After Stonewall, Madison very quickly took up the causes of visibility, of informing the public about homosexuals and homosexuality, and of engaging in political action. These efforts have continued without interruption to this day, a whole generation later.
The history is fairly long and complicated, and though I had a nontrivial role in parts of it, I'm unable to do justice to the fuller story on the basis of my own first-hand knowledge. Nevertheless, I think I may be able to pull enough of the information together, over time, to provide a sense of how it was in the 70s.
I got involved fairly early, in a group called MAHE, the Madison Alliance for Homosexual Equality. It had a predecessor group, I think called the Lavender CLub or the Lavender Group or something like that.
Space for MAHE meetings was provided by St. Francis House, the campus Episocopal student center, under the aegis of Father Lloyd, one of the town's noted liberal humanitarians. I don't know what controversy he may have faced on that account, but in any case weekly MAHE meetings were held in a large room in the basement of the center, with occasional functions in the sanctuary.
Initially, the group was primarily social, a gathering of the (not quite but almost altogether male) tribe. Some used it for meeting others to hook up for sexual escapades, but from the very first there were discussions of our lives and our situations in society. Also from the first there was a degree of political tension, a more radical element gradually asserting itself and eventually taking effective control of the organization. At issue in this division was how out to be; the more conservative wing did not want to disrupt the status quo too much, while the more liberal wing wanted to be ourselves first and if it offended the straight majority that would be their problem, not ours.
At the point where things became formalized enough to have an election of officers and to engage in public activities in the name of the group, it had become GLF, the Gay Liberation Front, taking many of its strategic and tactical cues from the Civil Rights movement, the Black Panthers, the Students for a Democratic Society, and so forth.
Little serious attention was paid to what we today call inclusiveness, with the result that at our first (and only) national congress, held during the Thanksgiving break in 1971, there quickly developed a three-way split, leaving the largely white-male GLF to be disdained as unliberated, while women and people of color split off to serve their own agendas at the plenary session.
The congress was nevertheless a significant success. Its social events went well, and about 200 people, from as far away as New York and Boston, were on hand. There was considerable euphoria about the closeness and solidarity that developed during the long weekend. Though the plenary session had been chaotic because of the schism, the various workshops and discussion sessions actually went quite smoothly.
Various educational and informational seminars were held, sending groups into high-school and University classrooms to face the often perplexed and clueless majority, to field questions, and to try to dispel stereotypes.
The congress proved to be the high point of the group's history, I would say. It thrived a couple more years, but never got itself organized finanically, for instance.
A umbrella organization called The United formed, primarily as a fund-raising and fiduciary umbrella. It continues to exist, though it has been joined in funding work by The New Harvest Foundation.
I've had relatively little contact with the surviviors or successors to GLF, partly because a stint as GLF's Chair resulted in severe burnout. But many people who are still in Madison could provide much more detail on these later developments.
Much more recently (over the past decade) a Gay and Lesbian Interest Group has formed within the embrace of the Wisconsin Alumni Association. As a Wisconsin graduate, I am a member of this group. It has done some very good things.
[to be continued].