Honoring local heroes: Denise Cawley

One of the first people I met when I moved to Wisconsin was the smiley, bubbly Denise Cawley. As I have come to know Denise better as a mother, friend and businesswomen, I have come to believe she is more than a community leader. She is more of a community superhero.

Denise’s story, like many of ours, began with a challenging journey to acceptance. Through this journey, Denise found her voice. Since then, she’s spent a great deal of time making sure that others like her have a safe place to be themselves.

Denise was part of the original group that formed the Milwaukee’s LGBT Community Center. Last year, when the center came upon difficult times, she again stepped forward. She has been a critical contributor to the center’s stabilization and resurgence.

“Denise has been instrumental in the revitalization of the center by generously using her expertise in branding, social media and messaging to ensure the community was aware of and a part of the center’s resurgence,” said the center’s board co-president Paul Williams. “Frankly, we could not be successful in reconnecting the community to the center without the countless hours she is putting into the effort.”

Some of you may also have seen Denise’s visionary work in the successful roll out of the Cream City Foundation’s recent rebranding efforts and logo redesign. “Denise holds so much institutional knowledge in our community and has been at the forefront of solutions to many issues not only in our community, but in all of civil society in Milwaukee,” said foundation president and CEO Paul Fairchild. “She is a delight to work with, and is a woman who gets things done.”

One of Denise’s proudest titles is “mom.” When she isn’t working for the community, Denise can be found at home with her partner Anne and their 6-year-old son Aidan. Recently my husband and I spent the weekend with Denise and her family in the Wisconsin Dells as part of Wisconsin’s Rainbow Families group. During the weekend I learned that Denise and Anne have been a model same-sex-headed family, working with the media to show that LGBT families are in most ways like any other – except maybe just a little more fabulous.

Denise was also instrumental in Equality Wisconsin’s successful “Be OUTspoken” campaign to get out the vote. As the talent behind Circore Creative and Pizzazz Studios, Denise helped develop the campaign strategy and directed the social media. With her help, the campaign won national praise and recognition for thinking outside of the box.

For all that Denise has done, and will continue to do, Wisconsin’s LGBT community owes her a debt of gratitude. Please join me in thanking her for boldly standing up, speaking out, and creating positive change in Wisconsin.