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The Gay Peoples Union Collection

GPU News July 1976 Vol. 5, No 10

Historical Note

Gay Peoples Union (GPU) was the most important gay and lesbian rights organization in Milwaukee during the 1970s. Taking distance from the radical politics of the New Left, its members adopted a politically moderate approach to social change, emphasizing education and legal reform.

GPU began as a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) student organization, the Gay Liberation Organization, which held its first meeting on March 5, 1970. From the beginning, there was disagreement between members who supported a revolutionary, broad-based politics and those wishing to pursue the single-issue of "homosexual liberation" through non-militant activism. In fall 1970, the more radical members of GLO withdrew and formed the Milwaukee Gay Liberation Front. The remaining members of GLO reorganized as the Gay Peoples Union and focused on educational programs and social activities. By fall 1971, GPU's affiliation with the university faded, and the organization took on a community-wide character.

The organization actively embraced mainstream and alternative media outlets in order to educate the general public about homosexuality. It produced the first regularly scheduled, scripted gay and lesbian radio program in the nation, Gay Perspective, which aired on Milwaukee station WZMF from February to June 1971 and then on WUWM from July 1971 to May 18, 1972. The organization's monthly news magazine, GPU News, started publication in October 1971 and lasted a full decade. GPU collaborated with the mainstream media at least twice, working with the Milwaukee Journal in February 1972 on its six-part series, "The Gay Revolution," and with WTMJ-TV in September 1973 on a five-part series titled "Some Call Them Gay."

GPU also took a leadership role in building an infrastructure for the emerging local gay and lesbian community. It established Milwaukee's first gay and lesbian community center, operated a telephone counseling service and a venereal disease examination center, and organized a legal defense committee to assist gays and lesbians with paying for legal representation.

During the 1980s, a host of other gay and lesbian groups emerged within existing social institutions such as businesses, sports, theater, health care, addiction recovery programs, and the media. Concurrently, the rise of lesbian separatism and the autonomous organizing of gays and lesbians of color seemed to undercut the relevance of a broad-based group such as GPU. The organization faded in importance by the early 1980s, although it continues to exist today.

Scope and Content

This digital collection includes selections from the Gay Peoples Union records, which are housed at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries' Archives Department. The digital collection includes annual reports, articles of incorporation and by-laws, fliers, and newsletters; the complete run of GPU's monthly news magazine, GPU News (1971-1981); and audio recordings of Gay Perspective, a radio program produced by GPU and aired on local Milwaukee stations from July 1971 to May 1972. Topics on these radio programs include homosexual liberation, legal reform, coming out, marriage equity, and gays in the military. Also included in the digital collection is the manifesto of the Gay Liberation Organization, a predecessor organization of GPU.

The Gay Peoples Union records are available for research in the Archives Department of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries. A finding aid of the collection is included in Archival Resources in Wisconsin, a union database of finding aids of collections located in repositories statewide, at http://digital.library.wisc.edu/1711.dl/wiarchives.uw-mil-uwmmss0240.