Guest Author: Jessica Michelle Polacek

(My friend Jessica has been doing some awesome queer history of Wisconsin on Facebook, but this summary was too good to not pass on. – hbk)

Wisconsin LGBTQ

Continuing our celebration of LGBTQ history on the last day of Milwaukee Pride, here are some other facts about my home state:

1. Milwaukee had its own version of Stonewall, eight years earlier at the Black Nite Bar

2. LGBTQ recorded history in Wisconsin dates to an 1894 arrest in Black River Falls

3. In 1976, just months before Harvey Milk, James Yeadon defeated 13 other candidates and was elected to public office as an openly gay man – twice!

4. Wisconsin was the first state to pass LGBTQ anti-discrimination laws which came through the help of religious leaders

5. Emmanuel UCC in Oconomowoc was the first open and affirming church in the state

6. Opened in 1968 by June Brehm, This Is It, one of Milwaukee’s beloved gay bars, is one of the oldest in the country

7. Wisconsin was the first state to have three openly LGBTQ elected officials in the US Congress – Tammy Baldwin, Steve C. Gundersen and Mark Pocan

8. Congressman Steve C. Gunderson was unwillingly outed on the floor of the US House of Representatives — then reelected in spite of this

9. Milwaukee was home to some infamous ‘drag wars’ in the 1980s between clubs Two-Nineteen and LaCage

10. Milwaukee has been dubbed an ‘underappreciated gay Mecca’ with more than 100 years of LGBTQ history

11. Nationally acclaimed Gay Peoples Union started right here in Wisconsin

Wisconsin has a rich, colorful and often positive LGBTQ heritage. Just one more reason to celebrate Pride. 

National Coming Out Day #outinAppleton

An open letter to the City of Appleton:

National Coming Out Day is celebrated annually on October 11th. This year, Nate Wolff and me and the City of Appleton decided to celebrate it in a big way because our community is feeling hurt and under attack. Deaths of trans women are epidemic, youth suicides are on the rise, and this week, the Supreme Court of the US is deciding on cases that could change our right to be who we are, to have a job, to exist with dignity.

Traditionally, National Coming Out Day is when LGBTQ+ people who are out already think about what it took to tell people they are LGBTQ+ and what it means to live their lives out of the closet. But more importantly, it’s a day for all the people who aren’t out, the invisible members of the LGBTQ+ community.

When you put up a pride flag, for National Coming Out Day or in June for Pride Month, the most important message you are sending isn’t necessarily to the adults who are out and have been out. It’s for:

  • the gay men who work in education who still face significant discrimination.
  • religious people who know they would not be welcome in their place of worship as themselves.
  • working class and poor people who can’t afford to be out due to the risk of unemployment and housing discrimination.
  • parents who don’t want to be judged unfit because of their own orientation.
  • transitioned trans people who are accepted as the gender they are and who don’t want to be considered less of a man or a woman because of how they were designated at birth.
  • those who are most marginalized by other aspects of identity such as race and who face greater risks of violence and discrimination.
  • people who don’t identify strongly ‘enough’ in any identity to come out in one.
  • people who worry their families won’t accept them, who worry about losing lifelong friends.
  • people who are in a heterosexual marriage or relationship who don’t want to hurt the person they are with and are raising children with.
  • trans people who can’t be out in the military.
  • people who don’t want to disappoint their parents and families, no matter their age.
  • new immigrants who don’t want to lose the only people in their community who share their culture and speak their language.
  • parents with adult children who adore them and who they’re afraid of letting down.
  • people who use different pronouns at work than they do in their private lives.
  • people sleeping in shelters terrified to lose a place to sleep.
  • couples who never feel safe holding holds in public.
  • anyone whose access to medical services or mental health care might be hindered.
  • those who are financially dependent on someone else.

But most importantly, your visible pride flag is for the young people who are LGBTQ+, who can’t come out, or be out, because they have so little autonomy in their lives, who don’t get to choose who their parents are or what their religion is or even where they go to school. It’s for the young people who are bullied because they are different and no one at their school is helping. It’s for the young people who worry about disappointing their mom or dad or grandma or uncle, who think it’s impossible to live a happy, productive life as an LGBTQ+ person, or who believe there is something wrong, or evil, about them because of who they are or who they love.

