Born and raised in western Wisconsin to a family of beekeepers, Clark A. Williams was a resident of the Milwaukee area from 1991-1995. He lived in Milwaukee during the LGBT community's most tumultous time period. Clark recalls:
"During these years, HIV/AIDS hit our community hard and every member of our community was either battling the disease or caring for a cadre of friends and loved ones. Of course, every gay man who survived these years will recall when they first learned about the horrible crimes of Jeffrey Dahmer. Death simply seemed everywhere.
"My own coming-of-age as a young man occured during my years in Milwaukee. I met my very first partner during the Christmas holidays at YP's (Your Place.) I will never forget when my beloved Robert (a native of Milwaukee and a then-closeted gay man) first set eyes on me as I wandered past his bar stool with a pack of my friends. That night, after Robert bought me a beer and began his courtship, I leaned over to my young friends and told them that 'something amazing was about to happen to my life.' During our courtship and throughout our valiant effort to save Robert's life from HIV disease, YP's was always that special place where we would go and reminisce about when we first fell in love. Robert died in the spring of 1994 and, as you know, YP's closed their doors later that same year. I was just 26 years old.
"HIV/AIDS had a way of bringing us out of the closet... My partner, Robert Wisler, was a physician practicing in Brookfield so he was terrified of the public disclosure of his disease. In fact, after he died, I found several news articles tucked away in his bookshelf that exposed the public's fear of health professionals living with HIV while caring for their patients. Until the day that he died, Robert was tormented by the societal stigma associated with this disease and so I vowed to live a fully integrated life and to be proud member of our LGBT community."
"During those years of battling the HIV/AIDS epidemic, our community rallied together and our civic institutions worked to be their best. I will never forget the work of Chris Fons and, of course, everyone ALWAYS read Arnie Malmon's columns. Their fearless work inspired so many of us In fact, after Robert's death, I left Milwaukee for New York City to become a social worker and HIV/AIDS activist. For the past 12 years, I have worked as a health care manager for several large public health departments and am noted in California for my expertise in HIV prevention programming.
"I have never forgotten about how I was mentored during my years in Milwaukee. I will never forget about my many friends in Milwaukee who died from HIV/AIDS. I still miss them. One can't collect the history of Milwaukee's gay and lesbian community without talking with those of us who spent every day caring for someone living with HIV/AIDS and hoping beyond hope for a cure."
Williams left Milwaukee in 1995 to attend graduate school in social work at New York University. He recalls that, in spite all of his dear friends in Milwaukee, it was just too painful to remain. "Every corner turned, every trip to the grocery store, every Saturday night at the bars - filled me with too many painful memories of my dear Robert and of the amazing life we had together."
While attending graduate school, Williams dedicated his professional life to working with women and communities of color living with HIV/AIDS. During the mid-1990's, rates of HIV disease among women and communities of color began to climb and he felt a passion for using his personal and professional expertise to help serve the growing unmet needs. Since 1997, he has served in a number of executive positions with non-profit and public health organizations. Some of his professional positions include service as the Executive Director of a Baltimore-based women's health agency, director of all HIV prevention, counseling and testing programs with the Santa Clara County (CA) Public Health Department, Executive Director of the Billy DeFrank LGBT Community Center in San Jose and, most recently, as a nonprofit management consultant and a Board member of the Silicon Valley Council of Nonprofits.
Williams conjectures that the current fight for legal recognition of our relationships would never have happened without the many years of HIV/AIDS activism. Thanks to the political skills gained through my HIV/AIDS advocacy, he become very active in LGBT Democratic politics. In 2004, He founded the Silicon Valley LGBT Democratic Club and (mid-2007) is the current Vice-Chair of the LGBT Caucus of the California Democratic Party. In 2006, he ran for a seat on the San Jose City Council but narrowly lost the race by a mere 49 votes out of 23,000 cast. He expects to seek elective office again in the future, and is awaiting the right opportunity.
Clark Williams now lives in San Jose, California with his partner Jim (whom he met in 1997 while attending graduate school at NYU), and their 4-year old daughter, Caroline (adopted at birth). According to Clark, "Though I have had many personal and professional accomplishments in my young life, none of them compare to the joy I receive each and every day as the parent of our 4-year old daughter, Caroline!... Being a parent is a dream come true for us! I am reminded of the many conversations that Robert and I had about parenthood and how his disease was making it impossible for him to become a parent. Each and every day, I try to live a full life that reflects the many dreams of all those young men who would have made great parents but who died long before their dreams could have been fulfilled."
Williams contacted the History Project in September 2007, to thank them for the web site and its attempt to document Milwaukee's LGBT history, and to share his story. He added in one of his emails: "so many people invested in my life during those years in Milwaukee and I am a much better gay man as a result. I hope that my successes are a positive reflection of those wonderful people that remain in the great city of Milwaukee!"
Additional information about Clark Williams is available at these links:
Credits: information from the subject, Clark Williams.
Last updated: September-2007.