Dan Fons was an activist and (with Michael Lisowski) from 1992 to 1996 was co-producer and co-host of "The Queer Program", a live cable access LGBT program in Milwaukee. Dan Fons and his younger brother Christopher Fons were key members of ACT UP Milwaukee and Queer Nation, two groups known for their aggressive, confrontational styles of gay and AIDS advocacy. (Christopher succumbed to AIDS in 1995.)
Dan Fons' life in Milwaukee (prior to moving to San Francisco in 1996) is best described in an article written by 'In Step' writer Jamakaya for that newspaper in October 1996. That article reads as follows:
"Queer Program" Co-Host and Veteran Activist Dan Fons Moves to San Francisco
Milwaukee- Dan Fons, one of Milwaukee's most visible gay activists for the past seven years as a leader of Queer Nation and co-host of the public access cable show "The Queer Program," moved to San Francisco in late September. In Step interviewed Fons just a few days before he left town, asking him about his many activities and accomplishments here as well as his future plans.
"Let me just answer the three questions everybody's asking me right off the bat," Fons said when contacted by ln Step. "No, I don't have a job there. No, I don't really have a place to live, and no, I'm not moving because of a man."
After a few chuckles, Fans described his motivation.
"I've always lived in Milwaukee. I was born here, was raised mostly in Cudahy and have spent most of my adult years in the city. But I don't really want to spend my whole life in Milwaukee," said the 33-year-old Fons. "I stayed here the last few years and helped my brother through his illness. I'm not in a relationship right now and it seemed like a good time to start my life anew."
Fons referred to his younger brother Christopher, an outspoken AIDS activist who succumbed to the disease in 1995. The Fons brothers were key members of ACT UP Milwaukee and Queer Nation, two groups known for their aggressive, confrontational styles of gay and AIDS advocacy.
"I can't be the only 'Big Fag' in Milwaukee anymore," Fons said. "In San Francisco, I'll be just one of many people. I'm sort of curious to see how that will affect me and my attitudes and involvement."
Fons says he is most proud of his work with ACT UP and Queer Nation, "working with my brother and others in this city, demonstrating how simple it is to get our issues into the mainstream press."
FONS' RAP SHEET
During his years of activism, Fans was arrested six times: for handing out condoms to prom-goers at his alma mater, Marquettc High School; in Madison for protesting the State Department of Corrections' neglect of prisoners with HIV/AIDS; in Kenosha at the opening of a Cracker Barrel restaurant; in Atlanta at an AIDS protest outside the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; at a speech given by President Bush's Secretary of Health and Human Services Louis Sullivan at Bruce Hall; and, perhaps most notably, when he interrupted Mayor John Norquist's 1992 "State of the City" speech just days after Norquist had vetoed city funds for the Gay Pride Festival.
Fons recalls: "Norquist was standing in front of all these people making a speech, saying how Milwaukee is such an `inclusive' community. He mentioned race and ethnicity and then sexual orientation. This was just days after he vetoed funds for the Pride celebration! I walked right in front of the podium and yelled, 'How can you talk about sexual orientation?' considering how he her abandoned our community."
Fons was arrested, along with his co-conspirator Patrick Flaherty (who was apprehended before he could heckle), and they spent several hours in a holding cell. The charges were dropped when the city attorney didn't show up in court. (All other charges were eventually dropped as well.)
"Norquist has really gotten a free ride from the gay and lesbian groups in this city," Fons says. "They've repeatedly endorsed him and worked for his campaign and gotten nothing in return. He actually stabbed us in the back."
Fons then expressed his views about the inadequacies of Milwaukee's gay organizations. "I think all the gay political groups here are way too timid and afaid to take on any one issue and really follow through. And I say this having watched their development and activities for years. I have never seen the Lambda Rights Network [now defunct], the Human Rights League or the Lesbian Alliance identify any one issue and really demand action."
"Simply judging the politicians at election time and encouraging the queer community to vote Democratic is not a useful function and doesn't justify their yearlong existence," Fons asserted. "Politicians respond to real hard pressure, to threats- not to coffee klatches."
Fons says that one thing ACT UP and Queer Nation have proved over the years is how easy it is to raise issues and get publicity. "It doesn't take a big organization, hundreds of members and a huge bank account to get attention. Anyone can do it."
"Look at the recent demo against Sen. Kohl. [Wisconsin's Democratic Senator voted in support of the Defense of Marriage Act.] Me and Patrick Flaheny spent $10 and maybe an hour sending out press releases. More than 25 people showed up at the Reuss Plaza. It was covered by all the TV stations, and the Shepherd Express followed up with a cover story about Kohl."
Fons says he sees the protest against Kohl and the subsequent media coverage about Kohl's sexual orientation as a "turning point" in the local debate about "outing" public officials. It's an issue he's been pushing for the past four years on the weekly "Queer Program" along with co-host Michael Lisowski. They have routinely mentioned the names of politicians who are perceived to be gay as a "public service" to viewers, reporting on their election victories or defeats and how they have voted on issues of concern to the gay community.
"I've always held that identifying a person as gay is not slander or 'mudslinging.' However determined some of these people are to stay in the closet, our community has a right to know whether they are representing our interests."
Over the years, Fons and Lisowski conducted dozens of interviews with movers and shakers in the gay community, courted controversy on many gay and lesbian issues and fielded hundreds of phone calls from "Queer Program" viewers.
Fons says he's most gratifled with his TV work when he receives notes, like the one he got recently, from a longtime viewer who said the program has helped him deal with his sexuality and made it easier to come out. "To know that we've been there for people and helped them out, that feels pretty good."
Although Fans is best known as a front line gay activist and TV host, he's also won kudos for his professional worklife.
"Dan Fans is an outstanding individual, one of the hardest workers I'vc ever seen and one of the best federal grant writers I've ever met," says Doug Nelson of the AIDS Resource Center of wisconsin. "Dan is almost singlehandedly responsible for securing millions of dollars for AIDS programs and services in Wlsconsin. His moving is a big loss to us but a huge gain for whoever is lucky enough to hire him."
While Fons has often been a thorn in the side to politicians Like Mayor Norquist and to leaders of more "establishment" oriented gay groups, several leaders agreed with Doug Nelson's assessment that "the integrity of his advocacy has never been compromised" and that his leaving is a "big loss" to Milwaukee's gay and lesbian community. "If anything, I hope my leaving will encourage others to come forward and organize," Fons said. "There is still so much to be done."
As of 2023, Dan Fons is believed to still be living in the San Francisco area, working as a senior administrative assistant and case worker at a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that uses the tools of law and policy to advance health equity. He also had previously worked as a grant writer, legal associate in a consumer law practice, and a staff attorney at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
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