“We Will Always Be Here” exhibit represents unheard voices

Queer history comes to UW-Eau Claire’s campus

Delia Brandel

More stories from Delia Brandel

Cinephiles
December 12, 2023
The+poster+for+the+new+exhibit.

Photo by UWEC

The poster for the new exhibit.

The Wisconsin Historical Societies touring exhibition titled “We Will Always Be Here” is currently residing in UW-Eau Claire’s own McIntyre Library

The exhibit features writings and artifacts representing the battle and celebration of LGBTQ people in Wisconsin. 

More specifically, this exhibit has the stories of several agents of activism and change — with art and writing to represent them all. 

Jazzmyne a student at UW-Eau Claire spoke about what the event means to the queer students on campus, and how important the history of all kinds of people is to portray. 

“Being able to let people, mainly cisgender and heterosexual people, know that queerness has been found everywhere and has always been a thing, almost brings a normalizing factor to queerness,” Jazzmyne said. 

The exhibit had its first opening on campus during the Fire Ball drag show last week, which celebrated the queer community in Eau Claire. 

The exhibit is located on the first floor of the library and will be there until March 17. Alongside the writings are posters, buttons and other memorabilia from historically LGBTQ events in Wisconsin history. 

Lilliana LaValle, a librarian for the McIntyre Library on campus, spoke about the significance of the exhibit and the people it highlights. 

“We don’t necessarily think that ‘oh there’s a large trans community or something like that here in Wisconsin’ and yet there are people here living their lives,” said LaValle. 

The exhibit’s name comes from a book written by Jenny Kalvaitis and Kristen Whitson, “We Will Always Be Here: A Guide to Exploring and Understanding the History of LGBTQ+ Activism in Wisconsin.”

According to the Wisconsin Historical Society, “This inspiring and educational book presents examples of LGBTQ+ activism throughout Wisconsin’s history for young people to explore and discuss.” 

It features untold stories of Wisconsin LGBTQ activists with love letters, journal entries, advertisements and zines and more sources found within the book and exhibit.

The book also features an online educational guide, which educates on the topics mentioned in the book and exhibit, along with offering questions that can spark conversations among those interested.

This resource could be used to integrate this book and its subsequent exhibit into 6-12 grade classrooms, as recommended by the Historical Society 

This type of addition to original history teachings allows for queer history to be taught alongside other sides of Wisconsin’s past. 

“The idea is to normalize and bring these stories out from lesser known corners of Wisconsin history,” said LaValle. “Putting these stories out and having people talk about them as a part of their everyday experiences is a good way to show that.”

Published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press, this book can be purchased for $15 on their website. One hundred percent of the proceeds from purchases on their website go back to the Historical Society.

Similarly is the archival publishings “ We’ve Been Here All Along: Wisconsin’s Early Gay History,” and “Coming Out Moving Forward: Wisconsin’s Gay History,” both also published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press. 

LaValle said, “As the title says, they will always be here so it’s good to highlight that fact.”

Delia can be reached at [email protected].