Bay Area Reporter editorial: ‘A museum to make us proud’

Read Executive Director Terry Beswick’s editorial from the June 9 Issue of the Bay Area Reporter below — and join us in helping achieve our vision for a new GLBT history museum and cultural center by donating today!

Executive Director Terry Beswick
Executive Director Terry Beswick

We have the new SFMOMA. We have the de Young. George Lucas’ museum is back on the table. This tourist-destination city already boasts a number of great museums, many of them dedicated to cultural or ethnic minorities, and some with substantial underwriting from San Francisco taxpayers.

The larger museums sometimes even include queer artists or LGBTQ subject matter among their exhibits and collections. OK, often we’re just an afterthought, or our sexual orientation and gender identities actually go unmentioned. And all too often, our stories are left out altogether.

So does San Francisco really need a dedicated world-class museum of LGBTQ history and culture? And how do we know people will support it?

The answer is right under our noses.

Now five years old, the GLBT History Museum has run into one major problem: lack of room. We struggle to accommodate curators eager to display our rich history. Those who succeed in getting on the calendar are often frustrated by the amount of space we can provide, leaving them to create shows with less depth than they had hoped. And the museum sponsors popular public programs, only to turn away many who wish to attend because we lack adequate seating.

The heart of the problem — and the opportunity — is the wonderful diversity and range of our history. We come from everywhere and we have so many stories to tell.

Our museum has accomplished a great deal with limited resources. But as GLBT Historical Society founding member Gerard Koskovich recently remarked, “We tested a rowboat — and found out so many people want to come aboard that we need a full-scale cruise ship.”

The current museum is an offshoot of the GLBT Historical Society’s archives and research center. Our storefront galleries in the Castro were never intended to be permanent. They were a trial balloon to see if we could launch a stand-alone museum of queer history — and to measure San Francisco’s willingness to support such an enterprise.

Last year, over 15,000 individuals visited the GLBT History Museum to take in the exhibitions or attend programs, with more than 60 percent of these coming from out of state or out of the country, and with many Bay Area schools and other groups coming for guided tours. It’s an easy way for people from all backgrounds to discover LGBTQ history and go home with a new understanding.

Over the years, there have been a number of efforts to create a full-fledged museum of LGBTQ history and culture — some of them involving the GLBT Historical Society. These efforts did not come to fruition, perhaps because the time or place was not right. Over the last 35 years, an incredible amount of our community’s resources have been appropriately directed toward our very survival in the fight against HIV/AIDS and toward winning our basic civil rights. Much of this work continues today.

At the same time, we have won some major victories and have identified new directions for our movement for social justice. And that means the time has come to fully honor the struggles that have brought us here by creating a new and larger LGBTQ museum and archives — a world-class institution where we can tell our stories in the ways they merit and can welcome everyone who wants and needs to learn about them.

I’m proud to be a part of the GLBT Historical Society — an organization that understands the importance of collecting and sharing the diverse stories of our past. We do this not just to honor our elders and inspire young people, but also to show our full selves to others who may not yet appreciate our history or even our humanity.

With the recent move of our archives to a much larger space in the mid-Market neighborhood, we’re delighted that we finally have room to expand our collections — and we’re committed to using this opportunity to strengthen our documentation of diversity, including the lives of people of color, women, and other underrepresented groups.

But if we’re going to create a full-scale museum to display these collections and other treasures of the LGBTQ past in San Francisco, we need leadership from City Hall and we need to build our capacity for growth. So this month, we’re launching the first phase of our initiative to create a new museum of LGBTQ history and culture. We’ll be taking the following steps:

  • Forming partnerships with the city and with private developers to identify potential sites for a building that will bring the museum and archives together and will provide greatly expanded gallery and program space.
  • Establishing an international advisory board of prominent individuals to offer guidance as we plan a world-class museum.
  • Building the historical society’s capacity for substantial development by increasing revenues and diversifying income streams.

We have four years left on our lease for the GLBT History Museum in the Castro. We plan to use this time to move forward with creating a new, full-fledged museum of LGBTQ history and culture. We believe our community has earned it, we believe the time is right, and we believe San Francisco is the place to build it. We invite you to join us in this quest.