LGBTQ+ Progress Awards 2024

LGBTQ+ Progress Awards 2024 presented by Cream City Foundation

Presented by

Cream City Foundation
Program sponsor:
Johnson Financial Group
MATC - Milwaukee Area Technical College
Potawatomi Casino and Hotel - Milwaukee
Marcus Performing Arts Center
Diverse and Resilient
Planned Parenthood
PrideFest Milwaukee
Marius Bell Floral
Lash Dolls

Selfie booth sponsor

2024 LGBTQ+ Progress Award Winners

Over the past decade, the Shepherd Express LGBTQ Progress Awards have recognized dozens of veteran community activists and allies as well as businesses and organizations. The main criterion for the award is the recipient’s dedication to the cause of LGBTQ equality that has resulted in progress toward that end. As in past years, the 2024 roster represents the full spectrum of the community. The eight recipients have contributed to Milwaukee’s LGBTQ progress towards equality in the arts, athletics, business (in this case the practice of law), philanthropy, health care, preservation of our history and as allies and pioneers of LGBTQ social justice. Their brief biographies barely offer an overview of the cumulative impact on LGBTQ progress they have made, often achieved over decades of unrelenting commitment despite challenges and personal sacrifice.

The 2024 Shepherd Express LGBTQ+ Progress Awards

The Shepherd Express is excited to celebrate LGBTQ+ progress in Milwaukee on Thursday, August 8th at Potawatomi Casino & Hotel. With your support, we can make great strides in Milwaukee and beyond!

Thursday August 8 at 5:00 p.m. at Potawatomi Casino & Hotel.

You don't want to miss this amazing event, hosted by Dear Ruthie and Peter Burgelis. Join us for a night of food, live entertainment, and most of all, FUN!

LIMITED TICKETS AVAILABLE! Get them here while you can!

The following are the 2024 recipients:

Tommy Thompson: Special Ally

As Wisconsin's governor from 1987 to 2001, Republican Tommy Thompson found himself in a unique role of inadvertent LGBTQ ally. Since 1983 when Wisconsin's first AIDS case was reported, the pandemic raged with no end in sight and no viable therapy to slow its progress. Thompson, unlike his conservative colleagues and despite the unpopularity of supporting the gay community, funded the Milwaukee AIDS Project. Given the state's looming health crisis his actions were pragmatic and logical. However, they also served to not only change attitudes toward people with HIV/AIDS but also toward the LGBTQ community as a whole. Thompson's strategy-maintained momentum for HIV funding and care, quieting opposition through compassionate example and leadership. Later, as Secretary of Health and Human Services under President George W. Bush, Thompson continued support of U.S. funding of international HIV/AIDS programs, serving as chair of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Brenda Lewison: Business

Brenda Lewison received her doctorate in labor and employment law in 1995 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her recognition of the legal needs of the LGBTQ and underserved communities has since guided her career. Over the decades Lewison's law practice represented individuals in employment discrimination and related cases. These included federal court litigation over sexual orientation and race discrimination. Among her professional affiliations, Lewison is a member of the National Lesbian and Gay Lawyer Association and helped found the Washington Heights Rainbow Association and the Human Rights League Political Action Committee (now part of Fair Wisconsin PAC). She is also a past-president of the Individual Rights and Responsibilities (now Civil Rights and Liberties) Section of the State Bar of Wisconsin. Lewiston has also been honored a top volunteer for Wisconsin Free Legal Answers,” an American Bar Association legal clinic and Pro Bono Attorney of the Year by the State Bar of Wisconsin.

Scott Stewart: Arts & Culture

Scott Stewart's contributions to Milwaukee's arts landscape and greater LGBTQ community are multifold. As a founding artistic director of Wisconsin Cream City Chorus (WCCC), the city’s first LGBTQ chorus (established in 1987), Stewart ignited a “home-grown, word of mouth bunch that needed a voice regarding community at the time we were living in” as he described it. Honored at the time as one of “20 Who Helped Make Everything Possible,” Stewart's commitment to achieving that community “voice” was unrelenting, establishing one of Milwaukee’s most enduring arts organizations. Stewart's musical mission was to give the community a means to define itself and express its unity through song. As his legacy, WCCC spawned the creation of several other choruses, that continue his mission today. Beyond his own community, in those times when being out was a risk, Stewart's impact reached the professional arts world as an out and proud gay man.

