Jamie Taylor was born James Taylor, but is known as Jamie to all his friends in Milwaukee. Jamie first became active in the gay community as a bartender: first at C'est la Vie (approx. 1982), and later at Finale.
Around 1990 he started doing photography for In Step newspaper/ magazine, became head photographer in 1991, and in 1995 also began writing the "Steppin Out" column for that paper, which highlighted bar and community news and happenings.
In mid-2009, Jamie became more interested in the history of the gay community, creating first a Facebook page to highlight Milwaukee's gay history, and then allying himself with this website. He is now a major contributor of content for this "Milwaukee LGBT History Project" website, collecting photos and recollections of other individuals for the web site.
In the First Person:
"I was born in Illinois in 1964 in a suburb of Chicago. I was the youngest in the family and yes, I was a momma’s boy. We moved to Wauconda IL in 1968 into a brand new raised ranch house on Foster Av. I had a pretty decent childhood. Back when we could roam the streets of Wauconda and feel safe. The only rule was we had to be home for dinner and be home before the street lights came on. I spent most of my summer vacations on Bangs Lake just a few blocks from my house. I was forced to learn how to swim because my brothers would swim me out to the raft and leave me there. After a few attempts at screaming to shore for someone to come get me, I learned how to swim… real quick. I remember the 1st bicycle I got. One day my dad (out of the blue) scooped me up and put me in the car. We were on our way to the local hardware store. I had no idea why. We walked in and my dad took me over to where the bikes were and said “pick one out”. I was elated. I picked a 20” dark metallic blue Schwinn bike with a banana seat and a wide slick back tire. I was in heaven. We took the bike home where I got my 1st skinned knee from a bike.
"In 1976 my parents didn’t like what was happening to the neighborhood. There was a low income house kitty corner from us with a family that caused much pain (for lack of a better word) for our family. The father attempted to rape my sister and the brothers were just bad news. The father didn’t speak a lick of English. (I fear that my dad would have killed the guy had he known back then what this guy tried to do.) So, my parents started looking at rural areas. There was talk about western Wisconsin but when they looked north they found the place we were moving to. This was Wausaukee WI. (Near Crivitz). Forty acres of land on a dead end road called Kaiko Rd. So the summer of ’76 we packed our stuff and moved up north. My mom didn’t like what we kids were turning into and made some changes. We started going to the Assembly of God in Athelstane. I had taken organ lessons in Wauconda so not long after joining, I started playing the piano for the church. There would no longer be a television in the house. My dad tested my mom on that and went to the Bastian True Value and bought a TV. My mom was hysterical. Well, I wouldn’t have wanted to see the humility on my dad’s face when he walked into the hardware store with the TV in his arms, returning it. At 1st living in Wausaukee was devastating. I hated being the new kid in school… especially because we came from the “city”. I endured bullies and the cold shoulder we got everywhere we went. The towns people weren’t mean… just not welcoming. Well, I made it through high school and the summer school was over for me I went to my mom and asked if I could move in with my sister in Milwaukee. Astonishingly, she said yes after just a short conversation with my dad. I think it was because she knew there was nothing up there for me and let me go.
"Milwaukee was exciting. I found some people I knew from up north and pretty much moved in with them (Barb) within a month or two. (I was still 17.) We didn’t tell my mom that little fact until years later. Well Barb had a friend who was a closeted homo. One day we decided to go to a bar. That bar was Shadows on South 2nd St. The next bar was the Phoenix Bar on South 2nd. Both of these were gay bars. Now by that point I also knew I was gay but wasn’t ready to come out. I dated a woman for awhile and actually moved to Fredonia with her. One night I came home from work and started balling. I told her I was gay and could not continue living the lie. I moved out within days… back with my sister. However, this time I knew where the gay bars were and one night I walked from 30th & Michigan with a dollar and change in my pocket. I walked into C’est La Vie and ordered a bottle of Pabst. It was 90 cents. I drank that beer and due to money, ordered a tap. I think they were 40 cents. I drank two more and headed for the door. John Clayton was at the door and started talking to me. I told him my short story about moving in with my sister and he offered me a job that night. No, I did NOT have to sleep with John. I know some of his bartenders did but there were plenty of us who didn’t. I moved above the bar shortly after starting there and lived on the 3rd floor in room #8. It was the largest room on the floor. I did the C’est La Vie thing for a couple of years. Got fired and rehired. One night the guy came in who was looking for a bartender for the bar he just purchased called the Finale (810 East Center St.) I accepted his offer and moved above that bar. I really liked the place. The 1st night I was there I came back from partying downtown when I had a knock at the door. It was everyone from Finale. They wanted to throw me a house warming party… It was funny… no furniture so everyone either stood or sat on the floor. I was there until the bar had a fire. The one night I was waken by my neighbor (Danny Morton) who said “get out, there is a fire”. I scooped up my dog Ruffles, and we were out and safe. That fire did some smoke damage but the place was livable. No more than a week later, I came home from downtown and again, there were fire trucks in front of the building. I freaked out. I found the 1st fire fighter I could and told him my dog Ruffles was in there. He walked me to the fire engine where Ruffles was scared, but safe. This time the bar was gutted and all my stuff and Danny’s was ruined.I moved back to C’est La Vie towers and got a job at a hardware store.
"I can’t remember exactly how I got the photography position with In Step but I know the guy that was doing it (Doug) was getting ill. I took over as the main photographer in 1991. I am unsure of the actual date as it took some time for Ron to change the photographer title in the front of the magazine. I loved it. I was becoming somewhat of a celebrity. All the bars welcomed me in. I never paid a cover charge and in many bars, never paid for a drink. I traveled the state for that job and got paid for it. In May 1995 Ron (the creator of In Step) was getting too sick to write his column, Stepping Out. He asked me if I would take over. I resisted. I had no writing experience and was terrified to make a fool of myself. He assured me he would edit the column for grammatical errors and everything would be just fine. He said it shouldn’t be difficult as I was at all the events he was writing about anyway. Who better than to report on them? I gave in. My 1st column appeared in the May 1995 issue of In Step and it turned out pretty good if I do say so myself. I did that until there was talk about the paper being bought by another paper in town, Q Voice owned by Bill Attewell. I was worried at the time that the new owners would clean house and fire everyone and install their own staff. That didn’t happen. In fact Bill kept just about everyone. We did change the name of the column to Keepin’ In Step. I wrote for about 5 years when I was getting tired of talking about drag shows. It showed in my writing. I called Bill to discuss our options. (He noticed the lack of interest I had in writing at that point as well). I went to the office and sat down. He asked me if I really wanted to continue writing. I said “not really”. We agreed I could write a farewell column and I did. I was relieved. I kept up with the In Step until it stopped appearing in the bars shortly after I quit.
"I do sometimes miss having a voice in the community like I had with In Step but will appreciate having that voice at all.
"I started the History page on Facebook in mid-2009 to make it easy for members to have a place to learn about the history of Gay Milwaukee. (Editor: this is before Jamie realized there was an entire web site dedicated to it! :)
"Today I am in Bay View. I own JME Services which is a home improvement/repair company. I struggle sometimes just like everyone else. I have had “domestic partners” over the years but I think I am quite content being alone."
Credits: information and recent photos contributed by Jamie Taylor;
Website creation and design by Don Schwamb;
Last updated: September-2009.