Rainbow over the Northwoods
First LGBT Pride event, community group organized
BY EILEEN PERSIKE
Nearly 50 years after the Stonewall uprising in New York, an event considered the beginning of the LGBT movement in America, the first Pride event was held in Wisconsin’s Northwoods. The Nicolet College Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender student organization, the Rainbow Hodags, had been seeing membership numbers increasing over its four-year existence and members said it was time to expand.
“One of the group’s goals was to see a LGBT group formed in the community,” said Rainbow Hodags secretary Don Schindhelm. “We scheduled a meeting and then lo and behold another group, called the Northwoods Progressives, came to the meeting and said they wanted to help.”
And that’s how the Northwoods Pride Pride picnic, which took place in Arbor Vitae June 1,
came to be. Schindhelm said turnout was “great,” with more than 60 people in attendance.
“There were many happy faces,” Schindhelm reported, “including a number of young LGBT people that came up and spoke at the open mic about how elated they were to see the crowd of allies that attended, saying they never thought they would see such an event in northern Wisconsin.”
Allies, he said, are an important part of the LGBT rights movement, and have been a turning point for many of the gay groups, where it’s “gone beyond just being a gay rights sort of thing to a community effort.”
Schindhelm grew up in Appleton and retired to Rhinelander about a year ago, after spending his working life on the East Coast. He began attending classes at Nicolet College and noticed there was a campus LGBT club and immediately joined. He said there is great value in having a community of support.
“I didn’t come out until later in life,” said Schindhelm. “I was able to find a community group (in Maryland) and they were instrumental in helping me talk to other people. I didn’t feel alone anymore. There’s a lot to be said for just being able to talk it out with somebody else.
“It was the first step for me and then I was able to come out to my family, and so on. It starts with coming out to yourself and then sharing with other people.”
Statistically, Schindhelm said there are probably 3,000 people who identify as LGBT in the Nicolet College district. The new community-based LGBT group, Schindhelm said, will be a peer-to-peer support group, offering Northwoods residents information and education and, he hopes, a similar experience that he had when he was struggling with his sexuality.
“I actually didn’t want (to be gay),” said Schindhelm. “I tried to get rid of it; even went to psychiatrists and asked for shock therapy – I heard that worked. That’s the level of disinformation and ignorance there is about human sexuality.”
The group, which is yet to be named, will meet at 6:30 p.m. the second Wednesday of the month at the Minocqua Public Library community room.