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

Alyn W. Hess


March 31, 1989
Primary Involvements:

Early Gay activist





Alyn Hess was one of Milwaukee's earliest gay rights activists. He helped to bring about Milwaukee's Gay Rights Ordinance, which prohibits discrimination in employment, housing and public accomodations on the basis of sexual orientation, and worked to secure similar legislation at the state level.

Much of Alyn's work evolved around his involvement in Gay People's Union, which he helped to found and which he served over the years in various positions including president and chairperson of the board of directors. He helped to establish the GPU STD (Sexually Transmitted Diseases) Clinic, later known as the Brady East STD Clinic, and he established the GPU Hotline, both of which still operated for years after his death. He was active in organizing the Milwaukee AIDS Project; and well before the state's Gay Rights VBill was passed, worked closely with Wisconsin Civil Liberties Union as GPU and WCLU together took a job discrimination case all the way to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. He worked closely with Miriam Ben Shalom's discrimination case against the U.S. Army. We was one of the first men to join the Wisconsin Chapter of National Organization for Women (NOW), and was one of the founders of the local BWMT (Black and White Men Together) chapter, serving on that organization's national board.

Mr. Hess was active in politics and worked with many carefully selected candidates for office over the years, most recently prior to his death the Jesse Jackson for President campaign. Hess was one of the first persons in the Wisconsin gay liberation movement to come out of the closet, and he did many speaking engagements for the cause, appearing on radio and television when such actions were considered radical and daringly brave. His radio work included a weekly radio show called "Gay Perspectives", which was one of the earliest and longest running regularly scheduled gay-themed shows in the nation.

Alyn passed away in Glendale, Wisconsin due to AIDS-related complications on March 31, 1989. Funeral services were held at All Saints' (Episcopal) Cathedral on April 4, attended by the County Executive, several aldermen, the chief of police, and many other notables. Newly elected Mayor John Norquist issued a proclamation (only his 3rd since taking office). Burial took place the following day in Chapel Hill Cemetery, Freeport, Illinois.

    Double page spread in Wisconsin Light
    (Wis Light vol 2 issue 7)

    In Memoriam, Wisconsin Light, 1989
    (Wis Light vol 2 issue 7)

    The following 3 articles are based on an interview with Alyn Hess by Sue Burke on December 18, 1988, at St. Joseph's Hospital, where he was being treated for AIDS. Alyn died less than 4 months later.

    History part 1: How State's Gay Rights Law was Passed
    (Wis Light vol 2 issue 1)

    History part 2: Milwaukee Gays become Politically Active in 1970's
    (Wis Light vol 2 issue 2)

    History part 3: First gay Radio Program, Newspaper, Bars in Early 1970's
    (Wis Light vol 2 issue 3)


Additional info at his death
(Wis Light vol 2 issue 7)

Editorial at his death
(Wis Light vol 2 issue 7)

In Memoriam, InStep

InStep article: account of the funeral service

Credits: bulk of information from InStep articles;
Last updated: 23-October-2005.