Panelists onstage at May MilMag Live: Gay in MKE

Is Milwaukee a Good Place to Be Gay?

Monday marked the close of Milwaukee Magazine’s spring season of MilMag Live. It was the fifth in the monthly event series, titled Gay in MKE, and panelists tackled questions about how Milwaukee compares to other cities in terms of LGBT support and how straight allies can best use their time and influence to better their communities. 

Robin Pluer onstage at May MilMag Live: Gay in MKE
Robin Pluer; Photo by Moriah Bame

As has seemingly become custom for MilMag Live, the skies of Milwaukee opened up and pelted the roof of The Back Room at Colectivo with a steady rain throughout the evening. Robin Pluer, whose name and music stylings both recall rainy Parisian strolls, was a particularly apropos opening act given the mood. Between her accordion and French lyrics, (including a jaunty ode to a glass of white wine), Pluer transported the crowd to gay Paree.

The panel, moderated by Carole Nicksin and co-host of WUWM’s Lake Effect, Bonnie North, opened with a meditation on the question Is Milwaukee a good place to be gay? Panelist Jason Rae, executive director of the Wisconsin LGBT Chamber of Commerce, made an argument in favor of living “on the front lines” in the Midwest, rather than in a place known by many to be an already-Progressive bubble, such as Berkeley, California.

The discussion segued into the notion of being in or out of the closet—is the workplace in Milwaukee still largely a “don’t ask, don’t tell” environment, moderators asked?

“I decided to run for office in the closet,” said State Representative JoCasta Zamarripa, who is an out bisexual woman. She called the lie of omission her “biggest mistake,” citing the stress and fear that came with keeping up appearances. “I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst Republican enemy,” she said.

An audience member likened the proverbial closet to a swinging door, through which one can enter and exit at will. “Sometimes I’m out, sometimes I’m not,” he said.

“I was talking to an executive in town and he said he feels like he comes out every day. It’s never a one and done,” Rae added. 

Panelists onstage at May MilMag Live: Gay in MKE
Photo by Moriah Bame

The intimate atmosphere fostered a more conversational tone than even past MilMag Live events had managed, and the increased audience participation only enriched the conversation. Panelists and audience members chatted about solutions and next steps: one audience member requested directives for straight allies and another for self-care tips, which the panel provided. 

Audience comment at May MilMag Live: Gay in MKE
Photo by Moriah Bame

“Sharing stories will be the most effective way to bridge the gap to the heterosexual and cisgender community,” said panelist Ashley Altadonna, a trans filmmaker and project coordinator with FORGE.

Jeanette Martin, assistant director of the UWM LGBT Resource Center, stressed throughout the night the necessity of the “true self,” especially for the college students she serves, who may be discovering new sides of themselves and their sexuality and struggling to reconcile these new facets with loved ones’ perceptions of them. “Do something that makes you feel grounded,” she said when asked about self care. “Something that makes you feel like your true self.”

Chad Bauman, executive director for the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, agreed that conversations are paramount in the fight for equality. From a numbers perspective, he argued, the LGBT community is not large enough to put financial pressure on businesses with anti-gay practices, which is where straight allies come in. Opportunities for starting conversations, according to Bauman, abound.

“When I open the door in Whitefish Bay and the contractor [I hired] asks ‘Do I have to deal with the Mrs.?’ it’s an opportunity to start a conversation,” said Bauman, who is married to a man.

And starting a conversation was exactly what Milwaukee Magazine endeavored to do when we launchedthe MilMag Live series in January.

“We started the series with the idea of bringing the pages of the magazine to life,” Nicksin said. “We were looking for a way to connect with readers and hear what they had to say. What’s exciting to me is how engaged our audience is and what interesting and thought-provoking things they have to say at these events.” 

While MilMag Live is currently on hiatus for the season, you can look for the fall lineup some time this summer.

Read more MilMag Live Recaps:

Recap: Who the Hell Are We? We Have Some Ideas

Milwaukee Segregation: History & Solutions Discussed at MilMag Live

Talk Radio’s Dirty Secrets Aired at MilMag Live





Karisa Langlo is the Digital Editor for Milwaukee Magazine.