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Monday, June 24, 2024
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An LGBTQ+ student’s guide to Madison

Looking to experience a queer Madison? The city is home to many LGBTQ+ campus organizations, charities, neighborhoods and nightlife spots.

Madison has been named among the gayest cities in the United States for its progressive atmosphere and rich queer history. 

But for many incoming LGBTQ+ students seeking community at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, starting the search can be an overwhelming task. To kick off Pride Month, The Daily Cardinal compiled a list of activities and locations in Madison for queer people to experience community. 

Campus organizations

Gender and Sexuality Campus Center: Located in the Red Gym, UW-Madison’s Gender and Sexuality Campus Center (GSCC) provides education, advocacy and resources to foster a welcoming environment for LGBTQ+ students and allies. The GSCC is known for hosting popular welcome events such as Drag Bingo and offering scholarships to new students. Students can drop by during GSCC hours to peruse a collection of queer books, eat snacks or use free printing services. 

The Pride Society: Founded in 1983 upon the passage of Wisconsin’s gay rights legislation, The Pride Society is best known for its annual “Pride Prom” with unique themes and drag performance artists. The Pride Society also hosts film screenings, game nights and other community events throughout the year

Queer and Trans People of Color (QTPOC): This organization focuses its volunteering, outreach and programming efforts on issues relating to LGBTQ+ people of color, while also being run by queer people of color themselves. QTPOC’s most recent event was a communal mural and dinner celebrating Asian Pacific Islander Desi American Heritage Month in May. 

Sex Out Loud: Created in 1998 to provide UW students “comprehensive, accessible and pleasure-based sexuality education,” Sex Out Loud is a peer-to-peer sexual health resource led by a “diverse and queer staff” that caters to LGBTQ+ inclusive sexual needs. The organization provides free safe sex supplies, counseling and works with Greek life to dismantle sexual violence norms.

A comprehensive list of UW gay student organizations, their staff liaisons and contact information can be found here.

Madison nightlife

Shamrock Bar & Grille: Located about a block from the Capitol, Shamrock Bar & Grille has proudly served Madison’s queer residents since its establishment as a gay bar in 1985. Stop by during the day for a $5-$8 dollar lunch or at night until 3 a.m. for food, drinks and music.

Woof’s: Self-described as a “bear/levi/leather” sports bar just off the Capitol Square, this no-cover venue is perfect for fans of darts, pool, karaoke and drinking. Crowds come for the establishment’s weekday happy hours with half-price drinks, as well as daily and monthly themed events.

FIVE Nightclub: As one of Madison’s largest dance venues, FIVE Nightclub regularly draws in diverse crowds for its music, DJs and “mesmerizing light show.” The club is also known for hosting summer volleyball tournaments, ZUMBA, country line-dancing and frequent drag events.

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Sotto: This “electro dance, LGBT-friendly club bathed in neon lights” on 303 N Henry St offers live DJ music and several floors for dance space. Although not self-identified as a gay club, Sotto’s inclusive atmosphere and convenient downtown location is perfect for young gay people on a night off.

Dyke Dive: Hosted as a monthly themed pop-up event in different dive/neighborhood bars, attending Dyke Dive is an inexpensive opportunity for queer people looking to dress up and meet people. Past themes have included the Cryptids Convention costume party and a Chappell Roan night with DJs Sara Akawa and Femme Noir.

Businesses and charities

A Room of One’s Own: The self-proclaimed queer and trans-owned feminist bookstore on Atwood Avenue is open seven days a week with a wide range of LGBTQ+ books and event-programming centered around queer storytelling. 

Outreach Center: Outreach LGBTQ+ Community Center provides resources for education, housing, elders and overall community to queer people in the Madison area. The organization works closely with the Morgridge Center at UW-Madison during the academic year to involve students and hosts an annual Pride Festival in August.

LGBT Books to Prisoners: LGBT Books to Prisoners is a “donation-funded, volunteer-run” non-profit that sends free books and educational resources to incarcerated queer people across the U.S. Students can get involved directly through the organization’s website or through the Morgridge Center on campus. 

Programs and activities

Stage Q: Stage Q is a performing arts theater dedicated to producing plays written by and about LGBTQ+ people. Located on Mifflin Street, opportunities to become involved with the troupe through acting, volunteering and playwriting are open to people of all experience levels.

Madison Minotaurs: Looking to join a rugby team? No experience is required to join the Madison Minotaurs, a gay-inclusive rugby club that plays tournaments both in the U.S. and abroad. The 2024 fall practice schedule is soon to be finalized, with practices typically beginning in August.


Middleton: About six miles west of downtown, Middleton has the highest concentration of gay residents in Madison. The city is hosting an all-ages Pride Festival on June 8.

“Dyke-Heights”: Located south of Atwood on the isthmus, this unofficial “gayborhood” houses a large number of lesbian families and a lesbian-owned-and-operated pet accessories store called Bad Dog Frida

More resources

Our Lives: Our Lives is a Wisconsin magazine focused entirely on LGBTQ+ news, people, community and culture.

Wisconsin LGBTQ History Project: Wisconsin’s largest digital repository of free LGBTQ+ media, the Wisconsin LGBTQ History Project is dedicated to preserving queer heritage through research, publications, walking tours and more. 

Wisconsin LGBT Center of Commerce: The Wisconsin LGBT Center of Commerce is an organization dedicated to creating a “fully inclusive [Wisconsin] by promoting economic growth and opportunities among LGBTQ+ owned and allied businesses.”

While this list serves as a starting point for Madison students looking to find queer community, the city’s gay scene continues to shift as historical queer spaces are shut down and reimagined. Those who wish to stay up to date with queer Madison can do so by continuing to visit these spaces and following LGBTQ+ news guides for updates.

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