History Project at 2004 PrideFest

Milwaukee LGBT History Project, Inc.--
Documenting the History of the LGBT Community in Wisconsin

Although various PrideFest celebrations in Milwaukee had hosted History displays in the past (most notably in the mid-1990s), the formal "Milwaukee LGBT History Project" began as a short term effort intended to conduct interviews of a few individuals who were key contributors to the Milwaukee area's Gay and Lesbian lifestyle, and to use those interviews to create a display of panels for the June 2003 PrideFest display.

The 2003 display at PrideFest was a big hit, as has the History Display at each Pridefest since 2003. The Display is seen by all to be a permanent archive to be built on in future years, not only benefiting the gay/lesbian community, but also serving as a source of information for the non-LGBT community to better understand the contributions and history of the LGBT community, by being displayed in public places and events; following PrideFest, it has been displayed at the LGBT Community Center, UWM Student Union building, and other locations.

Ongoing Work

WEBSITE-- This Website has become the main focus of the project: it provides a way to document the evolving face of gay and lesbian life in the Milwaukee area and make it readily available to people throughout the community and elsewhere. Originally focused primarily on Milwaukee, its breadth has expanded so that it now encompasses virtually all of Wisconsin. It attempts to link together media reports from every LGBT publication ever printed in Wisconsin, with personal recollections, photos, and stories. It is primarily organized into 5 major areas (People, Organizations, Businesses, Media, and Events) and weaves all of these together with hyper-linkages to cross-reference information in one area to related information elsewhere. Although thus far primarily the work of one individual (Don Schwamb), other individuals are coming forward with their own recollections and photos, and several other people (notably Jamie Taylor, and the new Green Bay LGBT History group) are beginning to contribute in a more substantive way to flesh out gaps and make the site even more broad in scope.

ARCHIVES-- It is widely realized that much of the history of the community (personal papers, artifacts, etc.) were disappearing as people moved, died, etc. and their personal collections were disposed of by family or unwitting friends. After some discussions with the History Project, the UWM Library- Archives Department has agreed to be the permanent repository for preserving archives and memorabilia collected for the Project. There these records and artifacts (newsletters, buttons, video tapes, etc.) are stabilized, cataloged, and preserved. Already major collections of materials have come from Cream City Foundation, PrideFest, and the records of now-gone organizations including Cream City Business Association, Act-UP, and other groups have also been obtained. Work continues to obtain records of other organizations, businesses, and individuals for permanent retention.

ORAL HISTORIES-- In trying to identify key individuals to interview for the Oral History project, it quickly became obvious that even the most carefully chosen names would fill only a small gap- and thus it was important for the interview process to continue indefinitely. Volunteers to conduct and transcribe interviews have been in short supply, so unfortunately this effort has lapsed after a good effort the first 2 years. We continue to seek volunteers willing to conduct brief interviews or even collect statements from individuals on an ongoing basis. Another proposed approach is to conduct group sessions where groups of people can recall the history of a particular group, business, etc.-- we believe that in group settings people can build on each others' stories, triggering and capturing nearly forgotten recollections from others.

To better position the History Project to move forward, we have decided to partner with another organization closely aligned with us. Thus, beginning in July 2006, the Milwaukee LGBT History project became a program of SAGE (Senior Action in a Gay Environment). SAGE assists the Project by helping us keep focus on our core purpose, rather than having to deal with incorporation, bylaws, registrations, tax reporting, and other administrative matters.

We need your help! All of our efforts take people to research, to collect, to remember and document those memories. If you are willing to help in any way, let us know!

Milwaukee LGBT History Project, Inc.

Email us at:

Common Questions and Answers regarding Why you should donate articles and artifacts to the History Project.

Read the InStep article announcing the History Project.

The LGBT Collections at the UWM Library- Archives Department

Credits: concept and format by Don Schwamb.
Last updated: April-2012.