I’m getting close to finished with the 11 canvasses for “Portrait of Milwaukee Progress” – commissioned by MATC. This piece, like the others, is still in draft status but will be completed in time for the opening exhibition in August of 2021. Eldon Murray made an enormous positive impact on the LGBTQ community in Milwaukee and across the US. Unlike many other gay people who lived during the time, his position in life allowed him to be open about who he was. From this place of safety, he was able to devote his life to helping others who were not as lucky. For this piece I focused on a photo of him from later in his life in the foreground and in the background depicted a Gay Pride Parade day in Milwaukee. In the midground I have layered in a portrait from when he was young and in the service on the right, and also an image of Eldon Murray dressed in drag (on the far left).
Eldon Eugene Murray, 1930-2007
Eldon Eugene Murray was proud to be a leader in the gay rights movement nationally and in Milwaukee. He grew up in born Vincennes, Indiana, moved to Chicago at 18 to start a career in finance and later served in Korean war. In 1955 he relocated to Milwaukee, and that’s when he was able to really advance his career and became a successful stockbroker. Eldon has said that the Stonewall riots of 1969 were a turning point for him. “I was 39 years old and established in business,” he says. “My clients didn’t care as long as I made money for them. I could stand up and be openly Gay when few people could.” Thus started his lifelong advocacy for gay rights and liberation. He was the host of the one of the first regularly broadcast gay radio programs, called “Gay Perspectives” in the early 1970s, helped establish the Brady Street Clinic and was an adviser in the early days of the Milwaukee AIDS Project, and he was involved in the Gay Liberation Front at a time when gay people never used their real names. He was one of the founders of the Gay People’s Union, the first major gay liberation organization in Milwaukee. In the 1980s, when AIDS hit Milwaukee, Eldon Murray wrote Murray wrote the grants for what would become the Milwaukee AIDS Project, known later as the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin, which is still going strong today. In 1994, he founded SAGE Milwaukee (Senior Action in a Gay Environment), which was Wisconsin’s first organization devoted to issues surrounding aging in the community. Mr Murray received numerous awards and recognition for his efforts in the gay community both locally and nationally. His ability to stand up and be openly gay launched a remarkable string of projects that established a legacy still felt today. His integrity resonates and will live on in the countless lives he embraced. “All through history it has been those whose views and lives have been unorthodox who have had the most profound effect on their time. The world has relied on the genius of the individual, even when eccentric or deviant, to lead the way, but then it has said ‘Look at him. He’s just like me.’ Until recently, Black heroes were omitted from the history books, their accomplishments being ignored entirely. Blacks are busy putting [themselves] back into the pages of history. We must do the same thing … We must remove the whitewash carefully so that the true picture will emerge and gays both historic and modern can take their rightful place.” (Eldon E. Murray, GPU News, March 1973)
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