So often events like this feature the people who are out – who are organizers, activists, small business owners: the people who have already navigated coming out and being out and have found some happiness or success in life. But this event is not about us and never has been. We come out in order to tell our young people that they can be loved, feel safe, have a job, be successful, have families. We come out so they know their elders are out here loving them even when we don’t know who they are yet. We come out so they know we’re here and that someone cares about them living their lives to their fullest potential. We come out so that those young people live to be adults because too many of them don’t.

We come out because we can and we know others who can’t, won’t, shouldn’t – yet, or maybe ever.

That’s why you put up a rainbow: it is a promise to all the invisible LGBTQ+ people that you understand they exist, that their lives are not easy, and that they are loved and valued and celebrated.

Happy National Coming Out Day.

Witness: Rachel See at SCOTUS

My friend Rachel See of NCTE was in the courtroom today and wrote this compelling observation about what it was like.:

I don’t think I’ll be able to forget the look I saw from the bench. Near the start of the first case, Justice Kavanaugh looked up from whatever he was reading and seemed to stare straight at me. Straight through me. I met his gaze for a few moments, and then I realized that Aimee Stephens was sitting immediately behind me.

I don’t know what was running through Justice Kavanaugh’s mind. He asked a single question this morning, about whether the statute used the literal or the ordinary meaning of the word “sex”. I feel incapable of reading those tea leaves.

But in those few lingering moments, feeling his gaze upon me, I felt literally judged, as a trans woman, by a man in a position to affect the lives of me and my family and friends and the 1.4 million trans adults in America. A man with the power to declare, as Justice Sotomayor suggests the Court should say, that “invidious discrimination” against LGBT people must stop now, and that courts can and should use the broad language of Title VII to do so. But also a man with the power to declare, as our adversaries would have him say, that sex assigned at birth is destiny, and that an employer can dictate where you pee. And, by extension, someone with the power to declare that “invidious discrimination” against LGBT people will be permitted by the law, and even be encouraged in the name of “religious freedom”.

It is the most-uncomfortable I’ve ever felt in a courtroom. My heart goes out to Aimee Stephens, who felt the true focus of that gaze and the scrutiny of the Court and the media and all the vile hatred that we see on Twitter and “in the comments”. Aimee looked so tired this afternoon; who wouldn’t be tired, under all that scrutiny? I can’t imagine what she’s been through these past months, and I am in awe at her quiet strength and perseverance.

For all the discomfort I felt from Justice Kavanaugh’s scrutiny, the message I want to deliver to my trans and nonbinary friends is that you are seen by people who love you. You are seen by people who look upon you with friendship, with compassion, with love. By your chosen family, by allies, by people who will fight for all of us. In a few months we may very well lose at the Supreme Court; win or lose on these cases, the fight will continue. And we will not be alone, because we exist. We are seen. We are loved.

Gay Trans Men

I asked friends on Facebook recently for stories, memoir, or narratives of whatever kind about gay trans men negotiating sex with cis gay men.

Here’s what we came up with:

If anyone knows of any others, do let me know or add others in the comments.

To the Young Queer Person Who Has Just Come Out to Unaccepting Parents:

A student I know recently came out to religious, conservative, traditional parents and they’re not taking it well, so I asked some of my friends and readers for some words of support for this young person. It was hard not to read the posts without crying. I wanted to compile them here so that others can pass this on to whomever in your life needs it.

