Milwaukee, WI. – While “Don’t Say Gay” legislation continues to circulate in 16 states, a group of local activists, educators and historians are taking action to connect Wisconsin with its diverse LGBTQ heritage. LGBT MilWALKee, a mobile app offering guided, interactive and multimedia walking tours through generations of local LGBTQ history, will launch this June in celebration of National LGBTQ Pride Month.
“Our history has been one of erasure,” said Dr. Brice Smith, project director. “It’s not taught in schools. It’s not passed down between generations. It’s not visible in our cityscape. In 2022, there are still no historical markers in Milwaukee about LGBTQ events. There are no memorials to any LGBTQ people.”
“No more,” said Dr. Smith. “This app will reveal the spaces we claimed, the roles we played, the lives we led, the love we spread throughout the city we call home. It will help us all rethink how we walk through life.”
After downloading the app, users will have their choice of multiple, self-guided walking tours with unique location markers. Each location will include a present-day photo of the site, as well as a 2-3 minute narrated video sharing the site’s LGBTQ story. These mini-documentaries will provide a rich multimedia experience that can be enjoyed time and again.
More than 100 potential sites have been identified for the project. The app will launch with the first five tours and 50 locations in June. View a sample tour site created for the Black Nite (400 N. Plankinton Ave.,) scene of Wisconsin’s first LGBTQ uprising in 1961, later known as “Wisconsin’s Stonewall.”
“Tour locations will reflect not only the diversity of who we are, but also the diversity of when, where and how we’ve left our mark,” said Smith.
For years, Dr. Smith has researched local LGBTQ history through the Milwaukee Transgender Oral History Project and extensive research on trans pioneer Lou Sullivan. Partnering with FORGE as a fiscal agent, Dr. Smith has assembled a dream team of talent to bring his vision to life, including:
- Ashley Altadonna, videographer and filmmaker, proprietor of Tall Lady Productions;
- Michail Takach, historian, author and curator of Wisconsin LGBTQ History Project;
- Aimee Gironimi, narrator and voiceover actor; proprietor of Wise Owl Productions;
- Robert McCarthy, CEO of Accurate Web Solutions, Inc. and regional ambassador for the Wisconsin LGBT Chamber of Commerce.
LGBT MilWALKee will be working closely with established community resources, including the Milwaukee County Historical Society, Milwaukee Public Library, UWM Archives and the Wisconsin LGBTQ History Project, to bring this history to life.
The project has launched a GoFundMe to raise $33,000 for operational costs, and continues to seek grants, sponsorships and alternative sources of project funding.
In addition, FORGE, the project’s 501(c)3 fiscal sponsor, is accepting tax-deductible donations for LGBT MilWALKee. All donations — in any amount — will support the greater good of making history more portable, accessible and relatable for all Milwaukee residents and visitors.
LGBT MilWALKee arrives at a time when “Don’t Say Gay” bills move closer than ever to becoming law in Florida, Texas, Tennessee and 13 other states. “Don’t Say Gay” laws would prohibit not only the teaching of LGBTQ history in public schools, but also any mention of “sexual identity” or “gender identity.” Schools and individual teachers could be sued for any perceived effort to “promote, normalize, support, or address lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) lifestyles.” Effectively, these laws erase LGBTQ people from not only history, but modern-day existence. Queer and/or questioning students would find themselves in the same situation as their 1950s ancestors: isolated, demonized and disconnected from any support resources whatsoever.
“With your help, we will make sure that anyone and everyone in Wisconsin can learn from our history,” said Dr. Smith. “Throughout history, LGBTQ people were told they were alone in the world. With LGBT MilWALKee, we can celebrate the heroes who have been here all along.”
“Thank you for taking the time to envision this gift from our community to our community—and beyond!”