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Milwaukee drag queen reflects on Black Nite Uprising as former tavern becomes first LGBTQ landmark in county

The drag queens at Black Nite fought back against the servicemen who attacked the bar, making it known that they had a right to exist much as anyone else.
BJ Daniels
Posted at 10:11 PM, Nov 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-14 23:25:24-05

MILWAUKEE — The Black Nite rising is now officially considered a historical landmark in Milwaukee. The Black Nite, a gay bar in Milwaukee in the 1960s, was the site of an uprising after four servicemen decided to attack and "clean up the Black Nite."

The Patrons of the bar, including many drag queens, fought back.

The event set forward a chain reaction of events leading to cultural changes for the Milwaukee LGBTQ community.

Black Nite Uprising

B.J. Daniels, a prominent drag queen in Milwaukee, co-authored A History of Milwaukee Drag. It looks back at the impact of drag queens in the city and during the Black Nite Uprising.

"You piece together a story that was early resistance, eight years before Stonewall," Daniels said about the uprising.

For many across the country, Stonewall marks the start of the gay rights movement in 1969. Black Nite was in 1961 here in Milwaukee.

The queens at Black Nite fought back against the servicemen who attacked the bar, making it known that they had a right to exist much as anyone else.

"We had these elders who were there on the forefront fighting for our rights," Daniels said.

BJ Daniels

Daniels came to Milwaukee several years after the uprising but was taken in by the community as a young 20-something.

"I didn't know a lot about the history, I really didn't... It was like a crash course in drag university," Daniels said.

One of the queens that fought back during Black Nite and would eventually take Daniels under her wings was Josie Carter.

"The elders, they really forged a path just as individual people. It wasn't even about being performers. It was just about being able to live the life that they wanted. So they kind of really opened my eyes to that and I think it changed me," Daniels said.

Black Nite historic landmark

Now Daniels is carrying on the Black Nite legacy of standing out and standing up.

"There's a few people I know that were like 13 when I met them with their moms at a Hamburger Mary's brunch, that are now like 17 and leading their Rock County LGBT thing. That, to me, is it. It's activism, it's community and understanding people who went ahead of you and gave you those opportunities," Daniels said.

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The Black Nite tavern in Milwaukee is home to Wisconsin’s LGBTQ+ uprising and is now the site of the county’s first-ever LGBTQ+ official landmark.

Plans for a monument are now underway at the Black Nite site. Daniels hopes the designation continues to educate our community and visitors, about the struggles and triumphs of the LGBTQ community.

"It's another way of recognizing that people have always fought for their rights," Daniels said. "That's the big significance right there. It was people saying I'm not gonna hide, I'm not hiding in the shadows. I'm gonna walk down the street and be proud."

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