When University of Wisconsin-Platteville alumnus Brett Timmerman first arrived at the university in August 2001, he was excited about beginning his college career. Despite his excitement, however, he also had some apprehension. First, he knew he was not a “straight-A” student, and he worried about not being successful academically. Second, based on painful experiences he had in the past, he worried about not being accepted for who he was, as he identified as gay.
He proceeded into uncertainty, never imagining that someday, he would become a successful realtor and political fundraiser.
Thanks to an outstanding education and supportive, caring professors and mentors throughout his tenure at UW-Platteville, Timmerman was able to find both acceptance and success. In May 2006, after five years of hard work and dedication to his studies, he earned a Bachelor of Science in business administration with an emphasis in sales and marketing from UW-Platteville.
After graduating from UW-Platteville, Timmerman sold yellow page advertising in Madison, Wisconsin, for one year. Following, he moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and worked as a waiter. After only one year, thanks to his work ethic and his background education in business, sales and marketing, he was promoted to manager. He spent the following five years in restaurant management.
At that point, Timmerman and his husband Patrick bought a home, and something very unexpected, and very positive, happened.
“The realtor who sold us the house, Gail Ganley, had noticed my personality and thought I would be suited to real estate,” said Timmerman. “She invited me to be her business partner, and we’ve been selling houses together for over five years now.”
As a realtor at Keller Williams Realty in Milwaukee, Timmerman represents buyers and sellers in what often is one of the biggest financial decisions they make. “I love being able to guide a client through the process and take the stress out of it,” he said. “I take pride in always being able to calm tensions and keep things on track. The best part about selling homes is checking in a bit later and hearing how much they love their space, seeing what they have done with it and, of course, the referrals.”
Growing up with constant bullying and harassment had left Timmerman feeling that he had to do something more for his community to protect other children who were like him. With his new job and his mental health restored, he now had time to give back, and he got to work right away. He and his husband started opening their home for different LGBTQ fundraisers, and he started making many new friends and connections.
“Community involvement is a pillar in my life,” said Timmerman. “Every day I volunteer, I see the difference it makes to others and it drives me to keep doing more. I know that my work inspires other people to get out there and help those in need, and that is another driving force. It also really proves that when you put good out into the world, it comes back.”
Timmerman’s volunteer work soon led him to think, “What more can I do?” and he turned his attention to politics.
“Tammy Baldwin was up for re-election and I could not bear the thought of her not being in the United States Senate to provide a voice to the entire U.S. Senate, as our only openly LGBTQ person at that level of government,” he said. “When I heard on National Public Radio that she was going to announce her re-election campaign, I immediately turned my car around, drove straight to the event where she was making the announcement and asked if I could host a fundraiser. We set the date and I went home and got to work writing a script with a three-part ask.”
Timmerman’s fundraiser was a huge success, raising $22,000. “I was blown away and so was the Baldwin campaign,” he said. “They asked me, ‘Who are all these people?’ and I replied, ‘These are my friends.’ They said, ‘When we raise this much money, we usually know everyone in the room, and we don’t know anyone here.’ It turns out I had brought all new people to the campaign, and from that party, two other people were inspired to host parties of their own.”
Timmerman’s work had clearly gotten noticed, and it wasn’t long before many politicians were asking him to host them. He said “yes” to everyone, and went on to host 20 parties, raising well over $100,000 in total.
In addition to hosting many parties, Timmerman knocked on doors, gave speeches and introduced Baldwin at different events. In 2018, Democrats swept the state, getting all five statewide offices. Timmerman had hosted a party for all but one of them.
“The end of the year gave me the proudest moment in my life when I was nominated Milwaukee County Democrat of the Year,” he said.
Today, Timmerman still sells real estate fulltime. He also volunteers fulltime for Tom Palzewicz, candidate for Wisconsin’s fifth congressional district. As the fundraising and volunteer coordinator for “Tom Palzewicz for Congress,” Timmerman is responsible for recruiting volunteers, training people how to host fundraisers, developing script guides, giving speeches and generating new, innovative ways to deliver messages.
