It’s a frightening time to be LGBTQ+—both nationally and right here in Wisconsin. We are witnessing an alarming rise in hate, violence, and disinformation across our state, particularly targeting transgender youth and their families. The 2023–24 Wisconsin legislative session has begun and promises to be just as intense as the 2021–22 session. As we look ahead, we’re eager to build on our successes and carry the momentum we built last session into this one. Fair Wisconsin remains committed to advancing, achieving, and protecting equality for LGBTQ+ Wisconsinites, and we stand united in the fight to ensure that everyone has the freedom to live as their authentic selves.
With the legislative session in full swing, we are focused on the introduction of a positive and proactive agenda to advance the equality and freedoms of the LGBTQ+ community. We have been hard at work supporting the efforts of the LGBTQ+ Legislative Caucus in the development of the Equality Agenda—a package of legislation introduced in previous sessions that would modernize our nondiscrimination laws to include gender identity and expression, protect youth from the harmful and discredited practice of conversion “therapy,” eliminate the state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, and so much more.
Our very own Senator Tammy Baldwin reintroduced the Equality Act in Congress. The Equality Act is a landmark piece of legislation which updates federal civil rights laws to provide protections for the LGBTQ+ community in public accommodations, finances, housing, and much more. Senator Baldwin has delivered time and time again for Wisconsin, and we know that she will always have our back. Senator Baldwin is up for re-election in 2024 in one of the most competitive races in the nation, so it’s important we have her back as well. As we look toward 2024, Fair Wisconsin is building our organizing efforts and electoral resources to re-elect Senator Baldwin and pro-fairness candidates up and down the ballot in both the spring and fall elections. We have been traveling the state, from Milwaukee to Eau Claire and Superior to Janesville, educating folks about the importance of re-electing Senator Baldwin and touting the historic accomplishments of her tenure in the U.S. Senate.
Fair Wisconsin recently worked to achieve historic wins for the LGBTQ+ community in Dane County. Following a 25–1 vote of the Dane County Board of Supervisors, the county became the first in the nation to establish itself as a sanctuary for transgender and non-binary people. Our team helped to drive more than 600 calls and emails to the county board and encouraged community leaders to attend the meeting and speak in favor of the resolution. After hours of testimony, the resolution was passed and declared that if Wisconsin were to pass a law that “imposes criminal or civil punishments, fines or professional sanctions on any person or organization that seeks, provides, receives or helps someone to receive gender-affirming care,” the County Board would ask the Dane County Sheriff’s Office to make enforcement of the law its lowest priority.”
Fair Wisconsin has been at the forefront of protecting Wisconsinites against the national wave of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, including the more than a dozen bills that were introduced by right wing extremists in Wisconsin in the 2021–22 legislative session. We were successful in blocking every single harmful bill and preventing them from reaching the governor’s desk. However, we are anticipating that the 2023–24 legislative session will likely be just as hostile toward our community, if not more than the previous session. Only a few bad bills have been introduced so far, but Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has made it clear in public statements that more terrible bills are on the way, including a transgender athlete ban and a ban on gender-affirming care. We expect the introduction of these bills in early fall after budget negotiations have ended. Regardless, we have been preparing for these anti-LGBTQ+ bills since the beginning of the session in January.
At the time of writing, the state legislature’s focus has been on the budget, with recent action by the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee attempting to eliminate Medicaid (Badgercare) coverage for life-saving gender-affirming care. This is a clear violation of the court decision several years ago that required the state to eliminate exclusions for gender-affirming care, followed by the rules promulgated by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services that ensured coverage.
Still, a tumultuous budget season hasn’t deterred right-wing extremists in the State Assembly and Senate from already introducing several anti-LGBTQ+ bills, including legislation to modify the definition of what constitutes “harmful” materials in schools and “protect childhood innocence” by censoring certain curriculum in school libraries. In January, legislative Republicans voted to suspend the rule that previously barred marriage and family therapists, social workers, and professional counselors from practicing conversion therapy.
While we are doing everything we can to ensure that none of these harmful bills make it to Governor Evers’ desk, we know that he has our back. Governor Evers has publicly pledged to veto any anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-transgender legislation if it should reach him, but Fair Wisconsin is continuing to aggressively organize and push back against this hateful agenda and make it clear that anti-LGBTQ+ laws have no home in Wisconsin.
As Governor Evers said while raising the Pride flag over our state capitol this year, “For all those who have ever only wanted to belong, who have had to find their own family, who have never known home. You belong here. You’re family here. You are welcome here.”
Founded in 1994, Fair Wisconsin is Wisconsin’s only statewide LGBTQ+ civil rights and political advocacy organization. Fair works to achieve, advance, and protect LGBTQ+ equality through grassroots organizing, education, legislative advocacy, and strategic electoral involvement.
Megin McDonell has served as Executive Director since 2015. Sean O’Brien works as the Advocacy and Organizing Strategist, leading Fair’s legislative and policy priorities. Nick Famularo is the Civic Engagement Coordinator, overseeing development, communications, and electoral organizing.