David E. Clarenbach Papers, 1974-1992 (bulk 1984-1992)


David E. Clarenbach was born in St. Louis, Missouri on September 26, 1953, to Kathryn and Henry Clarenbach. After his parents moved back to Wisconsin in the early 1960s, he was educated in the Madison public schools, and attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Clarenbach's parents were both politically active: Kathryn Clarenbach, was the first chairwoman of the National Organization of Women (NOW); and Henry Clarenbach, a real estate agent, served as a delegate to the 1968 Democratic Convention, and was an anti-war activist. Clarenbach's maternal grandfather, Alexander Frederick, a Methodist minister, served in the Wisconsin State Assembly in 1914. In various articles and profiles, David Clarenbach readily admits that growing up in a feminist household had a tremendous effect on his life and his views of fairness and equality.

In high school, Clarenbach lobbied for student representation on the Madison School Board. In 1972, at the age of 18, Clarenbach was elected to the Dane County Board of Supervisors. There he championed mass transit, neighborhood preservation, and ethics reform. In 1974, Clarenbach served on the Madison City Council. Clarenbach was elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly in 1974 at the age of 21 and in 1983, his fellow legislators appointed him to the Assembly leadership position of Speaker Pro Tempore. Clarenbach served in that capacity until he left the Assembly in 1993, after an unsuccessful bid to represent Wisconsin's 2nd District in the United States Congress.

From 1975 through 1979, Clarenbach proposed various legislation, including a nuclear moratorium and a workers' rights bill (both of which eventually became law). Clarenbach chaired panels on health care, privacy, and tax exemptions. Clarenbach was also the first urban legislator to sit on the Agriculture Committee.

Throughout his career, Clarenbach was involved in the growth and development of the gay and lesbian civil rights movement. In 1982, along with Milwaukee gay activist Leon Rouse, Clarenbach and others were credited with helping push through Wisconsin's Gay and Lesbian Civil Rights Act of 1982. This was the first law in the United States which prohibited discrimination in public accommodations, employment, and housing based on sexual orientation. This bill was considered a “landmark achievement,” not only for Wisconsin, but the nation.

Clarenbach also fought, unsuccessfully, to establish universal health care in the state. Coincidently, Clarenbach was dropped from his own private health insurance plan in 2003 and found that no other insurance company would cover him because of a preexisting condition. Clarenbach had been diagnosed with degenerative cervical spondylosis and, after losing his insurance, was quoted in a 2004 article in The Advocate saying: “No matter how much I paid for a premium, I was simply uninsurable.”

Clarenbach served on many other committees and groups during his time in the Assembly including: Agriculture Committee and its Subcommittee on the Future of the Family Farm (chairperson); Assembly Organization; Financial Institutions and Insurance; Labor; Rule; Reform of Health Insurance (chairperson); Legislative Council; State Historical Society Board of Curators; Management of the Yahara Watershed (chairperson); Elections; Government Operations (chairperson); Legislative Council Committee on Economic Development (chairperson); Joint Survey Committee of Tax Exemptions (co-chair); Judiciary; and Commerce and Consumer Affairs.

During his political career, Clarenbach belonged to numerous professional, non-governmental, and civic organizations including: ACLU of Wisconsin; Madison AIDS Support Network Board of Directors; National Council of Senior Citizens; Jewish Community Council; NAACP; Urban League; Environmental Decade; Women's Political Caucus; SANE/Freeze Campaign; National Organization of Women; Wisconsin Historical Society; and Humane Society. Clarenbach also served as a delegate to the Democratic National Conventions in 1980, 1984, and 1988.

On June 14, 1995, it was announced that he had been selected to head The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund. At that time, the Victory Fund was the nation's 15th largest independent political action committee and had contributed more than 1 million dollars directly to the campaigns of qualified openly gay and lesbian candidates. Clarenbach came out regarding his sexual orientation after he left public office in 1993. He was quoted as saying: “One of the biggest regrets of my life is that I didn't run for Congress as an openly gay candidate. As Executive Director of the Victory Fund, I will do everything in my power to keep other qualified candidates from making the same mistake.” Clarenbach served in that position until August 9, 1996. Since then, David Clarenbach has served as a political consultant and lives in Madison, Wisconsin.


1953 Birth, St. Louis, Missouri
1972 Elected to Dane County Board of Supervisors, where he championed mass transit, neighborhood preservation, and ethics reform
1974 Elected to second term on Dane County Board of Supervisors
1974 Appointed to Madison Common Council
1974-1976 1st Assembly term
1975-1979 Proposed nuclear moratorium and workers rights bills. Both of these bills eventually become law. Chaired panels on health care, privacy and tax exemptions, and was the first urban legislator on the Agriculture Committee
1976-4978 2nd Assembly term
1978-1980 3rd Assembly term
1980-1982 4th Assembly term
1980-1982 Fight to give utility consumers a stronger voice results in creation of the Citizens Utility Board. In a first for the nation, bill to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation is enacted. As head of the Government Operations and Economic Development Committees, he pushed for new jobs to reduce welfare dependency
1982-1984 5th Assembly term
1983-1985 Elected by colleagues to the Assembly leadership as Speaker Pro Tem. Served in this capacity until 1991. Won enactment of a sexual privacy law repealing archaic criminal penalties. Sponsored the pro-choice bill to repeal a ban on publicly financed abortions for poor women. The first University of Wisconsin (UW) student regent was appointed under a law Clarenbach authored
1984-1986 6th Assembly term
1986-1988 7th Assembly term
1986-1990 Special Committee on the Yahara Watershed broke the deadlock over lakes quality, creating new cleanup authority. Adoption of his anti-hate crimes bill created tough penalties for violence against minorities. Bill of rights for persons with AIDS was also signed into law
1990-1992 8th Assembly term
1991 Chosen to chair new committees on health insurance reform and family farming. Continued the fight to defend women's reproductive choices, protect jobs and the environment, and defend civil liberties
1992 Made unsuccessful bid for United States Congress