Pride flag

A rainbow flag observing Pride Month was raised Friday over the East wing of the state Capitol. Gov. Tony Evers ordered the rainbow flag be raised above the Capitol for the first time in state history. 

Fifty years after the 1969 Stonewall uprising that helped catalyze the movement for LGBT rights, Wisconsin lawmakers gathered for an inaugural gay pride month celebration.

Lawmakers and activists convened under the gay pride flag Democratic Gov. Tony Evers ordered to fly at the state Capitol earlier this month. They lauded the progress nationwide over the past half-century in recognizing gay rights while underscoring what’s left for the community to accomplish.

Change has come swiftly for many in the LGBT community. The nationwide recognition of same-sex marriage following a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2015 came less than a decade after Wisconsinites in 2006 voted to ban such unions.

For Rep. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit, the progress made since he came out of the closet 14 years ago has been precipitous.

“If you had told me then that 14 years later, I would be three months away from marrying the love of my life, and that my state and country would recognize that marriage, I would never have believed you,” he told the crowd gathered on Monday.

Spreitzer was joined by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, openly LGBT state lawmakers, including Democratic state Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa, D-Milwaukee, and Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, and LGBT activists Elle Halo and Sergio Domínguez Jr.

Zamarripa, the first openly LGBT person of color elected to the Legislature, noted the “staggering” progress made for the LGBT community, particularly the fact a majority of Wisconsinites now support same-sex marriage. Evers noted two members of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation are openly LGBT: U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, and U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Black Earth.

Evers has received pushback from some conservatives for flying the LGBT flag over the Capitol, but on Monday he pushed back on the criticism.

“Publicly displaying the rainbow pride flag sends a clear and unequivocal message that Wisconsin is a welcoming and inclusive place where everybody can live without fear of persecution, judgment and discrimination,” Evers said.

June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) Pride Month and the flag will fly through the end of the month. Rep. Scott Allen, R-Waukesha, previously called flying the flag “divisive,” telling The Associated Press it “advocates a behavior or lifestyle that some Wisconsin residents may not condone.”

Others, such as Sen. Dave Craig, R-Big Bend, criticized the flying of the pride flag as “a statement to advance a cause.”

Activists and lawmakers on Monday noted much is left to be done for their community, particularly for some of its most marginalized members. For example, Halo underscored the number of transgender women of color killed in 2019. According to the Human Rights Campaign, at least 10 transgender people have been fatally shot or killed by other violent means this year.

Members of the Legislature’s bipartisan LGBT caucus are attempting to advance several pieces of pro-LGBT legislation. The bills, some of which have Republican support, would ban gay “conversion therapy” for minors, prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or expression and update Wisconsin’s statutes and constitution to reflect same-sex marriage.

Capital W: Plug in to Wisconsin politics

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Capitol reporter

Riley Vetterkind covers politics and state government for the Wisconsin State Journal. He can be reached at (608) 252-6135 or rvetterkind@madison.com.