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Photo Essay: Boswell hosts LGBT Milwaukee book launch

“As we’ve learned, there are some stories that should be added to history and that shouldn’t be hidden any longer. And we’re here to talk about some of those tonight.” – Michail Takach, author of LGBT Milwaukee

Members and supporters of the local LGBT community gathered at Boswell Books for the release of LGBT Milwaukee by Michail Takach on August 25. The book discusses the past 80 years of LGBT life in the city, a story that has been neglected by local historians, giving the impression that the community only began around the time of the Stonewall riots in 1969.

“The book challenges the notions that gay history started at Stonewall or with the AIDS epidemic,” said Takach. “It makes people think about the fact that LGBT people have always been here, entwined with the city’s history forever. It’s not a new phenomenon. It’s not something that happened in the late 20th century. It’s something that has always been happening.”

Takach is the Communications Director for Milwaukee Pride, Inc. and all proceeds from his book will go to the nonprofit organization. Milwaukee Pride’s four objectives are celebration, networking, community investment, and education about LGBT issues and Takach’s book attempts to accomplish all of these missions.

Milwaukee Pride feels that it is essential for them to educate their members and others in the community about the largely forgotten and highly progressive history of LGBT people in the city. LGBT Milwaukee will be an excellent educational tool for their effort.

“If you look at our LGBT history, it’s really important that we continue to educate people and keep them aware of the things that happened,” said Wes Shaver, President Elect of Milwaukee Pride. “I’m going to be working really hard through our programming to really make sure that our history is preserved and cherished, and also shared with others.”

Milwaukee historically was not very welcoming to LGBT people. During the book release at Boswell, Takach shared newspaper headlines from the 40s and 50s about LGBT people. One headline read “Sex Deviate, 14, Sent to Hospital.”

Takach felt that the LGBT community owes a lot to the brave people during the 1960s and 70s who fought to make Milwaukee a welcoming place of equality. They are part of the reason he wanted to write this book.

“They just gave up and said ‘screw it. We don’t care anymore. No one is going to stop us from being who we want to be.’ And this was five years before Stonewall,” explained Takach. “People said, ‘if we’re going to wind up being executed for who we are, that isn’t going to fly. If we’re going to hell, we’re going to hell in high heels.’”

The Milwaukee LGBT community before the 1960s was not well-documented. Takach, along with Don Schwamb and Jamie Taylor, were able to gather information by interviewing people who lived during those earlier eras and by piecing together their stories with old articles that reference the LGBT community indirectly. People also posted pictures and background information on a facebook page created by Taylor.

The book tells stories of the past with the goal of informing the present community of who LGBT people really are. This was represented by the cover photograph, which depicts a man waving a blue flag in downtown Milwaukee.

“It challenges our notions of what LGBT people look like. It challenges our notions of stereotypes. It challenges the idea that LGBT people have to look and act a certain way. And at the same time it has iconic architecture and connects everything I was trying to achieve with the book,” said Takach.

Takach also hopes that his work will be able to help young LGBT people who are struggling with their identities to find peace and build a relationship with the community.

“This might be the connection to an outside world they never knew existed,” said Takach. “This book is not just a souvenir, or a coffee table book. It’s really a way of linking the past and the future.”

Read the article and view the photo essay that were produced as companion features for this news report.

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