Project celebrates the legacy of the Gay Rights State

by | Feb 23, 2024 | 0 comments

Madison, WI – Did you know? Sunday, February 25th is the 42nd anniversary of Wisconsin becoming the first Gay Rights State in the nation.

On February 25, 1982, Governor Lee Dreyfus passed Assembly Bill 70 into law, banning discrimination against gays and lesbians in housing, employment, credit, or public accommodation. This groundbreaking bill was a long, uphill battle two decades in the making. The “Gay Rights Law” offered a new layer of protections beyond civic ordinances some cities (including Madison and Milwaukee) had offered earlier.

Today, there are still states that do not offer these protections—and worse yet, there are many states—including Wisconsin—where these rights remain endangered four decades later. It’s also important to understand the 1982 law did not offer any protections for transgender people, nor does the State of Wisconsin offer any protections to trans citizens today.

Fortunately, there are efforts under way to document, preserve, celebrate, and elevate Wisconsin’s national legacy as an equality leader—to inspire and advance true equality for all.

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Announcing the Wisconsin First Project

Since 1982, multiple states passed copycat bills to provide similar protections. Nine of these states specifically reached out to Wisconsin legislators for political guidance.

“Our documented history of this effort and its national impact is currently a patchwork of sources,” said Greg Wright, project manager for Wisconsin First. “Some records are held at the University of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Historical Society, but the complete history lacks a cohesive, centralized point of access. Furthermore, many primary sources from that era are not available in digital formats, and many of the people with access and awareness of those materials are approaching the end of their public lives.”

The Wisconsin First Project, launching February 25, will address gaps in information, access, and centralization to improve opportunities for related research and understanding. Our Lives Media, a Madison-based non-profit, has assembled a project team to research, collect, and digitize relevant source materials from the Wisconsin bill and copycat legislation in other states. The project will culminate in an interactive online archive freely available to researchers, students, educators, legislators, and historians.

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“This work will strengthen collective and institutional memory for our future,” said Wright. “The archive will capture the complete history of the 1982 law – and the later equal rights advancements the law paved the way for – while fostering pride for our state and nation’s endeavor to achieve true equality for all people.”

The Wisconsin First Project was made possible by the Dick Wagner Memorial Grant from the National Archives.

Our Lives Media is currently conducting a national search for a Project Archivist.  Watch for additional project updates throughout 2024.

About Our Lives Media

Our Lives Media celebrates Wisconsin’s LGBTQ community. Based in Madison, Wisconsin, the organization is managed by a statewide Board of Directors. The company publishes Our Lives, a bi-monthly magazine that educates, connects, and informs the LGBTQ community with print, digital and social communications. Our Lives was founded in 2007 by publisher Patrick Farabaugh.

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