Ten years ago this month, Our Lives magazine was born in Madison. The brainchild of Publisher Patrick Farabaugh, the very first issue was very much a labor of love. It’s no easy thing to a launch a new print publication in the age of the Internet, but the Madison community quickly stepped up to offer invaluable support, input, and the vibrant color that makes the magazine what it is. We’ve since been proud and grateful to expand our reach somewhat more statewide, too, and as we look forward to the neverending work of becoming more representative of Wisconsin’s diverse LGBTQIA+ community, we take a moment to look back at where we’ve come from.
In a quest to put down roots and build sustainable community, Patrick founded the Madison Gay Hockey Association—and it was that organization that played a critical role in the beginning of the magazine, too. It’s why we featured the first “What Gay Hockey Means to Me” essay contest winner in that issue, and why we’re happy to continue to do so each year.
We were also humbled to feature a piece by much-beloved community rock, Felicia Melton-Smyth, who talked about her experiences as a transgender woman of color and as a community caregiver during the AIDS crisis. Her work was centered in the LGBTQ bar communities that were, especially then, so central to the scene.
In a bit of heart-wrenching foresight, Felicia hand delivered a letter to Patrick two weeks after he finished writing her feature in which she included instructions for its publication and her self-written obituary in the event that she should die before it went to print. We had to publish it in our first anniversary issue, after Felicia was murdered while on vacation just under a year later.
Kay Heggestad wrote on the significance of the PFLAG community, and we included one of the first of what would become our regular columns, Our Issues, as a way to help us deal with emotional stresses (that first column was written by Dale Decker).
Our cover story featured Bob Bowers, a longtime HIV+ activist whose work centered on finding ways to turn the diagnosis into positive action and living for those impacted by the disease. We also included as an emotionally powerful, raw, and surprisingly mature reflection on being recently diagnosed with HIV by a young man by the name of Dustin Smith. We were honored to feature the coming out story of Zachariah Strong, a transgender man of color—one of (if not the) first times that particular voice and lived experience was represented in the magazine.
Our first issue to (somewhat unintentionally) hew to a Health & Wellness theme, our cover story featured the folks who brought the Asana Softball Tournament to Madison—possibly the biggest queer national event brought to the city. Kathy Flores and Ann Kendzierski wrote about dealing with Kathy’s multiple sclerosis diagnosis and a legal system that didn’t allow hospital visitation or medical decision-making rights for same-sex partners. Kathy and Ann testified in Fair Wisconsin’s case pushing to secure domestic partnership rights and motivated many of their neighbors to donate to the cause. Brian Powers took a personal look back at 50 years of LGBTQ rights, setbacks, and victories with a unique narrative flair.
the Then City of Madison’s Director of the Department of Civil Rights, Lucia Nuñes wrote in her cover story about her work and came out as a survivor of pancreatic cancer, and how that influenced her decision to work toward establishing genetic identity as a protected class. We talked to Henry Sanders on his run for Lt. Governor, and to attorney Lester Pines (of Pines Bach) about his decision to represent Bill McConkey pro bono in his lawsuit against the state that aimed to undo marriage inequality. The case was eventually thrown out by the Wisconsin State Supreme Court for a lack of standing to bring the case, since Bill was not LGBTQ-identified.
Our Organizers piece profiled the folks behind Wisconsin Capitol Pride, which attempted to fill the gap left by the demise of Madison Pride the year prior. Historian Dick Wagner profiled “gay boulevardier” Ted Pierce, a Madison cultural fixture and fashion plate who also served as executive messenger to five governors, among other fascinating details. This was the first year that Kraft flew the rainbow flag for Pride over their corporate headquarters, representing one of the first major companies in the area to do so.
We mourned the loss of two much-loved community members with obituaries for both Nikki Baumblatt and Harry Straits, personal blows to many and also to OutReach, where both worked. Though he’d been out to most of the people in his life, Craig Samitt, president and CEO of Dean Health System, came out publicly in his feature for the magazine, wherein he also reflected on his life and work. We introduced the Madison community to the work of Milwaukee’s Diverse & Resilient via its then-executive director, Gary Hollander.
Health and wellness must involve a whole body and mind approach, so we were happy to feature Mare Chapman on the cover, talking about mindfulness and mental health. Septimiu Teodorescu (of Septi Fitness) wrote about his experience immigrating to the United States and pursuing his own version of the American Dream—and how working for a traveling circus initially brought him here! Our Taste column was our first real look at Michael Dix, owner of Michael’s Frozen Custard, who would later go on to write a powerful cover narrative in a future issue.
