s come about.
(From his obituary in The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:) Eldon was a veteran of the Korean Conflict. He worked as a stockbroker, retiring from Fredrick and Company in 2000. Eldon was proud to be a leader in the gay rights movement nationally and locally. He formed the first radio broadcast program "Gay Perspective" in the early 70's; helped establish the Brady Street Clinic and was an adviser in the early days of the AID's Project. He was involved in the Gay Liberation Front at a time when people never used their real names. When being gay was still a taboo to many, Eldon was proud of who he was, setting an example and freeing many other gay men and women to follow as they themselves "came out". From these openly gay issues he and others began forming an organization called Gay People's Union (GPU). Eldon formed GPU News, an openly gay community publication which was funded by local businesses through advertising. The Gay People's Union helped the closeted community come out as gay citizens of our community. Eldon began SAGE Milwaukee in 1994, modeled after SAGE in New York. Due to his advocacy efforts, Eldon received numerous awards, such as; Wisconsin Senior Statesmanship Program, Share Wisconsin, Stone Wall Awards, Gay Lesbian Hall of Fame, Cream City Pace Setter Award, Milwaukee County Senior Citizen Hall of Fame, The Pride Fest Life Time Achievement Award as well as many other national and local awards.
After Eldon's death, a biographical panel was created by the Milwaukee LGBT History Project, and was featured in a display first appearing at PrideFest 2007. The text from that display is as follows:
"All through history it has been those whose views and lives have been unorthodox who have had the most profound effect on their time. The world has relied on the genius of the individual, even when eccentric or deviant, to lead the way, but then it has said ‘Look at him. He’s just like me.’ Until recently, Black heroes were omitted from the history books, their accomplishments being ignored entirely. Blacks are busy putting [themselves] back into the pages of history. We must do the same thing ... We must remove the whitewash carefully so that the true picture will emerge and gays both historic and modern can take their rightful place." (Eldon E. Murray, GPU News, March 1973)
In 2007, Milwaukee and the nation have lost a true pioneer in the gay rights movement. Beginning in the late 1960s, when being gay was still a taboo to many, Eldon was proud of who he was, setting an example and freeing many other gay men and women to follow as they themselves "came out". Locally he founded numerous gay/lesbian organizations, many of which were "firsts" nationally. He has often been named and recognized throughout the country as one of just 5 or 6 people nationally who truly made the gay rights movement of the 1960s-1970s come about.
Born in Vincennes, Indiana, Eldon said, “I’ve been Gay for as long as I can remember. It was always the prince in the fairy tale that interested me. He was the one who went out and did wonderful things.”
Eldon was proud to be a leader in the gay rights movement nationally and locally. He formed the first radio broadcast program “Gay Perspective” in the early 1970s; helped establish the Brady Street Clinic and was an adviser in the early days of the Milwaukee AIDS Project. He was involved in the Gay Liberation Front at a time when people never used their real names. He was one of the founders of the Gay People’s Union, the first major gay liberation organization in Milwaukee. IN 1994, he founded SAGE Milwaukee (Senior Action in a Gay Environment), which was Wisconsin’s first organization devoted to issues surrounding aging in the community.
Eldon received numerous awards and recognition for his efforts in the gay community, including the One Institute and International Gay and Lesbian Archives as one of 31 pioneers in the gay movement. Eldon has said that Stonewall was a turning point for him. His ability to stand up and be openly gay launched a remarkable string of projects that established a legacy still felt today. His integrity resonates and will live on in the countless lives he embraced.
"It is not what life does for you, but what you do with life that counts." (Eldon E. Murray)
Sources: Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel, www.mkelgbthist.org, Wisconsin Light v12-14
(from Milw County Commission on Aging’s Year 2000 "Senior Citizen Hall of Fame"):
Eldon Murray has provided many years of volunteer service to seniors in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Eldon has been a gay activist since the beginning of the Gay Liberation Movement and is recognized nationwide as a pioneer in that movement.
He was one of the founders of the Gay People's Union (GPU), the first major gay liberation organization in Milwaukee. In 1994, he founded SAGE in Milwaukee (Senior Action in a Gay Environment), which was Wisconsin's first organization devoted to issues surrounding aging in the community.
Mr. Murray has received numerous awards and recognition for his efforts in the gay community, such as the Pridefest's Stonewall Award for outstanding service to Milwaukee's gay and lesbian community and the Human Rights League's Cream City Brick Award. He was elected to the Cream City Business Association's Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 1986. In 1998, the One Institute and International Gay and Lesbian Archives honored Eldon as one of 31 pioneers in the gay movement.
The dedication of his life to activism and service on the part of the gay and lesbian population, and now in his later years to their aging issues, has clearly benefited the Milwaukee community.
(summarized from "Our Village Elders" article, Wisconsin Light, volume 12 issue 15, March 19-25, 1999; written by Bill Meunier)
LGBT Wisconsin can boast of many contributions to our national Gay community. They include the first ever statewide Gay civil rights law and the first ever openly Lesbian Congresswoman, Tammy Baldwin.
