LGBTQ+ Progress Awards 2023

LGBTQ+ Progress Awards 2023 sponsored by Johnson Financial Group
MATC - Milwaukee Area Technical College
Saint Kate - The Arts Hotel
Potawatomi Casino and Hotel - Milwaukee
Educators Credit Union
ACLU of Wisconsin

LGBTQ+ Progress Award Winners

Established in 2015 by the Shepherd Express, the LGBTQ+ Progress Awards recognizes individuals, businesses and organizations that have, through their long-term community engagement—from arts and culture to philanthropy and from activism to health and education—contributed to the progress of equality, human rights and quality of LGBTQ life in Milwaukee and Southern Wisconsin.

The following are the 2023 recipients:

Pioneer of LGBTQ Progress: David Clarenbach

As a Democratic politician and LGBTQ activist, David Clarenbach has an extended history of achievements. However, most importantly, as a member of the Wisconsin State Legislature, he is credited with the 1982 passage of the nation’s first LGBTQ anti-discrimination law. Known as Assembly Bill 70, the law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation by state or private entities in employment and housing. The bill’s passage came after a long process of advocacy and lobbying that began decades earlier. Clarenbach noted that this credit “is to be shared, of course, by the hundreds of community and religious organizations and thousands of individuals who created the political climate to allow the bipartisan group of legislators and a Republican governor to make history. We can all be proud of the accomplishments made during that era 40 years ago and more.”

Sponsored by:

Diverse and Resilient

Philanthropy: Potawatomi Casino Hotel

While the LGBTQ struggle for equality has depended largely on its cadre of activists, its allies play an equally critical role in propelling its cause. Especially in the early years when supporting the LGBTQ community had inherent risks and liabilities, certain businesses recognized their common cause of social justice. Since opening in Spring of 1991, Potawatomi Casino Hotel (then-Potawatomi Bingo) has lived up to its mission stated in Potawatomi motto, Gde Pê Nme Go Men, meaning “our responsibility.” That responsibility to serve the greater good includes the greater LGBTQ community as a beneficiary of its philanthropy. Over the decades, as a community sponsoring partner, Potawatomi Casino Hotel has generously supported all aspects of the LGBTQ community from Vivent Health (formerly ARCW) to PrideFest and from Diverse & Resilient to Cream City Foundation. It is also a Gold Founding Member of the Wisconsin LGBT Chamber of Commerce.

Sponsored by:

Northwestern Mutual Life

Arts & Culture: Sandy Lewis

LGBTQ arts is as much a political expression as entertainment. As such, they contribute to LGBTQ progress. Born into a Vaudeville family, Sandy Lewis has always made the stage her home. Her first foray into the realm of LGBTQ arts came decades ago when she became involved with an LGBTQ theater group and Fest City Singers (FCS). Notably, in the early 1980s she performed as the mascot for the Milwaukee AIDS Project (MAP, later AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin), a fundraising role that entailed an outlandish costume and blue and yellow painted face. Over the following decades she appeared in numerous LGBTQ dedicated theatrical productions, performing in plays, cabarets and musicals at Milwaukee Gay Arts Center, Off the Wall Theatre, and the Boulevard Theatre. She often sang at the AIDS Walk with FCS, and, for over two decades, as half of the duo Side by Side with lesbian singer-songwriter-cabarettiste Diane Bloom.

Sponsored by:

Marcus Performing Arts Center

Education: Cary Costello, UWM, LGBT Studies Program

Cary Costello, associate professor of sociology, has worked with the UWM’s LGBTQ+ Studies Program since 2002 and served as its director since 2010. Founded in 1993 as the nation's second oldest program of its kind, the UWM LGBTQ Studies under Costello’s tenure has grown from teaching two courses and granting six certificates in LGBTQ+ Studies annually to offering eight course per year and has since granted well over 100 Certificates in LGBTQ+ Studies. As a trans man he has also been recognized as an advocate for transgender and intersex people. Costello holds degrees from Yale College, Harvard Law School and a PhD from University of California-Berkeley. He has published a dozen works across a spectrum of binary, intersex, trans and identity subjects. Using his own trans experience as a foundation, Costello maintains a blog, “TransFusion” on trans issues.

