This story initially ran in The NEWcomer, and is republished here with their kind permission.
Over ten years ago, Martha M., stepped foot into Green Bay’s Napalese Lounge and Grille for the first time as her authentic self. She used to travel to Milwaukee, Chicago, and the Twin Cities to find a sense of community because the fear of being openly transgender in her home community weighed heavy on her.
“Immediately people walked up to me and welcomed me,” Martha said, “they said they were happy to see me, and that they hoped it wasn’t the last time they did.”
Martha, who asked to be cited by first name only as she is still closeted, is working to pay forward the welcoming and awareness that the state’s second-oldest gay bar brought to her.
In collaboration with Rainbow Over Wisconsin, The Art Garage, Olde Main Street Inc, The Canary Fund, and United Arts, Martha is coordinating the creation of an LGBTQ mural on the Southeast side of the Cedar Street tavern.
The commission is open for local, underrepresented artists in the Northeast Wisconsin community to design a mural that celebrates the presence, history, and future of the LGBTQ community in the region.
In late December 2020, the United Arts Group received funds to create a public art project, and Martha hit the ground running on an idea to create more visibility for the trans and LGBTQ community in Northeast Wisconsin.
Napalese Lounge and Grille opened in 1983 at a location on South Broadway Street in Green Bay. In 2000, the bar relocated to its current location on South Cedar Street. During pre-pandemic times, the pub hosted a variety of community events, including a monthly drag show, a cross-dressing social club, and rainbow dart league.
Butch Pendergast, who became a co-owner of Napalese in 2012, says that the bar has been a staple of the Green Bay community for decades. He hopes the mural project sheds light on a storied and vital past.
“The mural is to represent a little bit of history and a look at what we can look forward to in the future,” Pendergast said.
Gay bars have been places of rest and comfort for the community since the early 1970s. The need for protecting these spaces was sparked by the June 1969 Stonewall riots, where members of the community responded to early morning police raids at Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan.
The Northeast Wisconsin LGBT History Project, Inc archived a timeline of bars and lounges crucial to the community that dates back to the 1970s. The timeline reflects a long history of openings, closings, and integral anchors to the gay community throughout Northeast Wisconsin, with over two dozen spaces throughout the region.
“Art captives almost everyone, and our canvas is the perfect spot for it,” Pendergast said.
The brick facade is accompanied by bottle glass windows and a chimney jutting out, which Pendergast hopes to have included as an aspect of the installation.
Martha says that the visibility and acceptance of the LGBTQ community in the region have gotten better in the last decade, but there’s still a way to go.
“We’re here. We’re your neighbors and co-workers. We’ve contributed and continue to contribute to the life and vibrancy of Northeast Wisconsin,” Martha said.
Public-facing projects like this mural are meant to help people who are not members of the LGBTQ community understand the lives and challenges of its members, while also providing representation and a self-esteem boost for members of the community.
“If you look at suicide rates, unemployment, housing, health care, mental health, people who are members of the LGBT community are significantly impacted by these problems. Some of this has to do with discrimination against that community,” Martha said.
Martha says that the community hopes to come together and celebrate the unveiling of the mural in the summer and will work out the kinks of COVID-19-related hiccups in order to celebrate the milestone.
Applications are due no later than the close of the day on March 15, 2021, and the full details for applying can be found here.