The Fair Wisconsin Education Fund (FWEF) was formed in 2002 as a 501(c)(3) organization with a mission to educate the general public about the harms of discrimination toward LGBT individuals and build more inclusive communities and workplaces for LGBT Wisconsinites. FWEF employs education, movement capacity building, grassroots organizing, civic engagement, research, and legal challenge preparation to reach these goals.
In 2006, FWEF and Fair Wisconsin Inc. organized a massive effort and diverse coalition to fight Wisconsin’s constitutional amendment banning marriage equality and civil unions. We educated hundreds of thousands of citizens about the dangerous effects of the amendment, built a statewide sustainable grassroots infrastructure and developed relationships with key elected officials around the state. Unfortunately the amendment passed, but the foundation we built during the campaign in every community in the state left us in a strong position to accomplish our ultimate goal of equality for LGBT Wisconsinites.
In 2009, we built another coalition with our national and regional allies to protect domestic partners. Wisconsin became the first state in the Midwest to protect same-sex couples via legislation and made us the first state with an existing constitutional amendment banning both marriage equality and civil unions to enact domestic partnerships.
Fair Wisconsin, represented by Lambda Legal, became the sole intervening party in a lawsuit challenging the domestic partnership registry in 2010. Wisconsin Family Action and the Alliance Defense Fund asserted that the registry violated our state’s constitutional ban on marriage equality and civil unions. In June of 2011, the Dane County Circuit Court upheld the registry in a strong victory for fairness. Our opponents have appealed that decision, which was upheld in December 2012. A subsequent appeal was filed with the Wisconsin State Supreme Court, which accepted the case in June 2013.
During the 2011 Capitol protests in Madison, Fair Wisconsin was proud to be the first LGBT organization in the country to stand in solidarity with our union brothers and sisters. We gained national attention for our bold statement, appearing on MSNBC’s The Ed Schultz Show to discuss our involvement in the worker’s rights movement.
Since that time, Fair Wisconsin has played a critical role in advancing equality in local communities, including the passage of domestic partner benefits for gay and lesbian employees in Milwaukee County and the cities of Appleton, Racine, Manitowoc, Eau Claire, Kenosha, Janesville and Stevens Point. We were also able to support a successful bipartisan effort to protect an inclusive pupil nondiscrimination law from repeal in late 2011.
In January 2012, Fair Wisconsin Education Fund launched the Annual Wisconsin LGBT Leadership Conference, entitled “Connecting Leaders, Advancing the Movement. This new and innovative program seeks to build a more skilled and connected network of LGBT and allied activists across Wisconsin. For our inaugural event, we gathered over 150 leaders from across the state to join our keynote speaker and nationally recognized transgender activist, Chaz Bono. In 2013, FWEF formed a partnership with Diverse & Resilient to present this annual gathering, significantly increasing both the number and diversity of participants, with expanded programming. This partnership arose from the recognition by both organizations that we are engaged in similar efforts to advance LGBT equality through leadership development.
In 2013, Fair Wisconsin merged with another successful Wisconsin LGBT education and advocacy organization, Equality Wisconsin, a co-founder of the 2006 Fair Wisconsin campaign. Originally incorporated as Center Advocates in 2001, this organization included elements of the LGBT Alliance for Equality and the Human Rights League. The organization changed its name to Equality Wisconsin in 2009 to better reflect its mission. As part of this merger, the Equality Wisconsin Fund (formed in 2008), officially merged with Fair Wisconsin Education Fund.
Equality Wisconsin helped gay and lesbian couples gain access to family health insurance benefits and recognition through domestic partner initiatives at the City of Milwaukee (2001), Milwaukee Public Schools (2007-8), Milwaukee County (2011), and the City of Racine (2012). Equality Wisconsin won state resources to increase services to low-income and at risk LGBT people in the 18 counties in the Madison and Milwaukee metropolitan areas in 2007. The organization has helped train State of Wisconsin employees on gender identity, won protections for transgender and gender-non-conforming Milwaukee residents in 2007, and played a leading role in a statewide effort to add gender identity protections to Wisconsin law.
Building coalitions with both progressive allies and LGBT partner organizations is the cornerstone of Fair Wisconsin’s success. This approach demonstrates the depth and breadth of support that LGBT issues and equality now have in Wisconsin. All of our entities are active partners in multiple coalitions, making Fair Wisconsin uniquely positioned to represent the LGBT interests in the broader community.
Fair Wisconsin Education Fund is a member agency of Community Shares of Wisconsin and Community Shares of Greater Milwaukee. With a statewide board of directors and a full-time staff, Fair Wisconsin Education Fund is also the Badger state’s representative in the Equality Federation, the strategic partner to state-based organizations advancing equality for LGBT people in the communities we call home.