Updated December 31, 2005 Compiled & written by Mike Fitzpatrick
Quest's Top 10 Wisconsin Gay Stories of 2005
Marriage bills, an ACLU lawsuit, RuPaul, the return of HIV, a bigoted alderman's anti-gay rants and more make Quest's picks for the top ten stories in Wisconsin in 2005. Here in descending order are our choices for the most newsworthy moments.
1. Wisconsin Anti-Gay Amendment Passes Senate On Party Line Vote. December 7 saw SJR-53 pass in the state Senate on a party line vote. The likely inexorable process of the second passage of the proposed constitutional amendment barring legal recognition of all unmarried couples, gay or straight, had begun but on a distinctly different note. Democrats - particularly Sen. Dave Hansen of Green Bay and openly gay Sen. Tim Carpenter - found not only their voices but effective arguments showing up the Republican-sponsored bill for the cheap, mean-spirited political ploy activists have been calling it since its first introduction.
Hansen’s turnaround was dramatic. A former amendment supporter, he could hardly contain himself and tried to offer an amendment to the bill before lead sponsor Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) could exercise his prerogative to explain why the bill supposedly was needed. Hansen’s passion was primed in part by a pro-amendment caller to his office who also encouraged an “open season on queers”in a recorded voice mail.
By offering amendments encouraging Republicans to live up to their own empty rhetoric on marriage and so-called “family values”, Democrats were able to expose the amendment bill for the mean spirited, widely damaging cheap political ploy it was. The message also finally sunk in the the mainstream media who widely reported how the amendment’s passage would harm families of unmarried couples of all types.
2. ACLU Files Same-Sex Domestic Partner Benefit Lawsuit. Even as Republicans heated up the amendment battle, their decade-long refusal to allow consideration of same sex domestic partner benefits in the University of Wisconsin system and other state agencies came back to haunt them as the Wisconsin American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit April 20 against the state of Wisconsin on behalf of six lesbian employees and their partners seeking domestic partner health insurance and family leave protections.
“I worked as many hours and just as hard as my straight colleagues and coworkers. I shouldn’t be denied the ability to provide my family with health insurance solely because my partner of 29 years is another woman,” Virginia Wolf, a minister and retired English professor at the University of Wisconsin-Stout said at the press conference announcing the action.
Republican lawmakers responded by hiring the Alliance Defense Fund, James Dobson’s crack SpongeBob SquarePants legal defense team, to insert the Assembly into the lawsuit - the first time in U. S. history a governmental body has selected a religious-based organization to represent them in a civil rights lawsuit.
Following the Assembly Republicans’ lead, a shadowy, apparently one-man, religious-based group calling itself the First Freedom Foundation later approached eight villages, towns and cities - the largest of which was Green Bay - to solicit them to file a similar motion to intervene, arguing that a ruling forcing the state to grant benefits in the case would force them to follow suit.
In September, Dane County Circuit Court Judge David T. Flanagan threw out both motions, ruling that they would violate the separation of powers outlined in the state Constitution. Flanagan ruled that state law gives the Department of Justice the authority to defend the state’s interests, and the department is already doing so in the lawsuit. Flanagan also found that the municipalities and the Legislature have no compelling interests that meet legal requirements.
3. “No On The Amendment” Coalition Develops Unprecedented Partnerships. In 2005 Action Wisconsin, the statewide LGBT civil rights organization, and its Milwaukee-focused counterpart Center Advocates forged a “No On The Amendment” Coalition that has brought national attention to the state's fight for marriage equality. The organizations brought unprecedented numbers of citizens to lobby against the bill in late January, when over 400 knocked on legislators’ doors, and again in November - with just a few day’s notice - when nearly 350 spoke or registered against the proposed constitutional ban.
Joining that partnership in February was the first religious-based anti-amendment organization, Christians For Equality, who mustered over 200 people of faith to a lobby day that month. Additionally, a multitude of mainline Protestant denominations that included the United Church of Christ, the Evangelical Lutherans, The United Methodists. the Presbyterians joined numerous individual churches, fellowships and synagogues that went on record opposing the amendment throughout the year. The number of adherent members represented by those denominations now surpasses a half million. By contrast, The Family Research Institute’s Julaine Appling was able to produce only a little over 52,000 of her promised 75,000 signatures supporting the amendment at the sole hearing on the bill November 29.
The “No On The Amendment” Coalition also boasts the support of several labor unions and dozens of social justice and progressive organizations from around the state too numerous to mention here. The full list is available on the Action Wisconsin website at: www.actionwisconsin.org.
