Celebrating 50 years of LGBT history in Walker's Point

Jun 1, 2018

1968 was a pivotal year for so many facets of American culture, from the anti-war and civil rights movements, to rapidly changing musical styles, to women’s rights. It was also a time of great change in America’s gay society. While the Stonewall riots in New York City didn’t happen until a year later, 1968 was a crucial year in Milwaukee’s gay history, especially in the Walker’s Point neighborhood.

"1968 was the year that gay bars actually started flocking to Walker's Point, and actually formed a neighborhood for LGBT people," says writer and historian Michail Takach. That's the year a heterosexual businessman, Al Barry, opened a bar called "the Rooster" in the neighborhood and "sparked a migration and centralization of gay bars and gay businessness--in a way that had never been seen before," he says.

That's why these special safe places needed to exist. Once you were inside, certainly they were safe to an extent, but walking around Walker's Point at night, moving from bar to bar on foot was probably not something most people did.

Milwaukee in the late 1960's may have been more supportive or tolerant of LGBT people compared to other cities, says Takach, but he reminds us what the world was like during that time. 

"There were still a lot of harrassment," he says. "If somebody was found to be in one of these spaces or found to be holding hands or dancing or even sitting on a barstool next to another person of the same gender, they could be arrested, they could be brutalized."

Once the "gayborhood" of Walker's Point began to grow, starting with the influx in 1968, the space became safer, at least marginally, for LGBT Milwaukeeans within the area.

Pride month starts today, and Takach joins Lake Effect's Bonnie North in the studio with more about Milwaukee's LGBT history: