The Civil Servant

Over the past two decades, Steve Starkey has built a professional career in community service. In 2006 he began using that experience to steer OutReach as it’s Executive Director.

From co-op member to publishing Wisconsin’s first statewide gay and lesbian newspaper to sitting on nonprofit boards and running OutReach – Madison’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender center – Steve Starkey has maintained involvement in Madison’s activist and nonprofit world since attending Madison Memorial High School during the Vietnam War.

Steve got involved in activist causes in 1981, the year that he graduated from Madison Area Technical College with a degree in commercial art. It was also in 1981 that Starkey came out. At that time, the Madison queer community was small and isolated. Most were closeted, and few gay organizations existed. “I had a couple of friends who wanted to create community and get information out,” says Steve. They founded Wisconsin’s first gay newspaper, OUT!, without any money. For five years, funded by donations, grants, and community shares, the OUT! staff distributed 10,000 free copies throughout the state through a network of volunteers.

The OUT! staff collectively burned out in 1987. Fortuitously,
Steve had begun working for Wisconsin Community Fund (WCF), which gives grant money to grassroots organizations. “I was attracted to the idea of wealthy urbanites working with farmers,” says Steve, who ended up working at WCF for 20 years as its fund administrator and then, in 1994, as the executive director.

While working at WCF, Steve continued to work on LGBT issues. He explains that gay issues are what he’s most passionate about, because although much progress has been made, the LGBT community is in worse health and has a higher suicide rate than the rest of the population. “It’s about building culture,” says Steve. “Providing alternatives to the bars, other social opportunities. And it’s about working on political rights, like the protection laws in the 1980s and [Wisconsin’s Marriage Protection] Amendment in 2006.”

GALVAnize – Gay and Lesbian Visibility Alliance – put on its first pride marches in 1989 and 1991. Steve and other community members resurrected the organization between 1994 and 1998. After 1998, the leadership burned out and the organization morphed into Madison Pride.

Starkey joined OutReach as its executive director in 2006. “OutReach was the most successful LGBT organization in town, but it struggled to be sustainable. I thought that I could help,” says Steve.

For Steve, the most challenging part of working in the nonprofit sector is func­tion­ing on a shoestring budget. He says that it is a challenge to figure out what the most important programs are and what will be the most effective. “A nonprofit is like a small business, and there is a lot of competition [for grants and donations] in Dane County,” he says. He also finds working with people a challenge, but Steve credits his easygoing personality for success with his staff and the board members. “I’m a Gemini, so a communicator… on the unflappable side.”

OutReach serves many needs in Madison’s queer community, including support groups, library, community space, and a speaker’s bureau. More than 75 volunteers run OutReach. If anyone is interested in working with the LGBT community, OutReach offers several volunteer opportunities. It also provides a referral service to other nonprofits that could use assistance. “It’s important to volunteer with something that you’re passionate about,” says Steve.

Steve points to the sacredness of his weekend as the secret to balance in his life. He enjoys gardening with his partner at their home and playing with their two dogs. They also own two horses that are boarded in the country. “I enjoy being out in the country and focusing on their care,” says Steve.