Sponsored by:

Cream City Foundation

Health: John Griffith

Nominated by the Milwaukee County Executive in 2018, John Griffith joined the Milwaukee County Commission on Aging, later becoming that body’s secretary and its chair in 2022. As a voice for LGBTQ seniors, he has been a member of numerus state and local senior and health advisory groups and councils. Griffith lifelong dedication to activism began as an 11-year-old “doing doors” for John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign. Later, as a freshman at UW-Eau Claire in 1967 he met Eugene McCarthy and became an original member of the “Get Clean with Gene” campaign. Moving to Milwaukee in 1990, Griffith immediately engaged with the LGBTQ community, attending PrideFest at Veterans’ Park, then volunteering for that event as well as for the Human Rights League. He helped create the LGBT Community Center and has remained a Center volunteer for 25 years.

Sponsored by:

Vivent Health

Business: Hamburger Mary’s

When twin brothers Ashley and Brandon Wright launched Milwaukee’s Hamburger Mary’s in 2011, they located the latest branch of the popular gay-themed restaurant chain in a cramped, abandoned restaurant on South Kinnickinnic Avenue in Bay View. Its opening party featuring the drag punk band, The Joans, would portend great things to come. The latest addition to the Milwaukee bar and restaurant scene, it soon became a popular destination with an innovative mission of social engagement and reciprocal community support with drag queens hosting fundraising “HamBingo” nights as a fundraising opportunity for community causes. Over the following dozen years, Hamburger Mary’s has become a virtual community center. In 2016 it moved to the Walker’s Point gay-borhood where its expanded space allows greater outreach with bingo, drag shows (even during the COVID pandemic with parking lot performances featuring queens wearing face shields) and meet and greets with local politicians.

Sponsored by:

Planned Parenthood

Equality: Kathleen “Kass” Hume & Stephanie Hume

To paraphrase a popular idiom, the family that engages politically together, creates progress together. The mother and daughter duo of Kathleen and Stephanie Hume represent that family bond with through their common mission in support of Milwaukee’s LGBTQ progress through activism. Beginning in 1986, as a straight ally, Kass Hume became involved with a spectrum of Milwaukee’s LGBTQ organizations including the Lesbian Alliance, Cream City Foundation and Cream City Chorus, providing them with pro bono legal services. Later she held “legal nights” at the LGBT Community Center for those needing legal advice and served on the Center’s board from 2013-18. She was also instrumental in the community’s public relations response to the Jeffrey Dahmer crisis. Meanwhile, Stephanie Hume participated as a board member of the Lesbian Alliance, Human Rights League and the founding board of the LGBT Community Center. However, her greatest contribution to LGBTQ progress was her decades long service from 1992-2015 as a liaison to the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD). Following the Dahmer arrest in 1991 she became engaged as a leading facilitator for creating communication to implement positive change in MPD relations with the LGBTQ community.

Sponsored by:

Stephanie Murphy DDS

Media and Communication: Jerry Johnson

Founded by Jerry Johnson and his partner Terry Boughner in 1987, Wisconsin Light soon became Milwaukee’s leading LGBTQ newspaper. It covered a full spectrum of relevant local, regional and world news, arts and politics. As the publication’s editor and publisher, Johnson engaged writers from all corners of the community, presenting all points of view. Its motto “Give the people light and they will find their own way” guided its mission for over a dozen years. Johnson’s community dedication was underscored when he donated proceeds from the paper’s 10th anniversary “A Decade of Light” gala, nearly $10,000, to the Cream City Foundation. An adamant archivist, he collected documents and ephemera that he later donated to The UWM Library’s LGBT Archive. In 1991 he became a founding member of the city’s Fair Housing and Employment Commission (later the Equal Rights Commission) and, later, of Milwaukee’s LGBT History Project

Sponsored by:

Gruber Law Offices