Wisconsin LGBTQ History Project Documents the Past and Present of Wisconsin’s LGBTQ Community

Documenting Wisconsin’s LGTBQ+ Community

During June, cities across the globe light up with the colors of the pride flag to honor a month of celebration of the LGBTQ+ community worldwide. Since the 60’s, the month has transformed into a time to acknowledge the community’s culture, contributions, achievements, and struggles.

Since the beginning of recorded history, the presence of LGBTQ+ figures has been noted as a second or third thought. Now, in modern times organizations have taken up the task of recording and archiving their history and preserving it for future generations. 

In 1994, the Wisconsin LGBTQ History Project was started by Don Schwamb when he began documenting personal memories, records, and local LGBTQ+ publications to archive the presence of the community, beginning primarily in Milwaukee before expanding to the rest of the state. The organization has since expanded with the help of board members such as Diane Gregory.

“The thing is when we first started, it was hard to find any photos, there were no photos inside of bars none, and people didn’t carry around cameras, and you certainly didn’t take photos of each other, said Gregory. “There was no documentation of our lives because nobody was supposed to know about them.”

Maintaining Their Community Roots

The project has since grown to new levels, traveling to pride festivals and parades around the state, and collecting photos, artifacts, interviews, and stories to keep LGBTQ+ history alive in the state. The project also serves to remind people that the LGBTQ+ community has always been present, with a history just as important as other topics. 

The Board is represented by community members, leaders, and activists who represent their community with pride and work to ensure the organization continues to expand its mission of preservation and reconnection to history. Alongside community advisors, the organization looks to create an archive and resource list that represents the diverse LGBTQ+ community of Wisconsin.  

Gregory began working with the group in 2017. Gregory first began her participation with meet-and-greets with Board Chairperson Michail Takach, a chance for the community to get to know and learn about the project, as well as submit their own stories or archival material. As the project grew, Gregory was asked to join the board as a member adding to the number of individuals dedicated to driving the mission forward. 

“I’m glad I was around when I was but I love seeing what’s happening today,” said Gregory. “It’s freedom, it’s the freedom to be yourself the whole thing ‘be your authentic self’ It definitely is true now.”

The Wisconsin LGBTQ History Project at Lesbian Visibility Week in Walker’s Point. From left to right Michail Takach, Diane Gregory, and Stephanie Hume. (Picture by Diane Gregory)
The Wisconsin LGBTQ History Project at Lesbian Visibility Week in Walker’s Point. From left to right Michail Takach, Diane Gregory, and Stephanie Hume. (Picture by Diane Gregory)

As a prominent community member and board member, Gregory has also submitted her own story and picture to the project to further connect herself to the community. 

“I’m pretty humbled by it, that I’m a part of history,” said Gregory. “Many friends of mine are out there and just to be a part of that and knowing that when I’m gone I’m still going to be out there, is a nice feeling. ”

Interacting with History

The project takes pride in its website, which outlines resources such as important places, people, media relationships, and events in the state’s LGBTQ history. It is not only a way to preserve important history and stories, but also an attempt to reconnect Wisconsin to the history itself, so everyone can see its legacy. 

“It’s a lot of history with the, the pictures, and it’s getting updated [the website] so that people can add their own photos to our website so it can be more interactive,” said Gregory. “It’s all about education and being a part of it, us living our lives, we made this happen.”

The organization members make a point to be present and active in the community, in events offering ways for people to submit items they would like to be documented in their digital archive.  

“Every event we have now it’s like different people show up so it’s like we’re touching more lives,” said Gregory. “So I’m excited about reaching new people.” 

The site also features a blog and news section for followers or those interested can check out current events, opinions, and updates on the Wisconsin LGBTQ+ community. 

Additionally, the group does walking tours, showing participants the sites and locations in Milwaukee that hold significant value to the community.

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