We have also made a number of contributions that aren't as well known. Eldon Murray is one of those. A true pioneer in the Gay civil rights movement, he is sill going strong at the age of 69 (in 1999). In 1998, the International Gay and Lesbian archives named him one of the "pioneers of the movement"; he is one of only 32 people to receive that honor.
Born in Vincennes, Indiana, Eldon says, "I've been Gay for as long as I can remember. It was always the prince in the fairy tale that interested me. He was the one who went out and did wonderful things."
He began exploring his sexuality at an early age. Like most young gays and lesbians in the days before Stonewall, Eldon turned to the local library. "When I was in the fifth grade, I had read everything in the children's section of the library. So, I was allowed to go to the adult section", he said. "I headed for books on sexuality and abnormal psychiatry. I read Freud and James. I was looking for answers to my feelings for other men."
He adds, "James held out the idea that homosexual acts and eroticism were quite normal in adolescence and that one outgrew them", he said. "I never worried about these things. Then when I was 17, I decided that I didn't want to outgrow homosexuality".
A year later, Eldon moved to "the big city, Chicago". It was there that he found his professional calling, the world of finance.
After serving in the Korean War, Eldon went back to work at his bank, but not for long. "I came up to Milwaukee in 1955 to visit a girl", he says. "I met a man here and came up to find work, because I couldn't advance where I was. I found a job in the brokerage business."
His life moved along like most others. Then came the watershed event in Gay history: Stonewall. Eldon got involved in what was then called "Gay Liberation" in a big way. "I was 39 years old and established in business," he says. "My clients didn't care as long as I made money for them. I could stand up and be openly Gay when few people could."
That ability launched a remarkable string of projects that established a legacy still felt today. Along with his friend Alyn Hess and a handful of others, Eldon launched Wisconsin's oldest LGBT group, Gay People's Union. Most of Milwaukee's LGBT organizations are in one way or another descended from GPU.
His influence reached outside of Milwaukee too. Eldon became editor of one of America's first LGBT publications, GPU News. "I was nominated for it during a meeting," he says. "I agreed because I saw a need."
He answered that need for the next ten years. The monthly GPU News was a glossy covered magazine containing news, commentaries, fiction and poetry. It had a national circulation and a national reputation. A lack of volunteers led to its demise in 1981.
Eldon didn't confine his activities to GPU News. He began what could have been the first LGBT radio program in the country. The program Gay Perspectives was a weekly prime time show, with news, music and an occasional interview.
He was also instrumental in founding the first Gay STD clinic in the country. The GPU STD Clinic later became the BESTD Clinic.
In between all that he helped to establish the GPU Hotline, counseling services, support groups, a legal defense fund, and many other projects. Throughout it all, Eldon kept in contact with leaders around the country, exchanging ideas, helping where he could. Many of the projects Eldon began became models for others around the country.
Then a new disease hit the Gay community, AIDS. Eldon rolled up his sleeves and pitched in. He was instrumental in getting the initial grants for what would become the Milwaukee AIDS Project (MAP) which is now ARCW, the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin.
Having been a founder of the community and a recognized national leader would have been enough for most of us, but not Eldon. Murray. In 1993, the Cream City Foundation gave him a grant to attend a SAGE conference in New York. It was money well spent. Eldon came back to Milwaukee and founded a chapter of SAGE here.
The group currently has around 100 active members. Of course, Eldon wants more. Speaking of the problems faced by Gay Seniors, he says, "The major problem is that there are all kinds of programs out there. Gay people don't choose to participate in them. They either don't know about them or they are in the closet." So, as he has done so many times in the past, Eldon Murray acts as a referral service. He also acts as a spokesperson for LGBT Seniors. He is a member of the Milwaukee County Council on Agings' Advisory Board.
Despite his busy schedule, Eldon still finds time for fun. He collects antiques and travels abroad and around the country. Although he is single, Eldon has a romantic life, but he won't divulge the particulars.
Assessing the Gay movement, Murray says, "If we make as much progress in the next 30 years as we have in the last 30, I would be very pleased. He adds, "There's still things to be done. The rights you have must be constantly guarded, or they'll be taken away". He cited the Wisconsin Light's coverage of controversial Police actions at two Milwaukee Gay clubs as an example of that.
Eldon's latest crusade is to help overcome ageism in our community and in society at large. "In the Gay community we can lead the way," he says. "If we can work to educate younger people so they do not have society's negative ageism, we can do the same thing. Gay people have taught society so much."
Eldon has taught Gay people much, too. He says, "My position has been to start things, get them going and then move away"."
Eldon Murray has been starting things for the last 30 years. He's planning to start even more in the next 30.
Eldon used the pen name "Sam Edwards" when writing for GPU News.
Credits: bulk of information from Wisconsin Light, v12-14;
Last updated: March-2007.