  1. Your family doesn’t have to be flesh and blood.
  2. This can take time, sometimes 3-5 years. They love you and who you are is really scaring them them. Don’t take abusive but don’t give up on them either.
  3. Welcome to our community! I don’t know how old you are or how long it took you to come out. It’s stressful but for the best, trust me. Give you family some time to process it. It took you years to come out, it’s going to take them time to accept you. And if they don’t, you are going to be ok. I bet you know this already, but family is what you choose to be family. XOXOXO
  4. Let them know that you had a student once who had a terrible time with her conservative family all through college after she came out. Things weren’t better quickly, but time can do a lot. As unconvincing as “It gets better” can be sometimes, after periods of hopelessness and persistence, eventually this moment will feel like a far off memory. In any case your student is wonderful and good exactly as they are and a Stranger is proud of them for being open and honest and authentic and fighting for themselves.
  5. just because they’ve known you doesn’t mean they know you better than you do. don’t let them make you second-guess yourself. they may come around a little at a time, they may never. but you have yourself and your truth and that counts for so much more in the end. ?
  6. I was blessed to have a family that accepted me exactly as I was, because we are all born and grow to be exactly as we should be. However you are, you are right and loved and wonderful.
  7. They can come around, and it will take time. And if they don’t, there’s plenty of people waiting to support you as you are.
  8. I grew up in a Christian fundamentalist household. I now identify as an openly transgendered woman & I’ve been working as a transgender activist for the last 21 years. Everything is possible when you accept yourself & refuse to live from a script someone else has written for you~!
  9. Please tell your student that they have another family out here waiting to take them in. We are loving, and supportive, and accepting. And we are everywhere.
  10. Sometimes family has a hard time accepting the reality of who you’ve become or always known you are. They wanted so much for you your entire life and they need to switch gears to honor your true self. It can take time and pain and love and awkward conversations… or even space. Relationships change and surely this one will change too, hopefully many times and for the better. Wishing you all the love and luck in the world—remember your queer family is everywhere and we always got your back.
  11. Baptist preacher kid here. Coming out was brutal and far too late. I don’t know you but I’m proud of your spirit and your truth.. I’m sorry for your family’s reaction. Don’t let it dim your light because you were meant to shine. I know because I’m a bright motherfucking bitch. I survived them and now I thrive. You’ve got this.
  12. I mean everyone else has already said it, but the blood of the covenant truly is thicker than the water of the womb.
  13. You are who you are, and no one should expect you to be anyone else. You’re the best you there is. And even if people cannot grasp this, please know: you are loved.
  14. You are all family to each other. Give them time, let them see you are happier and more centered, and hopefully they will remember that you are all family.
  15. You can’t make your family, or well, anyone, believe ANYTHING.
    You just can’t. What you can do is focus on what you actually have with them and build on that.
    And then … go on and live your life knowing that your family isn’t right there next to you. They might come along! You never know! If you love them and they love you and that’s all you got right now well then that’s what you’ve got. Right now. Not acceptance or understanding… hopefully that will come. It will be what it will be.
    Mostly, just be you.
    And find ways to get past all the dumb shit that is surely to come. Or not. You never know.
    Just be you. And forgive what is forgivable. They know not what they do (sometimes). Heh.
  16. Most parents that having a hard time look at it as they did something wrong… also keep in mind they also need time to deal with their feelings…it’s their journey and you can not make that your issue. Be out, be proud, be you and most of all Welcome to the Family
    I moved out abruptly at the age of 19 after a domestic violence incident.
    At 20 I began dating the love of my life, and we were together for 20 years, until her death. I am so, so glad I did not miss a minute with her.
    Every good and worthwhile thing in my life has come from having the chutzpah to follow the love of my heart (the rage sometimes comes from love, too – love of self that is frustrated). It has at times been terrifying, frustrating, and so on. I did not know what I was doing, but that’s part of discovery and creation. I reached out for help over and over again and got so much bad advice and insufficient support. It’s taken me until about now, at 43, to see that I was doing the right things, asking the right questions, doing my best under hard and scary circumstances.
