MILWAUKEE, WI – Kat Klawes had no choice but to fight for transgender rights as a teen growing up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
A young Klawes often fought for the world to believe one of her mothers is a transgender woman.
Klawes grew up knowing one of her mothers was trans, often fighting for the world to know it as well. But for years, she tells GLAAD, she had to pretend her mother didn’t exist, with adults in her life repeatedly telling her that she had fabricated the story of her mother and her mother’s transness.
Fast forward to present day, Klawes is taking back the narrative, owning her story and correcting the record. In January, she joined fellow Wisconisites and local LGBTQ activists at the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center in a gathering with local leaders convened by the GLAAD Media Institute. Like her, many of the LGBTQ advocates said that they struggle with access to LGBTQ community, extracurriculars, medical care, and basic needs in Wisconsin.
“We didn’t talk about trans people,” Klawes told GLAAD.
“I remember on the playground one day in second grade, I told one of my friends about my other mother. She then ran and told the teacher who came up to me and made me apologize for ‘lying.’”
This broke Klawes’ heart. She had lost access to her family in the ways many LGBTQ youth are today with “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” laws, history, sports, and book bans, and trans healthcare bans. “As a child, I looked to my local libraries for resources,” she shared. “In middle school I read the book Luna by Julie Anne Peters. It was the first time in my life that I didn’t feel alone.” She said the public library book helped her to “better understand her queerness” and her mother.
Last year, there were 3,362 school book bans nationwide, including 43 in Wisconsin, according to the nonprofit PEN America. While Wisconsin is not in legislative session in 2024, the state will have elections.
Voters know Wisconsin for its tight elections. In 2024 there will be elections for State Senate and State Assembly. The general election is on November 5. A primary is August 13, and the filing deadline is June 3.
“Wisconsin is quite rural,” said Alaina Landi, the communications and marketing director of the Milwaukee Gay Football Club. “Milwaukee and Madison, I’d say, are really safe havens for the LGBTQ community and most people with a marginalized identity.”
Landi is fighting to make community gatherings – in particular with a focus on sports. Already, 23 states have anti-trans sports bans, according to the Movement Advancement Project. Meanwhile, Wisconsin’s anti-LGBTQ politicians hope to be the twenty-fourth.
Back in October, the Wisconsin State Assembly passed “new restrictions on who can play sports” for public schools, private schools in the parental choice program, UW System schools and technical colleges.
“We’re going to veto every single one of them (the bills),” said pro-LGBTQ Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers in a hearing regarding the bills.
Nonetheless, the possibility of anti-LGBTQ laws passing alone has an impact on LGBTQ populations throughout the state.
Erik Czech-Swanson, founder of LGBT Waukesha, said he relates to the isolation Landi and Klawes discussed with GLAAD. The GLAAD Media institute alum drove about 40 minutes to meet with Wisconsin advocates.
Just west of Milwaukee, Waukesha County is quite rural, making it difficult for LGBTQ people to find each other to organize as a community.
“LGBT Waukesha was founded out of a need for more visibility for the LGBTQIA+ community in Waukesha County,” said Czech-Swanson. “Around me, still, we feel very disconnected in the community where I am at.”
With LGBT Waukesha, Czech-Swanson hopes to change that.
“As we head into the new year, be there for each other,” said Czech-Swanson. “There is so much going on specifically targeting LGBTQ youth and it’s been really disheartening for a lot of them to hear the [anti-LGBTQ] messages going around. It’s really important for us to make sure that they understand that they are welcome and that they have a future.”
With that said, Czech-Swanson says to “be a voice for yourself,” and to “check in on everyone; make sure you’ve got your safety in numbers.”
You can check your voter registration at GLAAD.org/vote.
More on the GLAAD Media Institute: Using the best practices, tools, and techniques we’ve perfected over the past 30 years, the GLAAD Media Institute turns education into armor for today’s culture war—transforming individuals into compelling storytellers, media-savvy navigators, and mighty ambassadors whose voices break through the noise and incite real change.