MILWAUKEE, Wis. — In some ways, visibility for the LGBTQ+ community has never been stronger.
The percentage of Americans has more than doubled in the last 10 years, has nearly tripled in a single generation, and the U.S. Census Bureau finally began including sexual orientation and gender identity in its household surveys.
However, visibility on the ground looks different.
Justin Roby, director for the nonprofit organization Diverse & Resilient, ran a booth at a Juneteenth celebration in Milwaukee this year. He spoke to people about the LGBTQ+ advocacy work the organization does.
Roby is quick to acknowledge the change in society’s perception of people like him.
“When I was younger, if any one of my queer friends wore feminine clothing, we were [called] every gay slur in the book when we would walk this length of blocks, whereas now we can do so with ease,” he said.
Visibility, however, comes in different forms for the LGBTQ+ community.
Michail Takach, who works with the Wisconsin LGBTQ History Project, notes that it’s also important to uphold the past.
“Most people miss out on this opportunity to connect with a heritage because they don’t know that that heritage ever existed,” he said.
Takach visited the site of the Black Nite with Don Schwamb, founder of the Wisconsin LGBTQ History Project. The Black Nite was one of a group of bars that catered to the LGBTQ+ community in the mid-20th century.
“The Black Nite was really the only place that welcomed gender-nonconforming people on an everyday basis,” Takach said.
Takach only recently learned of its signature moment. In 1961, a group of servicemembers showed up and caused trouble. They vowed to come back and, according to a news report from the , “clean up the Black Nite.”
“By the time [they] returned later that night and thought that they were going to beat up four people,” said Takach, “they opened the door to find the bar jam-packed with over 70 people.”
It is believed to be one of the first LGBTQ+ uprisings in American history.
In 2022, the Milwaukee County Historical Society agreed to make the Black Nite spot the county’s first LGBTQ+ landmark.
Takach and Roby both believe that promoting visibility is just one way others will recognize that the LGBTQ+ community is an important part of society.
“Our lives have value,” said Roby. “We are essential and should be treated with dignity in everything that we do.”