Sponsored by:

Marcus Performing Arts Center

UWM LGBT Archive & Special Collections: Education

Established three decades ago, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Archives’ LGBT+ collections consist of documents, photographs, digital records and recordings from individuals and organizations, media about and produced by the LGBTQ+ community, oral histories, manuscripts, queer-zines and other related material. Housed in the UWM-Golda Meir Library and publicly accessible, this repository of LGBTQ history is one of few such archives nationwide. The collections cover the earliest days of Milwaukee activist Eldon Murray and the Gay People’s Union, ACT-UP AIDS activism and healthcare, the struggle for marriage equality, lesbian feminism, queer culture and community. The collections capture the dynamics of the LGBTQ community from the quotidian organizational operations of Cream City Foundation to the recorded personal stories of love, loss and identity. Ever-expanding with new acquisitions, the LGBT Archive and Special Collections provide resources for study and a necessary repository for future generations to explore and understand their history.

Sponsored by:

Planned Parenthood

Mona Garcia: Equality

Nearly 20 years ago, seeking a community organization to support, Mona Garcia discovered SSBL (Saturday Softball Beer League), Milwaukee’s LGBTQ softball league. She soon became its greatest ally, becoming not only an advocate but also a leader (and even, on occasion, a player). Garcia soon became SSBL’s treasurer and served as a member of the SSBL’s gay softball World Series committee in 2009. Her expertise in management and organization helped make that event a spectacular success, giving international recognition not only to SSBL but to Milwaukee itself. Garcia’s engagement expanded to the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance (NAGAAA) where she served as its executive assistant. For her dedication and generosity shown to the LGBTQ athletic community Garcia was inducted to the Halls of Fame of both SSBL and, as its first straight ally, NAGAAA. Appropriately enough, NAGAAA instituted the “Mona Garcia Volunteer of the Year Award” in her honor.

Stephanie Sue Stein: Health

Stephanie Sue Stein began working with senior issues in 1993 with the Social Development Commission (SDC) when there were no public senior programs. With federal and state funds, Stein innovatively developed nutrition, adult daycare and other programs for the aged. She left the SDC as director of Older Adult Programs and was appointed director of the City Department of Aging. Stein integrated LGBTQ programming into that process. When activist Eldon Murray appeared at a Commission on Aging meeting, he had just brought the LGBTQ senior advocacy organization, SAGE, to Milwaukee. "We’ve been waiting for you. Where have you been?" Stein exclaimed. The result was the first government funding of an LGBTQ organization in the United States. Later, as acting director of the LGBT Community Center, Stein insured there would be visibility, representation and awareness of senior issues. Stein continues her senior advocacy through the League of Progressive Seniors.

Anthony "Tony" Rhodes: Philanthropy

In the early years of Milwaukee’s LGBTQ community, the need for a centralized financial strategy to support its growing number of organizations became apparent. Self-reliance in a time when LGBTQ causes were largely dismissed by mainstream entities was critical for community success and progress. Fund raising and managing donations to these various groups dedicated to the pursuit of equality demanded professional oversight. Anthony “Tony” Rhodes was among the early leaders of Cream City Foundation, the city’s LGBTQ philanthropic organization. Rhodes understood prioritized focus on that need. Rhodes tenure as CCF executive director from 1993 to 1998 represented an era of the great demand for funding due to the AIDS pandemic. Yet he managed and negotiated this incredible burden while still maintaining CCF’s support of the full spectrum of LGBTQ organizations and demographics including arts, athletics, advocacy for youth and seniors, parenting, education, social services and civil rights.

Sponsored by:

Northwestern Mutual Life

Lula Reams: Pioneer

Born in rural Tennessee, at age 10 Lula Reams moved with her sharecropper family to Racine, Wisconsin. Her realization of a feeling of difference came later, after she married. When she decided to embrace her difference, she had been married for 19 years. Reams volunteered at the Counseling Center of Milwaukee. That lead to “more learning,” as she would phrase it, “My exposure to lesbianism there was through support groups for women who were married and seeking a lesbian lifestyle.” It was then she conceived her brainchild, an organization known as “Lesbians of Color” (LOC). With co-founder Sarah Ford, Reams’ innovative idea would mark a historic moment. Founded in the mid-1980s, LOC would be Milwaukee’s first organization for lesbians not only of color, but inclusive of all. Reams would later serve on the Cream City Foundation board of directors.

Sponsored by:

Diverse and Resilient

In Memoriam:

  • Robert Uyvari: visual artist, illustrator 1970s
  • Herb Kohl - philanthropy
  • Father Mike Hammer – early AIDS activist
  • Ronald “Rona” Thate
  • Jamie Gay
  • Wayne (Wreck Room)
  • Roger Gremminger