4. RuPaulFest, er Pridefest Shatters Attendance Records. Billed in 2005 as Wisconsin’s “pride and joy,” the ninth annual PrideFest at the Henry B. Maier “Summerfest” grounds saw record-breaking attendance June 11-12. PrideFest officials claimed that the official attendance figure was 21,368, a number that also included volunteers, free passes and other non-paid admissions.
12,984 of that total attended PrideFest’s opening day. This year’s festival also scored a mix of gay and straight attendees. According to the Quest news team covering the event, most of those asked for the prime reason they were in attendance named the appearance of dance artist RuPaul as their reason for passing through the gates. The day’s lineup also featured disco diva Taylor Dayne and comedian Jason Stuart. Saturday evening saw half-hour waiting lines at admission booths outside the festival and similarly long lines at the beer ticket and ID bracelet stands, less memorable PrideFest firsts.
The financial success, however, allowed PrideFest to pay off all of its remaining debt of $120,000 later that summer. The success also quieted calls for the reform of the PrideFest organizational structure to permit a more open process in membership and leadership selection.
It should be noted that a month later, RuPaul continued his/her successful sweep across the state by appearing at a Madison underwear party on the eve of that city’s official Pride Weekend. The July 16 event at the Majestic night club also set attendance records.
5. HIV/AIDS Re-Emerges As Gay Community Concern In Wisconsin. Following similar resurgences in major gay communities around the country over the last two years, the number of new HIV/AIDs in Wisconsin’s gay men’s community spiked significantly in 2005. The 16% increase in new Wisconsin HIV cases in the last year might have seemed alarming enough, but the 48% rise among the state’s gay men, and the more than 50% surge in new cases among those under the age of 25 shocked many gay community leaders and AIDS activists.
“The resurgence is very troubling,” ARCW’s Vice President and CEO Mike Gifford told Quest. “Young gay men who did not live through the early days of this epidemic do not consider HIV a serious health threat.”
AIDS Network’s Bob Power thought the new OraQuick test may be contributing to the statistical rise. “I hope that (part of the rise in new cases) is due to the increased efforts in testing with the rapid testing tool that is both convenient to use in non-clinical settings and reduces the number of people tested lost to follow-up,” Powers said.
AIDS groups were heartened by the approval of $1 million in increased funding for HIV/AIDS services in the state’s 2005-6 biennial budget in July. Fundraising for AIDS prevention, health and social services continued apace with the combined efforts of ARCW and AIDS Network’s rides, walks and Holly Jolly Folly topping a million dollars as well, in a year when the Southeast Asian tsunami and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita competed for donor dollars.
6. Milwaukee AlderBigot Mike McGee Enrages City’s Gay Community. The ongoing antics of African American Alder Mike McGee caused the blood pressure of many in Milwaukee to surge in 2005, but none more so that the city’s LGBT community. McGee’s initial volley at a February 10 rally in defense of Frank Jude Jr.’s October, 2004 beating by off-duty Milwaukee policemen equated the Fox Valley resident’s assailants as “hate mongers and KKK killers” but then McGee singled out one of the dozen attackers as “a straight-up sick faggot.”
The subsequent response from gay blogger and former IN Step publisher William Attewell focused the city’s attention on the anti-gay slur. The Milwaukee LGBT Center, which sits in McGee’s district, later chimed in admonishment but it was Sen. Tim Carpenter’s on-camera confrontation with McGee at another of the alder’s staged protests two weeks later that showed McGee up to be the cowardly, sniveling figure he is.
“Why are you disrespectful? Why don’t you return phone calls?” Carpenter shouted. “When will you apologize for using the term ‘faggot’ when referring to police officers? You’re an embarrassment.”
McGee refused to acknowledge Carpenter, and instead ran off down the hall and into his office, trailed by Carpenter, TV cameras and reporters eager to capture the confrontation. Carpenter continued shouting to McGee after he went into his office “Why are you hiding?” The senator later explained that he had attempted to call McGee numerous times without success.
McGee also caught the anger of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Common Council President Willie Hines not only for his anti-gay slurs but his use of derogatory terms for black women on the city’s talk radio.
Later in the year, McGee was back on the city’s gaydar after two teenaged girls accused him of making anti-gay comments while showing a video of the February 23 confrontation during a bus trip the alder sponsored to the Millions More March in Washington, DC.
In November, McGee was arrested for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest in a suburban Wauwatosa Blockbuster Video parking lot. Once again the alder attempted to play the race card but to increasingly deaf ears.
