History of Gay and Lesbian Life in Milwaukee, Wisconsin - People - Bios

David E. Clarenbach


Sept. 26, 1953
Primary Involvements:

Passage of historic 1982 Wisconsin Gay Rights measure



In 1982, then Wisconsin State Rep. David Clarenbach along with Milwaukee gay activist Leon Rouse and others were widely credited with helping push through the first law in the country which prohibited discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation. It was a landmark achievement for Wisconsin and the nation. Clarenbach and Rouse were regarded as the two most important figures in that historic drive for equal rights in Wisconsin.

David E. Clarenbach was born September 26, 1953 in St. Louis, Missouri, the son of National Organization for Women co-founder Kathryn F. Clarenbach. He was educated in Madison public schools, and studied politics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison from 1971 to 1976.

He was elected to the Dane County Board of Supervisors in 1972, at age 18. In 1974, he was elected a Madison alderman, before being elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly that same year at the age of 21.

In 1981, David worked with Leon Rouse and others to have Wisconsin's Gay Rights bill, known as AB70 (Assembly Bill 70), passed by first the State Assembly, and then the State Senate. Despite a last ditch effort to have the bill vetoed, it was signed into law by Governor Lee Dreyfus in February 1982. Thus Wisconsin became the first state in the nation to make discrimination by sexual preference law. This is the single achievement that makes David's name well known throughout within the state's LGBT population.

Clarenbach eventually served nine terms in the Wisconsin State Assembly. He represented the 78th Assembly District in Madison from 1975 to 1993 as a Democrat. In 1983 he was elected Speaker pro tempore of the Assembly. His legislative papers are on deposit with the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Clarenbach did not seek re-election in 1992 but ran for Congress in Wisconsin's 2nd congressional district. In the Democratic primary election held on September 8, Clarenbach faced Ada E. Deer and lost with 31,961 votes (40.1%) to Deer's 47,777 (59.9%). Deer went on to lose to incumbent Republican Scott L. Klug in the general election.

He was succeeded in the assembly by Tammy Baldwin, who ran as the first openly gay legislative candidate in Wisconsin history. After three terms, Baldwin vacated the seat to mount a successful bid for Congress in 1998 and was succeeded by Mark Pocan who, like Clarenbach and Baldwin, is gay and is a former member of the Dane County Board of Supervisors. Pocan remains in that position through 2010.

Clarenbach is now openly gay, although he was not open during his political career in Madison. He told a reporter in 2001, "It was a different era. There were no openly gay elected officials... Even in the liberal stronghold of Madison, it would have done more than raise eyebrows. It would’ve hampered a person’s electability. Yet I think it’s safe to say that every member of the Legislature and every member of the Capitol press corps knew I was gay.... The general consensus was not to intrude into one’s personal life." He served as a mentor for fellow gay Assemblyman Tim Carpenter of Milwaukee.

Clarenbach served as executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund from 1996 to 1997. He now works as a political consultant and lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

Photo of the signing of AB70 into law by Governor Lee Dreyfus, February 1982
Left to right: Leon Rouse, Governor Dreyfus, David Clarenbach

David Clarenbach (right) with ARCW director Doug Nelson,
at PrideFest, June 1991

David Clarenbach (right) with In Step publisher Ron Geiman

David Clarenbach (left) with Tim Carpenter at a 1990 auction
to benefit the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin

David Clarenbach in late 2011 or early 2012
(photo courtesy Andrea Rottmann)

Credits: bulk of information from Wikipedia.
Website design and format by Don Schwamb.
Last updated: April-2012.