    Just because it’s hard and scary, just because your best might not be good enough to have it go the way you want it to go at this point in the experience, doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong.
    I hope the adults in your life come through for you, because life is exponentially easier for you when they do.
    You deserve to have someone hold the space so you’re safe in this tender place.
    I hope your path is easier – with a world wide web of support, it truly could be.
    You are worthwhile and the life you get to build by being who you are is worthwhile.
    All the love to you. <3
  17. First of all, you never know how much can change with time. People adjust, change their views and come to terms with a lot when it comes to people they love. But if they don’t ever accept you, at the end of the day, you can make the choice to accept yourself and live in your truth despite what others may want. Being authentically you is the only way to live. If your family can’t get on board, there are others out there who will love and support you as you truly are.
  18. As a healthcare provider and a hetero mom of three kids, who also proudly works to provide health care for the queer community in one of the first clinics in the US that cared for the gay/trans/HIV community…What is evident to me is that the there are so many people who will support you. There are so many people that have been through similar things you are going through. You can find a tribe if you look. Don’t give up on your family. They might come around-and if they don’t well…seek out your own path and you will gain confidence and power and it will get better.
  19. Find your village. The people who accept you for everything and anything you are. And never be afraid to call on your village.
  20. All I can say is that they are brave, beautiful and loved, and to always seek out people who will hold them close for who they are!
  21. This is for the parents; I learnt this from my mom who was also religious: Your child is still your child. God gave them to you to love and cherish. He made your child the way they are. He didn’t make a mistake nor did you. Others may judge your child and perhaps you, but He will note their judgement and they will have to account. Continue to love your child. Love those they choose to share their lives with as if they were your own. God is a loving God who loves all of God’s children. He asks you to love the children he gave you to love as He does.
  22. You are easy to love. Incredibly easy to love. This is always true, even when the people who we expect to love us are unable to show it. People will love you for exactly who you are, try your best to let them. ??
  23. There’s an old coming-out book, Now That You Know, that was written by religious parents for religious parents. PFLAG used to recommend it. It breaks down the Bible in logical terms. It might not help in this day and age because people seem more entrenched than ever. My favorite part is a chapter that talks about the Agrarian Society of the Bible. Once they figured out that same-sex sex didn’t make children, they had to outlaw it because they needed farmhands. So simple. Logical.
  24. Despite the risk you chose to be honest and authentic and I can’t be more proud of you. Maybe your parents will accept it, maybe they won’t, but the most important thing is whether you’re honest and loving to yourself. Now this is a big change and you don’t know what will happen, that’s ok. Please give yourself room to breathe and go through this. It sucks big time, but give yourself time and patience and you will heal. Meanwhile you have a big ole family right here. You’re always welcome to add me, message me, or whatever, with you’re permission I’d love to include you in my queerio family.
  25. The outpouring of love and support in this thread is a beautiful testament to how many wonderful humans in this community have their back. If they ever need someone to talk to, I’d be honored to offer any help and support I can give to them. Welcome to the family, darling. We love you and support you, wherever your journey takes you. This world is too hard to go it alone, and if this thread says anything, it is that you are not alone in the slightest 🙂
  26. To this person: I love you and I support you! ?
  27. A mom here. It is so hard to come to see that baby that you birthed, named, held and nurtured as an independent adult. This is a tough time for parents even without any big reveals. They love you. They always will. They have bit their tongues through all sorts of stages and now need a little time and understanding themselves. I am so sorry that this wasn’t easy for all of you but they raised a lovely human being who knows who they are and who is courageous enough to be honest about it. You have a whole lifetime in front of you. Find your community but leave a door open for your parents. It may take some time but family is family and they know that as certain as they love you.
  28. Be who you are. Your parents may not come around but you are beautiful and strong.
