‘The Queer Program’ with Michael Lisowski
What is your history of LGBTQ community service?
I founded Gay Youth Milwaukee, a support group for gay and lesbian youth, in 1979 when I was a grad student in social work at UW-Milwaukee. We met on the third floor of the Union in a library area; the librarian had a gay son. This was before the Internet, before emails. From 1996-1999, we ran the Gay Youth Wisconsin Hotline, a peer hotline for kids to talk and get referrals. I started volunteering for Pridefest in 1993 and was a co-director from 1996-2003.
And “The Queer Program?”
It grew from a monthly show, “Tri-Cable Tonight,” an idea of Mark Behar's that we founded with Bryce Clark in 1987. It was the first gay and lesbian cable TV show to win the national Hometown Video Award. When the Dahmer thing happened in 1991, there was so much misinformation in the community. You'd see some kid sitting in a car alone and not know if maybe he was a victim. I said, boy, if we could get a TV show on every week, people could call in to learn what was really happening. In 1992, MATA said they wanted to start weekly shows. Dan Fons and I did three pilots. The show began after the Dahmer trials ended in November.
What’s the program’s focus?
To heighten the visibility of our Milwaukee LGBT communities—we're not one big group. To connect people and to answer questions. During the week, I go through the papers. When I see something interesting, I add it to the pile of topics and announcements for that week. We take phone calls. Often there’s a guest.
Jason Burns of Equality Wisconsin. We talk about marriage equality, about domestic partnership issues. James Causey talked about his Journal-Sentinel column in which he sometimes writes about LBGT people as disenfranchised. It’s important to have young people on. They have to be over 18. I might have two or three at a time—have them introduce the show, train them to operate the controls, do the camera work, so they can do their own shows eventually. I made one show into a memorial for my friend Jason Whiteside, a kid who got shot and killed last summer. I’ll answer letters from people around the country, some of them in prison, asking for information.
I don't get paid. There's no board, no staff. MATA provides studios, lights and equipment. It costs $200 a year for the organizational fee. Where else can you do a TV show for that? You do it because it needs to be done. My core values are to give of yourself and to be aware of people who have less than you.
“The Queer Program” airs Mondays from 6:30-7:30 p.m. on Channel 14 and is available online at milwaukeecommunitymedia.com.