Best known as an early cross-dressing performer in Milwaukee, Jamie Gays opened the gay bar 'Jamies' in the early 1970s.
Jamie Gays (also known as Jaime Gays, legal name: Jaime Hernandez) was interviewed by Jamie Taylor in August 2009, along with his long time friend Josie Carter, on the patio at Triangle. That interview was submitted by Jamie Taylor as follows:
A gay man of Puerto Rican decent born in Lorain Ohio, his family moved to Milwaukee, where he attended public schools and graduated from South Division High School in 1964. During his adolescence he had to endure the social stigma of being gay and was often gay bashed during the day while at night sought after (by some of those same people) for sexual pleasure. Jamie lived life as an openly gay youth and chose not to hide in the closet like the vast majority of gay youth back then. I can’t imagine he knew way back then he was helping pave the way to the freedoms young gay people take for granted today.
Jamie started cross dressing in the mid to late 60's. "She" started performing at clubs like Castaways, The Factory, Neptune Bar, Bourbon Beat and Ball Game. In 1969, she was crowned Miss Castaways '69 – 70. (The picture I have of him winning is dated November '71 so I can't be sure of the dates Jamie gave me. It’s possible the picture was reproduced in '71.) The following year she won Miss Gay Milwaukee '70 – 71 and in 1976 Jamie was finally crowned Miss Gay Wisconsin.
I met Jamie in the mid 80's; the place I can't remember. He liked the 1100 Club while it was open and was once there when someone handed him a Zippo lighter with "Jamie" engraved on it. She told the guy it wasn't his but the guy said "keep it", he found it on the floor. I saw Jamie many weeks later and noticed his lighter. I said "I lost one just like that at 1100 Club". He said "Oh honey it must be yours, someone found it there" and gave it back to me.
At Gay Pride 2009, Jamie was awarded a Certificate of Appreciation by Latinos En Accion. It states;
(Originally born Jamie, he later changed the spelling of his name to Jaime. It is shown here in both ways.)
Jamie died on September 2, 2023. We posted the following on our Facebook page on Sept. 4 upon hearing the news:
We are sorry to hear about the passing of Jamie Hernandez, aka Jamie Gays, one of the most fabulous and most stunning queens to ever walk the stage.
Jamie was so many things to so many people across six decades. He challenged social norms of sexual and gender identity from a very early age. He was the first Miss Gay Milwaukee. He was the owner of a short-lived dance club (New Jamie's.) He was a famous club kid, hostess, and party promoter — in fact, he hosted the M&M Club opening in 1976. He was a longtime champion for LGBTQ Hispanic youth. He was a drag mother to dozens of emerging performers. He was a PrideFest Lifetime Achievement award winner. And so much more.
"Jamie and Josie weren’t part of the scene. They were the scene."
Despite our best efforts, Jamie declined interviews or accolades in his later years. We never had a chance to thank him for his role in changing Wisconsin history.
He was living history.
Credits: information from an interview of Jaime Gays by Jamie Taylor, August 2009;
Website concept, design and arrangement by Don Schwamb;
Last updated: September-2023.
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