Fair Wisconsin is one of the state’s most respected advocacy groups and has a proud history in political action, education, grassroots organizing, and outreach in the cause of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) equality.
Founded in 1994, Fair Wisconsin, Inc. is a 501(c)(4) organization with a mission to protect and advance the civil rights of LGBT people through electoral involvement and direct legislative advocacy. In 2007, Fair Wisconsin PAC, a political action committee, was launched with the purpose of electing pro-fairness individuals at the state and local level.
In 2006, Fair Wisconsin organized a massive effort and diverse coalition to fight Wisconsin’s constitutional amendment banning marriage equality and civil unions. We educated hundreds of thousands of citizens about the dangerous effects of the amendment, built a statewide sustainable grassroots infrastructure and developed relationships with key elected officials around the state. Unfortunately the amendment passed, but the foundation we built during the campaign in every community in the state left us in a strong position to accomplish our ultimate goal of equality for LGBT Wisconsinites.
Following the amendment campaign, Fair Wisconsin launched the Fair Wisconsin Political Action Committee (PAC) in 2007. The PAC is committed to advancing and achieving equality for LGBT Wisconsinites through strategic electoral activity, by working to elect pro-fairness individuals in local, state and federal races in Wisconsin. In 2010, Fair Wisconsin PAC joined forces with Wisconsin Progress and the Human Rights League PAC to form the first LGBT Conduit in Wisconsin. The conduit is a tool that allows LGBT and allied individuals to maximize the impact of their political giving in a strategic way that helps advance LGBT Wisconsinites towards full equality. Later that year, Fair Wisconsin PAC and the Human Rights League PAC joined forces to create one statewide LGBT political action committee.
In 2009, we built another coalition with our national and regional allies to protect domestic partners. Wisconsin became the first state in the Midwest to protect same-sex couples via legislation and made us the first state with an existing constitutional amendment banning both marriage equality and civil unions to enact domestic partnerships.
Fair Wisconsin, represented by Lambda Legal, became the sole intervening party in a lawsuit challenging the domestic partnership registry in 2010. Wisconsin Family Action and the Alliance Defense Fund asserted that the registry violated our state’s constitutional ban on marriage equality and civil unions. In June of 2011, the Dane County Circuit Court upheld the registry in a strong victory for fairness. Our opponents have appealed that decision, which was upheld in December 2012. A subsequent appeal was filed with the Wisconsin State Supreme Court, which accepted the case in June 2013.
During the 2011 Capitol protests in Madison, Fair Wisconsin was proud to be the first LGBT organization in the country to stand in solidarity with our union brothers and sisters. We gained national attention for our bold statement, appearing on MSNBC’s The Ed Schultz Show to discuss our involvement in the worker’s rights movement.
Since that time, Fair Wisconsin has played a critical role in advancing equality in local communities, including the passage of domestic partner benefits for gay and lesbian employees in Milwaukee County and the cities of Appleton, Racine, Manitowoc, Eau Claire, Kenosha, Janesville and Stevens Point. We were also able to support a successful bipartisan effort to protect an inclusive pupil nondiscrimination law from repeal in late 2011.
In 2013, Fair Wisconsin merged with another successful Wisconsin LGBT education and advocacy organization, Equality Wisconsin, a co-founder of the 2006 Fair Wisconsin campaign. Originally incorporated as Center Advocates in 2001, this organization included elements of the LGBT Alliance for Equality and the Human Rights League. The organization changed its name to Equality Wisconsin in 2009 to better reflect its mission.
Equality Wisconsin helped gay and lesbian couples gain access to family health insurance benefits and recognition through domestic partner initiatives at the City of Milwaukee (2001), Milwaukee Public Schools (2007-8), Milwaukee County (2011), and the City of Racine (2012). Equality Wisconsin won state resources to increase services to low-income and at risk LGBT people in the 18 counties in the Madison and Milwaukee metropolitan areas in 2007. The organization has helped train State of Wisconsin employees on gender identity, won protections for transgender and gender-non-conforming Milwaukee residents in 2007, and played a leading role in a statewide effort to add gender identity protections to Wisconsin law.
Building coalitions with both progressive allies and LGBT partner organizations is the cornerstone of Fair Wisconsin’s success. This approach demonstrates the depth and breadth of support that LGBT issues and equality now have in Wisconsin. All of our entities are active partners in multiple coalitions, making Fair Wisconsin uniquely positioned to represent the LGBT interests in the broader community.
With a statewide board of directors and a full-time staff, Fair Wisconsin represents the Badger state in the Equality Federation, the national alliance of state-based LGBT advocacy organizations, and is a proud member of Community Shares of Greater Milwaukee and Community Shares of Wisconsin.