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Milwaukee history project highlights rich LGBTQ+ past and present

Posted at 6:24 PM, Jun 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-11 19:24:30-04

MILWAUKEE — We're taking a journey to the past, remembering the rich stories of Milwaukee's LGBTQ community, thanks to one local organization's history project.

"There is more history than we realize," said Don Schwamb, the founder of the Milwaukee LGBTQ History Project.

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Nearly 20 years after first starting the Milwaukee LGBTQ History Project, Don Schwamb is still working every single day to find and tell stories of those who walked in his footsteps years ago.

"Young people coming out now in their 20s or even their teens may not understand what we had to go through in Milwaukee as gay people when I was young," said Schwamb.

With the help of dozens of volunteers over the years, the history project's website has grown dramatically. The online publication offers thousands of images and newspaper clippings that showcase the stories of brave men and women and the places in Milwaukee that have had a significant impact on the LGBTQ community.

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"A bar is more than a place to get a drink. And for the LGBTQ community, it was a safe haven," said Michail Takach, a curator for the Wisconsin LGBTQ History Project.

"That has been the way that most people, at least in my day, came out," said Schwamb.

The history project has everything: Interviews you can read with people recalling their experiences living as a gay or transgender man or woman in the 1960s. You can also learn about demonstrations held in Milwaukee, protesting discrimination and police brutality.

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"People could not walk down the street holding hands, people could not get married, people could not tell the landlord that they were gay," said Takach. "We had to show them over decades that we were citizens just like everybody else."

Which is why this Pride Month, the history project wants everyone to learn more about these stories in order to appreciate where we are today.

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"We have to remember that pride is a new phenomenon, it is not something that is always been here," said Takach.

They add that they're always in need of more people to help research, collect, remember and document these memories. And anyone is welcome to join.

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