Gay Museum Opens Doors in San Francisco
The GLBT History Museum--the world’s second museum dedicated solely to gay history and gay culture--opened its doors in San Francisco’s Castro district on Jan. 12, local newspaper the San Francisco Chronicle reported that same day.
"Our letters were burned, our names blotted out, our books censored, our love declared unspeakable, our very existence denied," reads a quote from a Gay History Project flyer from 1979 that is emblazoned on one of the museum’s walls.
The museum seeks to counteract that attempted erasure of all things gay from the cultural memory. The Chronicle reported that among other items housed in the new facility were some of Harvey Milk’s possessions (including a pair of pink sunglasses), as well as documents and other paraphernalia.
The museum has relied so far on donations and volunteer efforts, and will continue to do so. The local community felt that it was important to have a museum dedicated to GLBT culture and history. Said Steve Porter, manager of nearby Harvey’s restaurant, "Harvey would want us to [support the museum]. Because he would recognize how important it is for younger gays to be aware of the legacy of their struggle and the future."
Preserving that legacy is a task that other institutions may not be fully prepared to undertake. The Chronicle noted that last month, a privately funded exhibition at the Smithsonian, "Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture," generated controversy when religious conservatives took offense at 15 seconds of video included in a larger exhibit. The video clip, the work of late gay artist David Wojnarowicz, showed ants crawling on a crucifix. Religious conservatives charged that the work was anti-Christian; art historians compared the video clip to works from a tradition of bloody, often disturbing, depictions of Christ’s passion. The Smithsonian quickly capitulated and excised the so-called "Ant Christ" video from its exhibit, but religious conservatives and congressional leaders of the newly ascendant GOP made noises about stripping the Smithsonian of federal funds.
The only other GLBT-specific museum in the world is the Schwules Museum ("Gays’ Museum") in Berlin, which houses a collection of oral histories and other records, and which serves as a cultural center. Moreover, the Schwules Museum researches how gays served as a focus for persecution under the Nazis.
The new facility in San Francisco similarly preserves artifacts and documentation that charts the progress of American GLBTs toward full social and legal parity. There’s also a commercial benefit: Merchants of Upper Market and Castro head Stephen Adams noted that the new museum will be a magnet for tourists, and that in turn will stimulate the local economy.
Another GLBT-specific resource is the Fort Lauderdale-based Stonewall Library, a recognized resource for gay and lesbian scholarship that nonetheless has been the target of anti-politicians in the past. The archive was lambasted by then-mayor of Fort Lauderdale Jim Naugle as containing "hard core" material that should not be housed in a city-owned building. Naugle served six terms, and was the longest-serving mayor of Fort Lauderdale, but after a series of clashes with GLBT residents and advocacy organizations over anti-gay statements he had made, the term-limited Naugle was succeeded by John P. "Jack" Seiler, in 2009.
The GLBT History Museum is located at 4127 18th Street in San Francisco. The museum is open to the public Wednesday-Saturday, 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., and on Sunday, noon to 5:00 p.m. Admission costs $5.00. Members get in for free. There is also free admission for the public on the first Wednesday of every month.