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Reflecting On The Tenth Anniversary Of The Milwaukee Transgender Oral History Project

Courtesy of Brice D. Smith and Loree Cook-Daniels
Researcher Brice D. Smith (pictured right) and Loree Cook-Daniels of FORGE (pictured left).

Ten years ago, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee launched the Milwaukee Transgender Oral History Projectto record the personal stories of transgender Milwaukeeans. It filled a significant gap in the historical record about the experiences of trans people in Milwaukee from the 1960s to 2010s.

Brice D. Smith, who has a doctorate in history, was the primary researcher for the project. He is also the author of Lou Sullivan: Daring To Be a Man Among Men, a book about the Milwaukee trans activist.

As the researcher for the Milwaukee Transgender Oral History Project, Smith says, "My primary goal was to provide a record of Milwaukee’s trans history in the voices of those who had made it and allowing these remarkable people to basically speak for themselves."

Loree Cook-Daniels is the policy and program director at FORGE and they were interviewed by Smith for the project. In their interview with Smith, Cook-Daniels spoke about their experience as a then lesbian whose first partner had transitioned.

In reflecting on the project, Cook-Daniels says, "I now identify as transgender. ... When I came [to Milwaukee], I was adamant that [FORGE] was going to serve the whole trans community, including the SOFFAs (Significant Others, Friends, Family and Allies)."

Smith hopes that those listening to the project come away "with an appreciation of history and a sense of pride, whether it's pride in our trans history or pride in our Milwaukee history."

Cook-Daniels hopes that the archive will build hope. "It's really important for people to understand that we've won and lost before," they say. "There should be hope for people who look at history and realize that not only have we made a lot of changes, but we've come back when we've had setbacks."

While UWM is no longer conducting interviews for the project, they are accepting unique materials from individuals or organizations that document social action in support of underrepresented population groups in Milwaukee. The collections can be comprised of letters and correspondence, photographs or other materials. For any questions, visit the UWM Libraries website.

Mallory Cheng was a Lake Effect producer from 2021 to 2023.
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