History of Gay and Lesbian Life in Milwaukee, Wisconsin - Organizations - Activist & Political

PrideFest Inc. (The parent organization of the Event)



Celebration of Pride
Political Activism


Read the entire history of Wisconsin Pride celebrations, or
View the Milwaukee Pride Celebration TimeLine.

This page is for the one-time Partent organization of Milwaukee's annual festival event known as "PrideFest". The PrideFest event has a parent organization that organizes and manages the event; there are separate pages for the three parent organizations that have managed PrideFest over the years: first Milwaukee Lesbian/Gay Pride Committee (MLGPC) (1988-1993, then PrideFest Inc. (1994-2017), and finally Milwaukee Pride, Inc. (2017-date).

The Gay Peoples Union/ GPU was the first organization in Milwaukee to host an event that had “Pride” appeal, with over 350 people attending the GPU Ball in 1974. Other dances and parties were hosted in the years that followed, including marches and street festivals as early as 1981.

After the March on Washington in 1987, a full-blown and formal Pride Movement took hold in Milwaukee. The first official Pride event in Milwaukee was organized in 1988 by the new Milwaukee Lesbian/Gay Pride Committee (MLGPC), complete with a softball tournament, ball, town hall meeting with elected officials and film festival. (View a more complete history of Pride celebations in Milwaukee and Wisconsin here.)

Late in 1993, the original MLGPC was dissolved, and this new parent organization, PrideFest Inc., was incorporated.

During PrideFest Inc.'s existence, the PrideFest festival evolved greatly. Having outgrown the Juneau Park area, the new PrideFest event was moved to Veterans Park, featuring exhibits, several stages for entertainment, craftspeople and vendors, multiple food outlets and a full two days of activity. This was repeated for PrideFest ‘95 with the addition of the “Light Up the Sky with Pride” fireworks show. By this time, approximately 10,000 people were attending.

The biggest accomplishment made by PrideFest Inc. was to move the festival to the Henry W. Maier Festival Park (also known by many as "the Summerfest grounds"), the best festival facility in the U.S. With permanent stages complete with professional lighting, paved grounds, food buildings, vendor pavilion and support of the staff from Milwaukee World Festivals Inc, the managing body of the park, PrideFest joined 13 other festivals that used the park for their events. In fact, PrideFest had the distinctive honor in 1996, and several years since, of kicking off the Festival season at the "Summerfest Grounds" and for Milwaukee, which has become known as the City of Festivals.

Over the years, the PrideFest Inc. organization received great community support. The input of many supporters and sponsors, and the financial backing of major corporations such as Miller Brewing Company, the Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel, the Cream City Foundation and many, many more businesses-- some gay-owned, others gay-friendly. The events were supported by hundreds of other individuals who provide both donations and volunteer time.

The story of Pridefest Inc. has not been one of all successes however. After Pridefest 2003, the organization nearly went bankrupt as a result of poor decisions by the board and management (although problems were often blamed on poor weather early in June). The PrideFest Inc. board was disolved, and Cream City Foundation stepped in to restore public confidence and guide the organization and event back to success. CCF reconstituted a board and tried to begin anew, although community criticism continued due to the fact many of the past organization's key individuals still held important roles in the "new" group. Within a few years however the debt was paid off, and the annual PrideFest continued on solid footing.

During PrideFest Inc.'s tenure as parent organization, the annual event grew from about 12,000 in 1993, to more than 33,000 in 2016.

(See the individual PrideFest yearly pages, linked from the PrideFest timeline, for more specific writeups of activities, successes and failures in each individual year.)

In 2017, the Board of Directors of PrideFest Inc. decided to rebrand the parent organization to better reflect the goal of making LGBT Pride celebrations more of a year-round effort, in addition to just running the 3- or 4-day annual 'PrideFest' festival event. The new organization was called Milwaukee Pride Inc.. That organization however is seen by many as having become less responsive to the greater LGBT community, becoming a self-electing board, failing to make public regular financial reports or even hold independent audits, and considering its Board minutes as 'proprietary' and unavailable for other LGBT community leaders to review. Failure to hold any PrideFest events in either 2020 (due to the global COVID-19 pandemic) or 2021 (as other evnts were reopening) further raises questions in the community as to whether Milwaukee Pride Inc. has the right structure or leadership.

Despite the current concerns about the parent organization, we are of course hopeful that Milwaukee's signature Pride festival can return in 2022, and that its current parent organization, Milwaukee Pride Inc., can work through its issues and once more beccome responsive to the community as a whole.


Pride Celebration button (unknown year)

PrideGuide 1990

PrideGuide 1995

Credits: web site concept, design and arrangement by Don Schwamb,
with materials contributed prior to 2008 by PrideFest and Ted Berg.
Last updated: June-2021.

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