  29. I came out almost 21 years ago, at a time when almost no one understood and our community was nothing like we have today. Truth is, there will always be those who want you live up to their idea of who you should be instead of your own. Be who you are, loudly and proudly, without apology. You may find that in time your parents will come around, as mine did, when they see you living your life in the way that makes you happy. In the end, if there’s anything I’ve learned in all that time, it’s that it’s your life and you need to live it in the way that gives you the most joy, happiness, and personal satisfaction. The rest is just gravy. Some may exit your life but some will stay and those are the people you can trust with your heart.
  30. My parents were very resistant at first, especially because my transition queered them in their community. They had couple-to-couple meetings with their fellow congregants and were amazed at the support they got. It helped make them my advocates rather than opposition.
  31. Don’t feel bad if your family won’t do the work and don’t come around. It’s okay to walk away, and often the only healthy thing to do. make your own family if you need to.
  32. Be true to who you are and things will come around one way or another. Don’t ever stop loving yourself.
  33. It’s a process, not an event. People often need time to come around. And if they don’t come around, it’s their loss. You’re still the same person inside. If they can’t respect you enough to allow you to be authentic, then they’re the ones with the problem, not you.
  34. If worst comes to worst, you are not alone. You will find a religious community that accepts you to be a part of one day.
  35. You are so brave to be yourself. Sending love as a mom and a human being.
  36. Congratulations on being true to yourself. I’m proud of you.
  37. Be nice to them, send them holiday and birthday cards, wait, and hope that they will come around. In the meantime, plan to live without them.
  38. I haven’t had the experience of coming out, but if my kids ever did, I want them to never doubt how loved and supported they are. It breaks my heart every time I hear about parents who don’t love their kids unconditionally. I know this person will find someone who does, and I’m so sorry to hear it wasn’t their parents. It should have been.
  39. As you can see above, I was fortunate, when at the age of 36 I told my parents I was leaving my husband and had fallen in love with a woman, and they simply asked how they could support me. My take is that lack of family acceptance and support can feel like a death. Take the time to grieve that they failed you and your very appropriate expectations of unconditional love and support were not met. protect yourself from any ridicule and harm by setting boundaries and seek those who love you and will support you through this loss.
  40. You’ve found your voice now it’s time to live your life.  Although it would be ideal to have the love and support of your parents…you have an amazing community who loves and supports you.????
  41. Know that you are loved for who you are and how you love by people you don’t know. You will be understood for who you are – and it is painful to not be seen or heard or understood by the people closest to you. But know you will be. And, remember that you are beautiful and loved and cared for no matter how many people may try to tell you otherwise in a day, a week, or your lifetime. Growing up I read Percy Pysshe Shelley’s “Love’s Philosophy” a lot. And, remember you are not alone. There are so many people you don’t know personally reaching out to you through the darkness. Let us keep your light burning for as long as you need to breathe, grieve, grow, and become even more beautiful and more queer and more amazing. 
  42. I’ve found that sharing who you are with the world can be more fulfilling that who understands it. But make sure that you are practicing self-care, and surround yourself with people that love you, support you, and understand that you can be whatever you want.
  43. That’s hard. It depends how much this person cares for their family’s approval. Personally I’ve always lived by the credo ‘You choose your friends, not your family.’ If people (whoever they are) cant love and respect who you are, fuck ’em. Family is merely an accident of birth.
  44. You are brave for coming out, and strong for living a life that is true to who you are. There’s a reason that we queers talk a lot about chosen family: Sometimes we find comfort in folks who are not biologically or legally connected to us. Sometimes those connections end up being just as meaningful as — or even more meaningful than — the ones we formed with the people who raised us. I don’t know whether you’re a Lawrence student, but if you are: know that there’s a community here that supports you.
  45. The first words out of my mom’s mouth was “well, f#ck you very much!” when I told her. Initially she didn’t take it well, but in time she eventually came around.
    Ultimately it boils down to this: are you living YOUR life, or are you living theirs? It’s supposed to be your life — live it, regardless of where the journey takes you! After all, you never know what’s around the corner for you or your life! Look forward to it!

