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Feature Story

T-shirt celebrating Wisconsin’s pioneering Lesbian & Gay Rights legislation

Wisconsin Historical Museum Object – Feature Story

Wisconsin--1st State to Support Lesbian & Gay Rights T-Shirt | Wisconsin Historical Society
EnlargeT-shirt, white cotton, Wisconsin--1st State to Support Lesbian & Gay Rights, 1993 Museum object 2019.21.1

T-shirt celebrating Wisconsin’s pioneering Lesbian & Gay Rights legislation, 1993

 Source: Wisconsin Historical Museum object 2019.21.1

T-shirt celebrating Wisconsin’s pioneering Lesbian & Gay Rights legislation, 1993
(Museum object 2019.21.1)

This t-shirt was worn by Bonita S. "Bonnie" Augusta of Madison, who participated in the March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation, held on April 25, 1993. This was the third national march for gay rights held in the Nation’s Capital, following similar events in 1979 and 1987.

While LGBT people had attained larger cultural presence by the early 1990s, oppression persisted, as evidenced by the Colorado’s 1992 constitutional amendment allowing discrimination based on sexual orientation, the US military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy, and rising numbers of hate crimes.

Among the march’s demands were passage of a national LGBT civil rights bill, a massive increase in funding for AIDS research and treatment, and equal treatment for LGBT people in law, education, and health care. The Washington, DC, Police Department estimated that between 800,000 and 1,000,000 people participated in the 1993 march, making it one of the largest protests in American history.

The t-shirt also commemorates the passage of Wisconsin's Gay and Lesbian Civil Rights Act of 1982, the first law in the United States that prohibited discrimination in public accommodations, employment, and housing based on sexual orientation. That effort took 15 years. In 1967 Milwaukee legislator Lloyd Barbee introduced a bill to the state assembly that would decriminalize homosexuality. In 1971 he introduced a bill to protect gays and lesbians from job discrimination. None of his proposed bills passed.

Madisonian David Clarenbach continued the effort when he joined the state assembly in 1975, steadily building support for the bills in the legislature. Leon Rouse, a student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, built a coalition of religious leaders to support the equal rights bill. The bill ultimately received bipartisan support and was signed by Republican governor Lee Dreyfus, who noted, "There are some questions the government has no business asking."