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Making a Safe Place for Milwaukee’s LGBTQs

Off the Cuff with Karen Gotzler

Oct. 11, 2016
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Photo by Paul Williams

“I wanted to be a part of creating a safe place where LGBT people could socialize and support each other,” says Karen Gotzler, executive director of the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, referring to her initial involvement in the planning and strategizing of the center in 1996. After its official launch in 1998, Gotzler began volunteering at the center, becoming executive director in February 2015. Since its inception, Gotzler has watched the center grow in volunteers, staff and direct services. And while the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center has continued to evolve, its mission, to further advance the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community in the Milwaukee area, has remained the same. In the wake of news about the controversial bathroom bill, Gotzler recently discussed its problems, Wisconsin’s LGBT climate and what the public can do better. 

How is the climate for the LGBT population in Wisconsin?

Generally, as a climate, I would say it is improving, Unfortunately, we don’t find as much support for LGBTQ rights around the state as we do in the Milwaukee area. If you’re an LGBTQ person, Milwaukee is by far the most accepting and comfortable place to live. 

What kinds of discrimination are members of the community facing?

There is a lot of poverty in the LGBTQ community. The average LGBTQ individual has significantly less income and fewer assets as a result of the discrimination they face in the work place or when they have tried to obtain services. Probably the one people are hearing about right now is the bathroom bill, which tries to get people who are transgender to use the restroom based on the gender that is on their birth certificate versus the one they identify with. And that’s a big issue, especially for young people in schools who are likely to be bullied over it. It seems so obvious to me that people should be able to use the bathroom in which they feel most comfortable, but I guess we have a lot more education to do in the area.

What can the average person do to advance LGBTQ rights?

Everybody can be respectful of LGBTQ people. Not just of LGBTQ people, but of all people, because lack of understanding and a lack of education is really at the core of most discrimination. If people would take the time to get to know LGBTQ people they would see that we have the same needs, we want the same things—to be healthy and productive. So, if everyone would speak out against discrimination, especially with the election coming up, if they would vote for the candidate who supports LGBTQ issues, we can make a big difference.

Tell me more about your services.

We have a youth drop-in program that operates Tuesday through Saturday. With that we offer a wide range of activities that assist youth with job searching, staying in school, learning about finances and LGBT history and their rights as LGBT people.

We also do a lot of fun events, going to community events and participating jointly in other youth programs across the city. We have an older adult program that provides services to people who are 50 and older. We offer support groups and activities like dining out or theater outings. We have drop-in times, we offer case management and counseling for people who are victims of sexual assault, domestic violence or bullying. And we have an art gallery and the largest LGBT lending library in the state.

To learn more about the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, call 414-271-2656 or visit mkelgbt.org.


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