Poly Workshop at Wisconsin LGBTQ Conference

Hello all! I’ll be talking about polyamory and non monogamy at this year’s Wisconsin LGBTQ Summit. I haven’t done one of these before but it seems like a good time.

It’s not up on the website yet, but here’s the description:

Poly 101

Polyamorous or consensual non-monogamous relationships have never been uncommon in queer community, but they are starting to be more widely understood and practiced. Come learn some of the basics of what it means to be poly, hear answers to some of the most pressing questions about jealousy, commitment, and making love less like pie.

Monogamous, single, ace, queer, trans, poly, NM… everybody is welcome.

February 24th in Milwaukee.

Here’s a good article if you want to educate yourself a little before then.

The Return of The December Project

This year, because US politics have become so acrimonious, we decided to bring back The December Project – the brainchild of Jenny Boylan, who understood how many of us are lonely and hurting during the holiday season.

Privately and locally, Dylan Scholinski and I have both continued to make ourselves available to trans community folks who need someone to talk to, even if it’s just someone to say “Merry Christmas” or to listen.

So here’s how it works: you email me ( or Dylan ( with a little bit about yourself and we will write you back and arrange a time to call and talk.

Important things:

    1. We do this because we do.
    2. No one is making any money.
    3. Your information will remain with us. Everything you say to us is confidential.
    4. We are not trained counselors. We are just friendly people who like to meet new people and to listen and who will judge nothing about you – not your identity, your sexuality, or anything else.
    5. If you are suicidal, we ask instead that you call a suicide hotline: 1-800-273-8255.
    6. Trans LifeLine is of course also always available (& we are so thankful for them): 877-565-8860.
    7. There are also moms who are willing to be your mom for the holidays. You can find these lovely folks here:

Stay well out there.

Punching Back

The DOJ reversal is a punch in the gut for trans people, so if you know any, please be nice to them today / this week & make sure they’re managing.

Whether this action is legal or not, the message just sent from the White House is that trans people don’t matter.

& they do, they do, YOU DO.

NCTE & TLDEF are already preparing to take the DOJ to court over this, but in the meantime, NCTE’s Mara Keisling adds:

We’ll take more punches like this before this is through, but it will end and we will prevail. And remember, this disgraceful administration cannot change the law. They can only refuse to do their jobs and enforce the law. The law still protects us. And we will win this guidance and regulations and memos all back in a few years. It hurts, and we’ll need to fight together, but we will win.

And she’s right, we will. Stay strong, folks, as I’m sure there is more bad news coming and it seems the RP has decided that trans people are a soft target, which is both despicable and mean.

If you voted for these monsters, shame on you.

Serano on Free Speech and the Limits of Tolerance

As ever, Julia Serano with a remarkably clear-eyed piece on the limits of tolerance and the underlying power structures and cultural context.

I loved this especially:

“But what about the suppression of my speech as a young trans person? Back then, trans people had some allies, to be sure, but they (like us) constituted a tiny minority of the population. And I can tell you first hand that the “more speech” strategy actually does far more harm than good when greater numbers of people hate your minority group than accept you. In such cases, calls for “more speech” simply enable and promote hate speech against you, rather than mitigating it.”

Which is a point I have had to make over and over again, as one of that “tiny minority” – at any given point in time, there is a person who can defend a said group or idea against another 10,000 who condemn it and an additional 10,000 who agree with the ideas but can’t argue them effectively. This has been the case for trans rights for decades now — so much so that I’m often happily surprised now when I see other cis people who are able and willing to make these points so I don’t have to anymore.

Paisley Currah on the WH’s Rescinding of LGBTQ Protections

from Paisley Currah, in response to the news that the WH is looking to remove LGBTQ protections from healthcare:

“Don’t believe everything you read about the Trump’s administration’s inability to govern. In the regulatory arena, Trump is really getting things done–look what’s happening at the EPA. There’s also Sessions’ stated intention of ending the Justice Department’s oversight of post-Ferguson reforms regarding excessive fines and fees. When it comes to trans people, they are viciously efficient. They’ve rescinded the Obama administration’s Title IX guidance on trans students. Trump tweeted that the Defense Department’s policy on trans service members would be reversed. And now they’re planning to get rid of rules–of critical importance to trans people–that ban discrimination based on gender identity under the Affordable Health Care Act. The Justice Department is also deciding whether or not to support Obama-era rules that used the Prison Rape Elimination Act to protect transgender prisoners from violence. And there’s still a bunch more policy changes out there awaiting the eye of Sauron. Trump/Pence have 3.5 more years to do a lot of damage.’