Passenger Rail In Wisconsin, Wausau’s First Pride Event, This Week In Wisconsin

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Almost four years ago Governor Scott Walker rejected $800 million in federal funds for a high speed rail project in Wisconsin. Today lobby group All Aboard Wisconsin is pushing for passenger rail expansion around the state. Rob Ferrett and Gene Purcell hear about their first priority: a passenger train from Chicago to Madison. Then they continue Central Time’s “Out in Wisconsin” series with a look at Wausau’s first pride event and they round up the week’s state news.

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  • A Year After Alderman's Controversial Remarks, Wausau Celebrates Its LGBT Community

    Wausau held its second annual LGBT pride event on Sunday, which was created last year after a local alderman encouraged members of the community to boycott a planned gay pride parade.

    When the organizer of the parade canceled his event in the days following the alderman’s remarks, Wausau local Shannon Thomas organized a replacement: the re-branded “Event for Equality.” According to Thomas, last year’s Event for Equality attracted 400 people with a week of planning.

    “It was amazing. It was shocking,” said Thomas, “I assumed there would maybe be 50 to 75 people there and I was excited for that number … When 400 people showed up and we had a line that went all the way down the highway from one end of town to the other, I was blown away, and I think weeks later I was still in shock from the support we received.”

    The details surrounding the initially proposed parade are murky. Current organizer Shannon Thomas said she saw it more as a gimmick. According to her, the local LGBT community wasn’t familiar with Daxx Bouvier, the man who proposed it. The discovery that Bouvier hadn’t purchased any parade insurance also raised red flags.

    In retrospect, however, Thomas said that she’s “thankful for the fake pride parade and the negative comments because negative attention is still attention and it definitely woke up our town.”

    The negative comments were made at a town meeting by Wausau District 3 Alderman David Nutting and attracted national media attention.

    At the meeting, he said:

    “I represent an overwhelming majority of District 3 residents who oppose allowing a parade of deviant-behaving individuals to be escorted by public law enforcement members through the very heart of our family-oriented city, to a beautiful family oriented public park, where no doubt their choice of indecent behavior will be on full display for influential children and the media to proclaim it worldwide. This isn’t speech. This is behavior. I ask that all residents stay away from the parade, or if you do go, stand with your back to the parade of deviant-behaving individuals.”

    Shannon said she reacted to the comments with shock, anger and surprise. Nutting’s words also motivated her to take action.

    “I am a central figure in the community: I’m a mother, I’m a homeowner, I’m an employee, and I’m also a lesbian and I’m very proud of that,” she said. “I represent our family-oriented Wausau and so does my child, and I wanted to be sure that like-minded individuals had a voice in the fight for equality for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.”

    Instead of spearheading a “pride parade” similar to what had been proposed, Thomas decided to organize an “equality march.” According to Thomas, events like these take on particular importance in smaller communities.

    “A lot of times, especially in small towns, people don’t realize how many people are affected by the discrimination against the LGBT community,” said Thomas. “I really wanted to show that your coworkers, your neighbors, people you might not even realize really are affected by this.”

    Thomas said she’s been the subject of the discrimination herself: “I’ve had a few cowardly attempts of things yelled at my house from passing cars because I do have a pride flag that hangs out in front of my house,” she said.

    She said she has also received messages from local religious leaders encouraging her to redeem herself.

    “I understand that people are concerned and they have a message to deliver themselves and I respect that, and I just hope it will continue to be done in a peaceful manner,” she said.

    This year, Shannon Thomas organized the second march with a year of advance planning and a board of directors. She hopes to establish the Event for Equality as a nonprofit with a storefront in downtown Wausau.

    A year after the remarks that pushed her into action, she feels she has made a mark.

    “I’m so proud of our city,” she said. “We’ve had so many people approach us saying they want to start events in their town. It makes my heart full.”

  • Weekly News Roundup: Prosecutors Accuse Walker Of Coordinating Illegal Fundraising Scheme

    Here’s a rundown of some of the top news stories in Wisconsin this week:

    Prosecutors Place Walker At Center Of Illegal Fundraising Effort

    A judge released documents in the so called John Doe 2 investigation that allege Gov. Scott Walker was at the center of a criminal scheme to bypass Wisconsin election laws in 2011 and 2012 during the recall elections.

    Walker said the allegations are false and politically motivated.

    Wisconsin Lags Below National Average In 2013 Jobs Report

    The 2013 Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages shows Wisconsin ranked 37th in the nation for private-sector job growth in 2013, placing the state well below the national average and second-to-last among Midwestern states.

    According to the report, Wisconsin added 102,013 jobs, which is 147,987 shy of the 250,000 jobs that Walker promised to create during his first term.

    Mackinac Straits Pipeline Controversy

    A U.S.-Canadian panel advising the Great Lakes Fishery Commission has requested that energy company Enbridge replace a pipeline under the Mackinac straits at the confluence of Lakes Huron and Michigan.

    The group worries the 60-year-old pipeline is at risk of failing and could create an environmental disaster in a particularly sensitive area. Enbridge contends the pipeline is safe and says any spill could be easily contained.

  • 'All Aboard Wisconsin' Pushes For Passenger Rail Expansion

    Lobby group All Aboard Wisconsin is pushing for the expansion of passenger rail throughout the state. First, they have their sights set on a train between Chicago and Madison. On Saturday they are set to hold a meeting on-board a train departing from Chicago.

  • State News Round-Up For June 20th, 2014

    WPR’s assistant news director joins us for a look at what’s making news in Wisconsin, including the latest in the John Doe investigation.

  • The Debate Over Wausau's First Pride Parade

    When organizers announced last year that they wanted to launch Wausau’s first LGBT pride parade, some members of the community dissented. Alderman David Nutting’s concern made news when he said the parade would not be suited for a family friendly city like Wausau. The community ultimately held a revised “Equality Event.” The organizer of that event shares the experience. Alderman David Nutting has been invited to join the covnersation. Central Time is awaiting his response.

Episode Credits

  • Rob Ferrett Host
  • Galen Druke Producer
  • Marika Suval Producer
  • Noah Ovshinsky Guest
  • David Mumma Guest