Gay Peoples Union Records, 1971-1984


Gay Peoples Union (GPU) began as a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) student organization that was temporarily known as the Homosexual Freedom League. HFL held its organizational meeting at UWM on March 5, 1970 with an estimated seventy-five people attending. From this meeting, the group emerged with a new name, the Gay Liberation Organization at UWM. GLO-UWM included both students and individuals from the general Milwaukee community. From the beginning, there was disagreement between members who supported a revolutionary, broad-based political agenda and those wishing to pursue the single issue of "homosexual liberation" through non-militant activism. In fall 1970, the more radical members of GLO-UWM withdrew and formed the Milwaukee Gay Liberation Front. The remaining members of GLO-UWM reorganized as the Gay Peoples Union and focused on educational programs and social activities. By fall 1971, GPU's affiliation with the university faded, and the organization took on a community-wide character.

GPU was the most important gay and lesbian rights organization in Milwaukee during the 1970s. Distancing itself from the radical politics of the New Left, GPU adopted a politically moderate approach to social change, emphasizing education and legal reform. The organization actively embraced mainstream and alternative media outlets in order to educate the general public about homosexuality. It produced the first regularly scheduled, scripted gay and lesbian radio program in the nation, Gay Perspective. Milwaukee station WZMF aired the half-hour program from February to June 1971; WUWM continued the program from July 1971 to May 18, 1972. The organization's monthly news magazine, GPU News, started publication in October 1971 and lasted a full decade. GPU collaborated with the mainstream media at least twice, working with the Milwaukee Journal in February 1972 on its six-part series, "The Gay Revolution", and with WTMJ-TV in September 1973 on a five-part series titled "Some Call Them Gay".

GPU also took a leadership role in building an infrastructure for the emerging local gay and lesbian community. In 1972, it began operating a telephone counseling service on a mainly full-time basis. In October 1974, GPU opened its Venereal Disease Examination Center, the precursor of the Brady East STD Clinic. In mid-1975, it established Milwaukee's first gay and lesbian community center in a rented flat at 1568 N. Farwell Avenue. The Farwell Center housed both the GPU Library and the GPU VD Clinic. Following the May 6, 1978 police raid of the Broadway Health Club (a Milwaukee bath house), GPU organized a legal defense fund committee to assist gays and lesbians with paying for legal representation.

During the 1980s, a host of other gay and lesbian groups emerged within existing social institutions such as businesses, sports, theater, health care, addiction recovery programs, and the media. Concurrently, the rise of lesbian separatism and the autonomous organizing of gays and lesbians of color seemed to undercut the relevance of a broad-based group such as GPU. The organization faded in importance by the early 1980s, although it continues at the time of this writing (March 2008).