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Stu Levitan welcomes back to Madison BookBeat R. Richard (Dick) Wagner, to continue the conversation about his new book, Coming Out, Moving Forward: Wisconsin’s Recent Gay History. It’s the companion volume to his award- winning book We’ve Been Here All Along: Wisconsin’s Early Gay History. Both are from our good friends at the Wisconsin Historical Society Press. Dick was Stu’s guest for that book in May and the new book about a month ago. You can find both those conversations here on the WORT website.
In this age when same-gender marriage is a constitutional right, and an out gay man can be a serious candidate for President, it may be hard for some of our younger listeners to believe that there was a time, not too long ago, when Wisconsin criminalized what consenting adults did in the privacy of their own bedroom, and employers could fire someone just because they were gay.
How the LGBT community overturned a century and a half of oppressive legislation and made American gay history is the business that occupies Dick Wagner in Coming Out, Moving Forward, along with an in-depth analysis of Wisconsin’s response to AIDS, gay life and culture, heroes and villains of the fight for gay rights, and so much more.
There is no one more qualified or appropriate to write this groundbreaking history of recent gay life in Wisconsin than Dick Wagner, who was a leading player in several of these stories as co-chair of the Governor’s Council on Lesbian and Gay Issues and the first openly gay chair of a county board in Wisconsin.
Dick came to Madison as a graduate student in history in 1965, getting his doctorate in 1971. In 1972, Gov. Pat Lucey named him executive director of the American Revolution Bicentennial Commission. After Lucey resigned in the summer of 1977 to become Ambassador to Mexico, Dick ran the executive residence for Gov. Martin Schreiber until January 1979, when he joined the Department of Administration as a budget analyst. Dick retired from state service in 2005.
In addition to co-chairing the Governor’s Council and serving on the Dane County Board from 1980-1994 – including four years as chair – Dick’s record of state and local public service is extensive. In recognition not just of his service but the way he served, Dick was named the first recipient of the city of Madison’s Jeffrey Clay Erlanger Civility in Public Discourse Award, in 2007. Not sure if it figured in the award, but Dick is also the man who single-handedly saved the Mazomanie nude beach. Although I’m not sure he ever went.
And on a personal note – As Stu said when Dick was his guest in May, “I had the pleasure of serving with him on the Dane County Board from 1982-1987, and there is no one whose intelligence, integrity and decency I respect more. It is a pleasure to welcome back to Madison BookBeat my friend, Dick Wagner.”