R. Richard Wagner is a scholar and activist, and was the first openly gay member of the Dane County Board of Supervisors, where he served for fourteen years. In 1983 he was appointed by Governor Tony Earl to co-chair the Governor’s Council on Lesbian and Gay Issues, the first in the nation. In 2005 he joined the board of Fair Wisconsin to fight the constitutional amendment against marriage equality. Wagner has served on the Wisconsin Arts Board, the Wisconsin Humanities Committee, the board of Downtown Madison Inc., the Madison Plan Commission, the Madison Urban Design Commission, the Madison Landmarks Commission, Historic Madison, the Madison Trust for Historic Preservation, the board of the Olbrich Botanical Gardens and the board of the Friends of UW Libraries.
For nearly two decades after World War II, leaders at the University of Wisconsin-Madison systematically outed gay students to their families, extended harsh punishments for suspected homosexual activity and participated in harmful attempts at psychiatric treatment.