While many around the nation are familiar with the Stonewall Bar and the uprising there that is said to have been the catalyst for LGBTQ rights fight in this county, very few know about the incident at the Black Nite, a bar in Milwaukee that openly catered to a “queer clientele” according to NBC News. On August 5th, 1961, in what many are now saying is the first LGBTQ resistance event in the country, four naval servicemen, in what is largely believed to have been a bet, tried to enter the Black Nite without paying or signing their log. They didn’t make it past the bouncer, who grabbed one of them by the arm, leading to a fight between the four men and the bouncer. “One of the servicemen was injured, so the other three took him to the hospital, according to coverage of the event at the time by the two local newspapers, the Milwaukee Sentinel and the Milwaukee Journal.” NBC continues. “Witnesses later told police that as the servicemen left, one of them said, “We’ll be back. We’ll return with some friends and clean up the place,”
When the servicemen threatened to come back with “some friends and clean up the place,” Josie Carter, a trans woman of color who was at the Black Nite that evening and was dating the bouncer, started preparing for a fight and tried galvenizing the rest of the patrons, many of whom, though tired of the harassment, were afraid to fight because they weren’t out, some even being in heterosexual-presenting relationships with wives and kids. Nevertheless, Carter “urged patrons to fight back and defend the safe space they had created.” At the time of this incident, according to NBC News, police had beaten a man to death in a park known to be a meeting place for gay people about a year prior, and there were anti-crossdressing laws, “which meant police would stop trans and gender-nonconforming people to ensure they were wearing three items of clothing that matched their sex assigned at birth.”
When the servicemen returned, a large fight broke out, with Carter herself punching a man to the ground who called her a slur. NBC continues: “After the fight, witnesses told police that the group of servicemen piled into two cars and drove off, according to local newspaper coverage. Three people were hospitalized (one serviceman and two bar patrons), and the next day, police charged three of the servicemen with disorderly conduct and searched for about a dozen others who they said “joined in an invasion” of the bar. The Black Nite’s owner, Wallace Whetham, estimated that the incident caused $2,000 in damages, the Milwaukee Journal reported.”
Even though the city closed the bar down a year after this incident, and the bar that took its place closed a few years later because of a road expansion, Milwaukee is now set to designate it as a historical landmark, a move that would acknowledge the significance of the event in a state that has been at the forefront of LGBTQ rights until recent attacks have set Wisconsin back.