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History of PRIDE in Madison

OutReach LGBT Community Center may be the current organization that organizes PRIDE in Madison, but the history of PRIDE goes back even further.

The Pride march and Rally were originally organized by the now defunct GALVAnize organization, an LGBT group; The MAGIC Picnic was started by the late Rodney Scheel who owned and operated the Hotel Washington complex of night clubs (which included the establishments The Club DeWash, The New Bar, Rods, The Barbers Closet, etc.), which the community lost in a tragic fire in 1996. The picnic was traditionally held on the third weekend of July although that has been shifted in some years to avoid conflicts with other regional gay events, such as the Gay Games in 2006 when the picnic was held on the second weekend of July. The picnic was traditionally held at Brittingham Park at the junction of Park Street and West Washington Avenue in Madison.

The acronym MAGIC stands for Madison Area Gay Interim Committee and was also formed partially in response to Anita Bryant's anti-gay campaign of the late 1970s/early 1980s. The MAGIC picnic was also closely associated with the local and national gay volleyball league which usually held a tournament in Madison on the same weekend as the MAGIC picnic.

On October 11, 1987, Madison residents Pam Jacobson and Tim O'Brien were separately attending the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, greatly inspired by the presence of the more than 500,000 people assembled on the national Mall. Upon returning to Madison, Jacobson explored the possibility of organizing a local march, and began searching for others to help organize the event. At the same time, O'Brien was also discussing the idea of organizing a march. Mutual friends connected O'Brien and Jacobsen, and their meeting resulted in the formation of the Madison Pride March Committee.

It was during the first committee meeting that the name GALVAnize (Gay and Lesbian Visibility Alliance) was selected. During GALVAnize's existence as a group, its goal was to increase awareness about the number of lesbians, gays, and bisexuals in Madison, to work for their civil rights, and to form coalitions with other minority groups in Madison.

GALVAnize held two major marches for Gay and Lesbian Civil Rights in Madison. The first was held on May 6, 1989. The second major march occurred 2½ years later on October 5, 1991. Official attendance estimates for the first march averaged about 7500 people, and about 5000 people at the second march, on a scale roughly comparable to the number of people attending many of the record-setting Madison civil rights and anti-war related marches of the 1960s. Both of these marches were accompanied by several days of associated events, including concerts and workshops, and an exhibition of a major portion of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. Both events were coordinated by a central committee of approximately twenty members that met weekly or twice weekly over a period of many months, and at least a dozen standing and ad hoc committees. Everything was made possible due to the individual contributions of hundreds of volunteers, many volunteering labor equivalent to part-time or even full-time jobs.

The events served as a catalyst for dozens of positive stories about LGBT people in the local media, and an opportunity to highlight the very visible presence of dozens of LGBT-supportive communities of faith. The marches also featured the very visible support of local government officials, and a wide variety of community nonprofits and for-profit businesses, and formed the foundation for coalition-building efforts in years to come with other groups working for civil rights and social justice. In addition, the accompanying workshops were an incubator for new organizations addressing the needs of a changing community, including a workshop that laid the groundwork for the 200 plus families-strong Lesbian Parents Network and other subsequent parenting groups (such as Rainbow Families), as well as galvanizing LGBT community efforts around support of LGBT youth and associated advocacy efforts in the schools, and efforts to reach out to older LGBT adults, and other diverse LGBT communities. In a city and county that had already seen more than a decade of multiple pioneering successful openly lesbian and gay candidates for local office, the marches also had a marked positive political effect, including boosting efforts at the level of Madison Council and Dane County Board to pass legislation providing some measure of domestic partner benefits. In general, the successful organizing efforts that surrounded these initial marches also provided a positive example of what greater Madison's LGBT community members could accomplish working together—laying the groundwork for the political mobilization and coalition-building work that would eventually lead to the election, from Madison, of the nation's first openly lesbian Congresswoman.

The first march's rally featured a variety of distinguished speakers, including Madison Alderperson Ricardo Gonzalez (the nation's first openly gay Latino-American elected official), State Rep. David Clarenbach (principal author of Wisconsin's 1982 first-in-the-nation LGBT rights law), and then Dane County Supervisor Tammy Baldwin. Baldwin would later make state history in 1992 as Wisconsin's first openly lesbian/gay member of the state legislature, and then national history in 1998 as the first successful non-incumbent openly gay or lesbian candidate for the U.S. Congress. The second march's rally included a keynote speech by Urvashi Vaid, then director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

While each of these major marches in 1989 and 1991 was judged to be extremely successful by most measures, the human and financial resources necessary to continue to produce an ongoing series of events on this scale proved to be prohibitive (which also explains, in part, why the second major march occurred over 2 years after the first).