7. Milwaukee Company’s “Naked Boys Singing” Shutdown Saga Finally Peters Out. The much-heralded but lightly-attended Uncommon Theatre production of the cabaret revue “Naked Boys Singing” closed December 29 at the Milwaukee Gay Arts Center (MGAC), signalling the end of the first phase of a five-month saga of sometimes chilling and other times comical events.
For six weeks prior to the show’s debut, ads focusing primarily on the nudity of the cast spread through the state’s gay media. However, an un-retouched cover photo of the cast on the August issue of Outbound triggered limp advance sales and an attempt by at least one out-of-town night club to cancel a planned bus trip to the revue.
The ads also brought out the naked fury of Milwaukee street preacher Drew Heiss who filed an open records request on August 2 to see if all the appropriate licenses for the production were in place. The MGAC applied for a small theater a license request just a day later, city records indicate. However, since the license had to be approved by the common council, it was not in effect when the revue opened on August 11.
A week later “Naked Boys Singing” was caught with its licenses down as the city’s vice squad shuttered the production. Director Mark Hooker claimed the shuttering was an unprecedented in the history of the show and that the police action was “mean spirited and homophobic” selective enforcement of a technicality. Within days, however, it was learned the revue had been shut down on at least four previous occasions in cities ranging from the gay mecca Provincetown to Atlanta.
The Milwaukee Gay Arts Center subsequently filed at $630,000 claim against the city, most of which is for an alleged violation of the not-for-profits’ civil rights. The City of Milwaukee later backed down on the small theater license requirement for the MGAC after reviewing documents relating to the center’s not-for-profit status. The documents had been submitted with the earlier license request for a temporary Class B liquor license.
On August 30 Mayor Tom Barrett called for both a review of the city’s licensing division and the police department’s handling of the shutdown. Barrett later met with about fifty interested gay community members at a town hall meeting at the Milwaukee LGBT Center.
On October 29, a partially recast version of “Naked Boys Singing” re-opened for an eight week run. In November the international touring act “Puppetry of the Penis,” another show noted for its frontal male nudity, put on benefit show in support of the beleaguered Milwaukee revue.
Much of the controversy was fueled by self-promoter extraordinaire Donald Hoffman. Hoffman serves as editor of the Milwaukee gay lifestyle monthly Queer Life and as the co-director of the Milwaukee Gay Arts Center. Hoffman coordinated the MGAC’s placement of full page advertisements in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel on August 31 and September 2 demanding a “public apology” for the shutdown and devoted two issues of front page coverage about the imbroglio in Queer Life.
The next phase of the controversy will involve the settlement of the standing claim against the city. The failure of both the city clerk’s licensing office and the MGAC to exercise due diligence in the review of pertinent ordinances prior to processing the MGAC’s small theater license application request - the event that set in motion the subsequent chain of events - likely will weigh heavily on the final outcome.
8. Door County Hate Crime Charges Ruled A Bar Brawl. It took ten months, divided the residents a gay-friendly tourist region and captured the interest of hate crime activists nationwide, but the week long trial of father and son Mark and Joshua Sawyer last April found them guilty of misdemeanor disorderly conduct but innocent of serious battery charges. The younger Sawyer was also found innocent on the hate crime penalty enhancer.
Originally five men were charged with a variety of crimes, and four had the hate crime enhancer attached to their charges. Adam Bley pleaded guilty to a minor offense. Two others, Robert Wagner and Andrew Ostrand, pled guilty to lesser charges in plea deals that dropped the hate crime penalty. The elder Sawyer’s hate crime charge was also dropped in pre-trial negotiations.
From the beginning the jury heard two widely divergent versions of what happened June 6, 2004 at Bley’s Tavern in rural West Jacksonport. Prosecutor Joan Korb attempted to lay out a scenario of terror caused by intolerant men who could not accept the fact that several gay men had chosen to be themselves in a rural tavern. Photos of the bloodied Day were offered in evidence. The gay men’s story was supported by Tina Ostrand who alleged Mark Sawyer’s use of the word “fag” triggered the fight.
Defense attorneys Michael Fitzgerald and William Appel weaved a story that could only be described, according to one court watcher, as the gay version of the “uppity nigger” syndrome: openly gay men flaunted their lifestyle in front of intoxicated straight men, thus causing a fight that got way out of hand. A defense witness claimed Day ripped of his shirt as if he were professional wrestler Hulk Hogan and started the fight. Photos of Mark Sawyer’s severely brutalized face caused by a single defensive punch by Day were also shown to the jury.
