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Second season of 'Be Seen' podcast brings more Wisconsin LGBTQ history, traditions to light

Milwaukee based media personality, Bobby Rivers (left) with American comedian Robin Williams (right).
Photo courtesy of Nathan Imig
Milwaukee based media personality, Bobby Rivers (left) with American comedian Robin Williams (right).

Last May, Radio Milwaukee launched Be Seen — a podcast made in partnership with the Wisconsin LGBTQ History Project that explores significant queer milestones, events and people in Wisconsin's LGBTQ history.

The first season had seven episodes that explored topics from the story of Josie Carter to Wisconsin's longest-running gay bar. But with the wealth of local history collected by the Wisconsin LGBTQ History Project, that was scratching the surface, and Be Seen is back for an eight-episode second season. It's once again co-hosted by Michail Takach of the Wisconsin LGBTQ History Project and Nate Imig of Radio Milwaukee.

The second season of Be Seen emphasizes the role of traditions in the LGBTQ community, such as Milwaukee’s gay softball league and the pride parade, while also highlighting individuals like national broadcaster Bobby Rivers.

"Traditions are what makes a culture, and the LGBTQ+ community in Milwaukee and around the country has for decades and generations had traditions that bring people together, that connect people in different ways, that help people find community," says Imig. "It's just really fascinating to think about not only history, but how that impacted culture."

He adds that being able to continue this project is incredibly rewarding, both in continuing the partnership with the Wisconsin LGBTQ History Project and being able to explore more stories to share with the wider public.

"It was really, I think, a perfect partnership because the [Wisconsin LGBTQ] History Project brought so much of their own research and primary sources ... and then we were able to bring kind of the radio element ... and really build on that research that the History Project has so carefully curated for almost 30 years."

The deeper dive into historical aspects of notable people, places and events will allow the project to build on its wide distribution from its inaugural season. When season one was made available on the NPR Mobile app, some members of the Be Seen team mostly expected the content to appeal to Wisconsin audiences. But a staggering 86% of the streamed listeners were out-of-state listeners.

Takach notes that the podcast gives lift and weight to existing research while simultaneously making these LGBTQ+ stories relatable to all audiences. "We often think that it's enough just to have all this content out there and all this history available for people. But in our modern world, it really isn't," he explains. "We need to have package-able, portable, accessible content that people can consume where they are instead of having to go get it."

Article from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel covering Donna Burkett (right) and her partner Manonia Evans as they sought the first same sex marriage license in Milwaukee County.
Nathan Imig
Article from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel covering Donna Burkett (right) and her partner Manonia Evans as they sought the first same sex marriage license in Milwaukee County.

"Although these are local stories that were amplifying and elevating to extend their reach, there's really national value to some of these stories because many of them cover first-ever incidents that happened in either Milwaukee or Wisconsin, which kind of blows people's minds," Takach adds. "[People] think of the coasts as where [the gay rights movement] started — New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles. They don't think of Milwaukee as even being on that map. When Milwaukee actually wrote that map."

Season two highlights historical fixtures like Pride Week, which began in Milwaukee in 1970. Another highlighted topic this season is the Old Timers Party, which for decades was a safe space for queer women to gather. The party took place shortly after New Year's, started at a predominantly lesbian bar, and annually grew to a gathering of around 500 until the Covid-19 Pandemic derailed the gathering. Furthermore, the season highlights Donna Burkett, who, along with her partner, were the first couple to seek a same-sex marriage license in Milwaukee County as well as the Milwaukee-based Bobby Rivers, who broke down barriers in media as a queer TV, radio and media personality.

"Last season was really more of a 'History 101,' and what we take it to in this season is really the extension of that to the now. What rituals were built, what organizations were formed, what access points for the community were created and how have those survived in a world that's increasingly mainstreaming LGBTQ people and culture?," says Takach. "So for us it's really a matter of truly making sure this history can be seen and be respected for what it is and for our local people to have a voice that maybe they haven't always had throughout their lifetime."

Season two of Be Seen is available now wherever you get your podcasts with new episodes released every Tuesday through June 27, with two bonus episodes dropping after Pride Month is over.


Audrey is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
Rob is All Things Considered Host and Digital Producer.
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