LGBT community leaders believed that an annual event, planned on a more manageable scale, and in collaboration with groups producing longstanding existing LGBT-focused summer events, such as the MAGIC Picnic, would be more sustainable and desirable. While many Pride celebrations nationwide occur during the last weekend in June, in order to coincide with the annual observance of the anniversary of the historic Stonewall Rebellion, Madison organizers decided not to compete with popular celebrations occurring nearby in Chicago and Minneapolis/St. Paul on that same weekend, and decided to hold Madison's pride celebration several weeks later.

Following that, the March evolved into a more traditional pride parade and was consolidated into the Pride Weekend in 2002. Pride Weekend traditionally consisted of the Madison LGBT community center OutReach's annual dinner on Friday (in which community leaders and allies receive recognition for their work), University of Wisconsin–Madison GLBT Alumni breakfast on Saturday or Sunday morning (which also includes a ceremony recognizing distinguished LGBT alumni), the MAGIC picnic on Saturday afternoon, followed by the Pride Parade on Sunday morning and a repeat of the picnic on Sunday afternoon.

2008 saw the end of the Madison Pride and MAGIC Picnic organization and a new one, Wisconsin Capitol Pride rose in its place for a few years.

Madison's 2009 celebration, then called "Wisconsin Capitol Pride," was on Saturday, August 15th and Sunday, August 16th, 2009. In what was the 20th anniversary year of PRIDE in Madison, the WCP's Pride committee honored the contributions of the founders of Madison's first major march in 1989 (described above), by asking them to serve as parade marshals. 2009's PRIDE was held  on the grounds of the Alliant Energy Center, just off of John Nolen Drive at the Beltline. 2013 saw the end of this organization.

In late 2013, OutReach LGBT Community Center gathered together with other LGBT Social Groups and Businesses in Madison, WI to help the PRIDE celebration once more become a strong event for the community. On August 10, 2014, the very first OutReach Pride Parade made its way down Willimason St, up to the Capitol Square and culminating in a rally and music. The event once more took shape in 2015 on August 9, 2015, this time returning the PRIDE parade route to State St in Madison. The Pride parade returned on August 21, 2016 and again on August 20th, 2017. The last OutReach Pride Parade took place on August 19th, 2018.

In 2019, OutReach is committed to the ever growing needs and responses to the community to rebuild pride as a more inclusive event. 

OutReach is focused on making a festival more diverse and inclusive of all our various communities. Live music, games, food carts, vendors, and more will be part of it. We hope to heal the divides in the community and that we can come together and start to build new relationships, build trust, and unity. In turn a fesitval will take place, partly named from the past MAGIC picnic events: The OutReach Magic Festival took place Sunday, August 18th, 2019 at Warner Park,

Other PRIDE events that happen during PRIDE weekend are the Madison Pride Volleyball Tournament, WOOF's Pride Block Party (held on King St), and FIVE Annual Pride Weekend Events. A music festival for LGBTQ+ entertainment, FRUIT FEST, was created in 2009 and took place in June but has since stopped organizing as of 2018. LIVE on QUEEN Street and Vilas Zoo Pride are two recently created events that also happen in June.

*Taken from Wikipedia and other sources.


Produced by John L. Quinlan, first Published May 6, 1989:  Footage of the May 6, 1989 March for Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Rights* sponsored by the Gay and Lesbian Visibility Alliance (GALVAnize) in Madison, Wisconsin, where over 8000 people listened to rally speeches then paraded down State Street to Langdon Street en route to James Madison Park.  At the time, it was the largest civil right-related gathering in Wisconsin's capital since the 1960s.  Video footage shot and edited by David K. Runyon for the WYOU cable program, "Nothing To Hide."  Mr. Runyon passed away in 2001 from a heart attack at age 69.  This footage is part of more than 800 hours of his programs archived in the Memorial Library of the University  of Wisconsin-Madison. Note: the T for transgender in LGBT was added in later years, in retrospect, a significant and unfortunate omission. (Original descirption by John L. Quinlan)

Produced by Youtube user, washingtonhotelvids: Footage of the MAGIC Picnic, 1988

Produced by Youtube user, washingtonhotelvids: Footage of the MAGIC Picnic, 1985

Old MAGIC Picnic Ads and Prides Past: From the archives of the In Step magazine

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