Michael Hanson, affectionately dubbed "mother" by those who knew him, became a recognizable face in the La Crosse, Wisconsin LGBTQ community throughout the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. He was out, open, and supported community activities, being one of the few leaders that helped to bring together the many gay and lesbian cliques in town who were divided by social class.
Hanson opened and operated at least three 'gay' bars in La Crosse. In 1966, La Crosse's gays and lesbians became more visible to non-queers thanks to the first gay bar, "Michael's" which operated until 1969 on Third Street South, between King Street and Jay Street. It was a mixed lesbian and gay bar and was a godsend for community members who would otherwise have to travel to the Twin Cities or Madison.
Hanson next opened "The Red Lion" on 120 Third Street, which he operated from 1970 to 1976 and primarily attracted working-class women and college students. (Hanson then sold the property to two other gay men, who kept it a gay and lesbian bar from 1976 to 1981- however nothing is known of that bar.)
Hanson invested in a third property, "Mother's", which he ran from 1978 until 1982. "Mother's" was a small but popular joint, and on Saturday nights its dance floor accommodated sweaty crowds of nearly 100 who danced to disco music. It was located on 223 Pearl Street, around the corner from "The Red Lion."
As of late 2021, Hanson is believed to still be alive, and living in a retirement home in the Madison area.
Credits: All information contributed by Victor M. Marcia-Gonzalez
(Professor of History, UW-La Crosse).
Web site concept, contents, design and arrangement by Don Schwamb.
Last updated: October-2021.
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