Triathlete Colleen Capper graced this cover and reflected on her athletic journey, including becoming second in world for her age group in the famous Ironman Triathlon. Having just joined the magazine staff earlier that same year, Emily Mills wrote a detailed piece on the state of LGBTQ health care and disparities, including the alarming statistic that only 30% of gay men were out to their primary care physicians—a number that remains largely unchanged to date. Cathy Noth wrote about her time playing volleyball with Team USA in the 1988 Olympics, struggling to reconcile her identity with a homophobic culture, overcoming alcoholism, and going on to become a coach.
Dick Wagner wrote about two-spirit people and their history in Wisconsin’s native tribes, a subject and voice that we still recognize the magazine largely lacks (we are always looking for like-identified folks to write about this perspective!). Pride in Healthcare, an LGBTQ+ affinity group within the U.W.’s medical school, rolled out their LGBTQ “friendliness” toolkit/guide for physicians. We also introduced Rep. Mark Pocan as regular columnist, and continue to be grateful to have that direct connection to our representative in the U.S. Congress right here in the magazine.
The big news that month was the establishment of marriage equality in Wisconsin. News broke from Judge Barbara Crabb’s ruling very late in our publication schedule but thanks to many helping hands we were able to include lots of content about the win, including information about the legal implications, personal reflections, a timeline of the legal fight, a list of the first couples to legally wed in Dane County, and more.
Alex Hanna wrote about her experience playing roller derby and how that community helped her embrace being transgender, supported her transition, and rekindled a love for physical activity lost after toxic masculinity and homophobia drove her away from high school wrestling. Alex now plays for Toronto’s all-star roller derby team! Vered “Gypsy” Melzter became the first trans person elected to office in Wisconsin (as an alder in Appleton), Linda Ketchum addressed the Race to Equity Report through a queer lens, and OutReach took over the Pride parade, which they’ve successfully run ever since.
We delved into the world of gay football player Dalton Ray, who came out while playing for Edgerton High School. AIDS Network announced its merger with ARCW, which we took a closer look at in this issue. Margaret Kucera wrote a deeply personal story about growing up athletic and closeted, and the struggles she faced and discrimination endured as a star basketball player. Brian Juchems of GSAFE wrote a powerful and honest Intersections piece on “Getting Past Good,” about how good people can and still do harbor biases, and how we all might approach the self-
reflection needed to work past them.
Another late-breaking piece of news dramatically altered our plans for the issue, only this time it was for heartbreaking reasons. The massacre at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando took the lives of 49 people—mostly LGBTQ and Latinx, and left the entire queer community reeling. Diego Campoverde, Alex Hanna, William Frahm-Gilles, and John Smallwood shared reflections on the tragedy and its impact on their lives and the wider community. We took a reader poll asking for people’s first gay bar experiences and received an outpouring of memories of places that served as crucial lifelines and safe spaces for many —a concept that felt deeply violated in the wake of the shooting.
Karma Chavez penned a piece on resisting the attempts to divide and pit marginalized communities against one another, as well as calling out media erasure of the (LGBTQ and Latinx) identities of those who were killed in Orlando. It’s an issue and point that feels all-too relevant even today.
Here we are, 10 years later. It feels a bit like the Little Magazine That Could. In the face of both a difficult publishing economy and a society still ambivalent at best and actively antagonistic at worst to LGBTQ media and people, Our Lives continues to grow each year. Why? Because of you. None of what our small staff does would be possible without the incredible support of our community—whether that’s through the businesses who advertise with us, the people who share their stories and expertise in our pages, our readers, and so on. From the bottoms of our hearts, thank you. We will continue to do this work for as long as we can, because holding space for LGBTQ+ voices and experiences from a wide array of backgrounds and perspectives is still so crucial to helping our community not just survive, but thrive.
In this issue, we are incredibly excited and grateful to include the first-ever Queer People of Color Pride List (#QPOCPride), compiled and reported by stalwart freelance reporter Amber Walker. We’re thrilled to feature people both known and new to the magazine’s pages, and we hope our readers will learn much from them and their unique experiences. This is just the first run at the idea, and we hope to only expand the reach of the list in the future, including support for events where the folks featured can meet and network. Centering and lifting up the voices and leadership of people of color absolutely must be a priority both here at Our Lives and in the greater LGBTQ+ community.
There’s a whole lot more good content in this issue, but instead of continuing to summarize it here, we hope you’ll keep turning the pages to read on. Share the issue with a friend. Encourage someone you know to sign up for our (free!) subscriptions. Reach out to share your own stories and recommendations. Let’s keep up this work, together, for another 10+ years.