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Friday, April 19, 2024
Civic leader Dick Wagner discussed how UW-Madison has supported discussions of the LGBT community since the 1940s.

Civic leader Dick Wagner discussed how UW-Madison has supported discussions of the LGBT community since the 1940s.

Historian explains how academics influence dialogue on LGBT history

When most people think of the gay rights movement, they tend to think of New York or San Francisco, not Wisconsin. That is a perception that Dick Wagner, a historian of the Wisconsin gay rights movement and one of the state's first openly gay politicians, wants to change.

Wagner gave a presentation Tuesday at the Pyle Center called “Academics Shaping the Wisconsin Dialogue on LGBT History.” He discussed the state's LGBT history and the role UW-Madison students, faculty and administrators have played. His talk was the fifth installment of a 15-part public lecture series hosted by the sociology department, part of a new class called "FORWARD? The Wisconsin Idea, Past and Present."

Wagner himself has played an important role in Wisconsin's LGBT rights movement, starting in 1980 when he became the first openly gay member of the Dane County Board of Supervisors. Later that year, he spearheaded the passage of a law provided for gay and lesbian people that became the model for Wisconsin's first legal protections bill in the nation.

Wagner emphasized the importance of UW-Madison’s ability to engage in socially and politically contentious issues. He said researchers from the university were able to bring the experiences of the state’s homosexual community into spaces that had not previously been open to them.

The lecture touched on the university’s complicated history with LGBT students, starting with the “1948 sex scandal” in which the university outed a group of four gay students who were later forced to stand trial.

Wagner also emphasized the actions of faculty members like Benjamin Glover, a professor of neuropsychology whose research helped end the university’s required “therapeutic discipline” for students found to be gay.

Wagner praised the university’s current efforts and explained his vision for the future.


"The university continues to provide information about how gay people are citizens of this state, that they contribute to society,” Wagner said. “Many of the faculty ... engage students on the discussion of that, and that's what has to continue."

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