“I love the challenge and freedom to go far outside the box,” he said. “This campaign is like nothing that’s been done before. The most rewarding part is the feeling that we are making history and will be giving Wisconsinites what an overwhelming majority of us want, universal background checks on gun purchases. I am 36 years old and represent the first generation of kids who grew up with the threat of gun violence in schools. Kids deserve to not be scared to go to school for any reason.”
Timmerman also volunteers at The Alliance School of Milwaukee, a small, charter school in the Milwaukee Public School system with a mission of anti-bullying and social justice, and at the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation of Wisconsin. He and his husband also host exchange students.
Timmerman said his education at UW-Platteville well prepared him for his future career, and it always challenged him to be creative in how he got things done.
“In politics and real estate, you always have to be quick thinking and be ready to pivot,” he said. “I remember more than one professor saying, ‘There are many ways to arrive at your answer.’ I always think of that when I’m faced with an obstacle.”
He noted that the university’s professors were critical to his success.
“I cannot say enough about the professors at UW-Platteville,” he said. “The class sizes were never large, and the professors always saw my struggle. Many of them were there to pick me up and offer support when I needed it, both with extra help on the material and the emotional support I needed to get through difficult times. Their availability outside of class was always fantastic, and I always felt they all wanted me to succeed.”
“The professors really get to know you and care for you in a way that just doesn't happen at larger universities,” he added. “It just makes everything easier when you feel like your professor cares, and it always made me feel like I needed to always do my best because I didn't want to disappoint them.”
Timmerman made a memorable impression on his professors too, including Dr. Mary Rose Williams, professor emeritus in the School of Business at UW-Platteville.
“Brett inspired fellow students in and outside of the classroom to be active participants in all aspects of their education,” said Williams. “He was a positive force in my world, as well. As a student in my classroom – and through his instigation, the faculty advisor for The Alliance – he helped me to be a better teacher and a strong advocate for the LGBTQ community. His indefatigable determination to excel in the face of social stigmatization led to his success at UW-Platteville. Clearly, that same energy is making him the kind of leader for social justice that is very much needed today.”
Timmerman said that, in addition to Williams, there are three things he will never forget about UW-Platteville: Dr. Elizabeth Gates, chair of the Department of Psychology; the Alliance; and the Black Student Union.
“Professor Gates is a force of nature,” said Timmerman. “She is the best thing UW-Platteville has. In so many ways, she saved me. She was there for me in very dark times, provided the guidance I needed and pointed me in the direction I needed to go in, all without knowing how much she was doing for me. The Alliance gave me the connections I needed to people who were going through the same things I was. The BSU members were always looking out for me, and I felt safer having them on campus and in the community; I will never forget the kindness that group showed me.”
“I will always remember Brett’s gregarious personality, sense of humor and caring nature,” said Gates. “I’m not at all surprised by his success, both in real estate and in politics. His activism is truly inspirational. Not only do we have to get out and vote, but if we are passionate about change, we need to also be involved in supporting and promoting candidates who share our values.”
Challenges, adversity serve as inspiration
Timmerman said the challenges and adversity he has faced, throughout his life, have impacted him greatly.
“It’s my entire identity,” he said. “I am a gay man married to a black immigrant. I am an advocate and a voice to those who have had theirs taken away from them. It has entirely impacted my life and now gives me purpose.”
The challenges have also given him deep empathy and understanding for those who face, or have faced, oppression.
“It is why I am a feminist,” he said. “It’s why I am so passionate about fighting racism in all forms. It’s why I will fight the fight until my last breath. No one should suffer, but if they do suffer, I intend to be visible to give them hope that it gets better. I feel like I was led down this road to give voice to those who have had theirs taken from them.”
Timmerman said he is inspired, each day, knowing that one person can make a difference.
“I am one person, and I hope that my work brings comfort and a feeling of safety to those who live every day without it,” he said. “I hope to inspire others to do all they can to be a voice to those who need it. Everyone needs a champion and being a champion to someone will inspire them to do the same for someone else someday.”