Eldon Murray was a prominent activist in the Milwaukee LGBT community. In addition to his work with the Gay Peoples Union (GPU) and the Milwaukee AIDS Project, Murray was the founder of SAGE/Milwaukee, the first organization in Wisconsin dedicated to serving the needs of older gay, lesbian, and bisexual people through community building and counseling services. The digital collection includes selections from the Eldon Murray Papers, including an extensive series of newspaper clippings from the 1940s to the 1970s, photographs, fiction and nonfiction writings, activist organization records, and a handful of publications. Together, these primary sources provide a window into the gay liberation movement, the fight against HIV/AIDS, and the development of gay rights efforts in Milwaukee.
About the Eldon Murray Papers Digital Collection
Eldon Murray was born on March 1st, 1930 in Vincennes, Indiana. After graduating from Lincoln High School in 1948, Murray moved to the Chicago area, working several jobs and briefly attending Northwestern University. He joined the Army in 1951, working his way up as a forward artillery officer and touring in Korea. Letters from his time in training and out on deployment indicate that Murray had several romantic relationships with other men, and that he was ‘out’ to at least a few of his friends. After leaving the Army, Murray moved back to Chicago and began his career as a stockbroker, which he continued until his retirement in 2000. It was in Chicago that Murray got his first taste of gay culture and nightlife in the city. He hosted several parties for his gay friends, building community and fostering relationships that he would sustain throughout his life. Murray moved to Milwaukee in the late 1950s.
In the fall of 1970, Murray attended meetings of the Gay Liberation Organization (GLO) at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM), one of the first student organizations for the LGBT community. It was in this group that Murray was introduced to activism and civil disobedience, meeting several other Midwestern activists who would become close friends and organizers of the national gay rights movement, including Donna Utke, Alyn Hess, and Lou Sullivan. GLO-UWM’s success was noteworthy, as many universities avoided openly permitting LGBT student organizations at that time. In early 1971, GLO-UWM reorganized itself as the Gay Peoples Union (GPU) and emphasized its identity as a resource for the entire local community, expanding its network and influence. Murray edited the organization’s newsletter, GPU News, from 1971 to 1981, and participated in the production of Gay Perspective, a half-hour radio program broadcast locally from 1971 to 1972. These avenues brought LGBT discourse to popular culture, dispelling myths about the community and asserting their personhood in the pursuit of social justice.
Following the first reported cases of HIV/AIDS in Wisconsin in the early 1980s, Murray was instrumental in raising funds for the Milwaukee AIDS Project, which provided assistance to the large gay male population in Milwaukee. Led by the Brady East STD Clinic, the project was later reorganized as the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin (ARCW) to assist people with HIV/AIDS throughout the state. Organizations like the ARCW were extremely important to the LGBT community during this crisis as the federal government stigmatized and ignored the issue. In December 1993, Murray founded SAGE/Milwaukee, the first organization in Wisconsin dedicated to serving the needs of older gays, lesbians, and bisexuals through community building and counseling services. He served as the board chair for ten years and represented SAGE/Milwaukee on an advisory board to the Commissioners of the Milwaukee County Department on Aging. He also received local and national awards for his work with the LGBT community. Murray passed away on March 5, 2007, just a few days after his 77th birthday.
The digital collection includes selections from the Eldon Murray Papers, including an extensive series of newspaper clippings from the 1940s to the 1970s, photographs, fiction and nonfiction writings, records from SAGE/Milwaukee and other organizations, a drag show review, and a signed presentation copy of Lou Sullivan’s ground-breaking Information for the Female-to-Male Crossdresser and Transsexual. In the interest of protecting third-party privacy, the UWM Archives chose not to include personal correspondence in the digital collection. The newspaper clipping images are redacted to respect copyright, but their full text can still be searched. In order to view materials not included in the digital collection, or to view the materials unaltered, contact the UWM Archives.
-Julia Anderson, UWM Archives graduate intern (2018)