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LGBTQ+ Pride celebrations aren’t just for Wisconsin’s big cities

Community organizers and elected officials in Wisconsin’s smaller towns and cities discuss how celebrating Pride fosters a much-needed sense of belonging for LGBTQ+ community members

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Green County supervisors and community members pose with garland that celebrates June as both LGBTQ+ Pride month and Dairy month. Photo courtesy of Peg Sheaffer

For the LGBTQ+ community and its allies in Wisconsin’s largest cities, Pride Month is a chance to celebrate their shared identity and history with the broader community.

But for LGBTQ+ Wisconsinites outside of large urban centers, Pride Month is an opportunity to find community and support in an environment where they might feel isolated.

The Wisconsin Office of Children’s Mental Health found in 2023 that an alarming 48 percent of Wisconsin’s LGBTQ+ youth had seriously considered suicide. But being a part of a community that affirms and supports LGBTQ+ identities can improve mental health outcomes.

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That was the intent of Green County’s Board of Supervisors when they introduced a resolution to officially recognize LGBTQ+ Pride Month in their rural community last year.

“There were reports in the media about the fact that members of the LGBTQ+ community (were) increasingly experiencing higher rates of mental health issues and substance use disorders,” Peg Sheaffer, a Green County supervisor, said in a recent interview with WPR’s “Wisconsin Today. “A couple of us on the board started talking about this, and wanted to do something about it.” 

Sheaffer helped introduce the resolution and was one of 17 supervisors who voted in favor, narrowly passing it by three votes. She said that while discussions were civil, there was some significant opposition to recognizing Pride Month in Green County. 

But advocates said celebrating Pride is especially important in areas that don’t have strong public support for the LGBTQ+ community.

“It’s much easier to feel isolated in rural communities,” said Brenda Lovick, president of the support group PFLAG Cambridge. “Many people don’t understand LGBTQIA+ issues, and sometimes make assumptions about what the issues are. People are spread out, resources are scarce.”

Even in more populated areas like Waukesha County, there are vacuums in support of the LGBTQ+ community. It’s what inspired Erik Czech-Swanson to start LGBT Waukesha, a group dedicated to connecting Waukesha County’s LGBTQ+ community and its allies. 

“I was just kind of coming out of college, looking around in a very conservative area and wondering to myself, ‘Where’s the support now that I’m out of school?’” Czech-Swanson said.

LGBT Waukesha celebrates Pride Month in June with an annual potluck, handing out Pride decorations to businesses and walking in the Milwaukee Pride Parade. They also hold gatherings year-round, including crafting events, game nights and a monthly book club.

Czech-Swanson said Waukesha’s celebrations of Pride create a supportive community where LGBTQ+ people in Waukesha can feel less alone. “When people come to our events, they say, ‘I didn’t know anyone here was like me.’ And it can be very isolating to feel that way,” Czech-Swanson said.

Whether in rural areas like Green County or mid-sized cities like Waukesha, LGBTQ+ Wisconsinites living outside of Wisconsin’s biggest cities face unique challenges. But in spite of it all, many would rather celebrate Pride and make changes in their own communities than move away.

“This is our area. This is somewhere that we’ve lived for years, for decades. We’ve put down roots. We’ve got family and friends here,” Czech-Swanson said. “We should be accepted and embraced everywhere. We shouldn’t have to go somewhere else to feel comfortable. We should be welcomed wherever we are.”

Upcoming LGBTQ+ Pride events in Wisconsin

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