The prosecution did get the younger Sawyer to admit he barred the door, preventing the victims from leaving the fray. However, Sawyer’s reasoning for blocking the exit was because he did not want Day and Groeschl to leave before the police arrived.
In the end, Groeschl and Day’s failure to follow up with the police after the incident appeared to confirm the defense’s allegations, made most effectively by fellow assailant Ostrand, that the gay couple incited the brawl. Jury foreman William Sturdevant summed up his impression of the brawl as an liquor-infused affair. “I think it was just a matter of too much alcohol. The guys that were supposedly victims were just as culpable in starting the fight as anyone else,” Sturdevant said.
9. Veteran Activist John Quinlan Quits OutReach. In September, John Quinlan, the Executive Director of OutReach, resigned saying conflicts with the agency’s board of directors that made his ability to helm the community center untenable.
The resignation came two months after local papers reported his continued leadership was under review . Quinlan claimed initially he was not being forced out by OutReach’s board, but was discussing with them the conditions under which he would stay or go. Following his resignation, Quinlan claimed that he returned from his family leave to find the locks changed on his office door. After negotiations with the board to resume his position, Quinlan asserted that he was subjected to micromanagement by board members.
Quinlan remains a veteran Madison activist, with a long history of experience in the areas of civil rights advocacy, print and broadcast journalism, and community organizing experience. Prior to his three year tenure at OutReach, he served as the director of the city’s Tenant Resource Center, public relations director at AIDS Network, and as an editor and freelance journalist for a number of state and national LGBT publications. He continues to host Forward Forum, a weekly talk show on WXXM-FM, in Sun Prairie, better known as “Madison’s Progressive Talk, The Mic 92.1.”
Quinlan also has served on more than a dozen nonprofit boards and government committees, including as membership chair of the local Rainbow Coalition, president of the Fair Housing Council of Dane County, trustee for the ACLU of Wisconsin, president of the Wisconsin Community Fund, and co-chair of the city of Madison’s Study Circles on Race program. He currently serves on the advisory committees for the Madison Mayor and the Madison Superintendent of Schools and Rainbow Families Wisconsin, on the civil rights coalition “Communities United,” and as secretary for the LGBT interfaith group “Coming Out, Coming Together.” In 2002, Community Shares of Wisconsin presented him its “Sally Sunde Award” for outstanding contributions toward social justice.
Quinlan succeeded Debra Weill at OutReach, which has had a history of turnovers at the agency’s helm. Weill was fired in June 2002 by the board on a unanimous vote in her third year in the position.
10. Sudden Passings Sadden Gay Wisconsin. 2005 saw several high profile members of state’s LGBT community and one long-standing tradition pass from the scene, a number of them suddenly.
In March Green Bay activist Chuck Hubbard succumbed to a suspected case of meningococcal meningitis, a rarely seen inflammation of the lining around the brain and spinal cord. Hubbard had been the Secretary of the Argonauts and the coordinator of the Argonauts’ Charities which provides emergency, last-resort funding for the needs of people living with HIV/AIDS.
Hubbard also has been a key organizer of northeast Wisconsin pride events in 2003 and 2004, an active member of Entertainers Against AIDS, and Rainbow Over Wisconsin. Hubbard played a key role in the success of ROW’s first ever fundraising banquet and silent auction in October, 2004.
In May Rev. Lew Broyles, pastor of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Community Church and long time gay activist died of a massive heart attack while visiting a friend in Mississippi. Broyles had just returned from a midday jog when he was stricken and was pronounced dead at the scene by local paramedics.
Broyles hosted the Milwaukee public access cable program “Gay by God’s Will,” served as a member of the PrideFest Task Force and had been scheduled to lead the gay wedding ceremony at PrideFest. Broyles also recently had completed a video project with the Medical College of Wisconsin on LGBT health issues. At the time of his passing, Broyles served as the acting board chairman of SAGE-Milwaukee and had be a leading figure in the current revision of the LGBT senior citizens’ group’s By-Laws. Broyles also served on the board of HIT’s International Gay Bowling Tournament 25th Anniversary event.
Two long time bar owners passed away in 2005. In July, John P. Wolfe, owner of the Wolfe’s Den passed away June 9 at his home. In August, Clarence Germershausen, owner of Milwaukee’s C’est La Vie died at age 74. Germershausen was more well-known in the community by his alter ego John Clayton.
Finally a passing of another sort was far more festive. After 11 years OutReach’s Pink Party called it quits on New Year’s Eve. Even last minute driving restrictions and a rival gay rave didn’t dull the Pink Party’s swan song.