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Main Gallery

Queer Past Becomes Present

The Main Gallery at the GLBT Historical Society Museum features the exhibition “Queer Past Becomes Present,” showcasing how queer history informs the present and inspires us to build a community that embraces differences.

Among the objects on display are personal belongings of Harvey Milk, the United States’s first openly gay elected official; publications related to lesbian activists Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon; a costume worn by activist and entertaining legend José Sarria, the first gay man to run for office in San Francisco; and photos, documents and artifacts telling the amazing stories of over a century of everyday queer life among the diverse populations of San Francisco. Multimedia exhibits include historic film, video and audio.


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Front Gallery

A Picture Is a Word: The Posters of Rex Ray

October 12, 2018–February 3, 2019

Curated by Cydney Payton and Amy Scholder

“A Picture is a Word: The Posters of Rex Ray” surveys graphic works, many designed for Bill Graham Presents, dating from the early 1990s to 2014. The exhibition takes a note from Andy Warhol’s question: Isn’t life a series of images that change as they repeat themselves? Here, we examine Ray’s use of repeating symbols and iconography appropriated from sources as varied as Warhol, mid-century typography and design, gay culture and everyday objects.

The exhibition draws attention to Rex Ray’s unique signature graphics, first developed using a Mac Plus long before design applications changed the course of that art form. This distinctive digital style went on to influence generations of artists, clients in music and publishing, and their audiences. Ray’s poster designs are, in part, documents of the Bay Area music scene, and his book covers for City Lights and High Risk offer a brief history of LGBTQ+ literature. Vibrant and accessible—intentionally subversively so—Ray’s art effortlessly mixes concepts of high and low culture, beauty and postmodern conceptualism.

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Community Gallery

The Briggs Initiative: A Scary Proposition

September 14, 2018–January 20, 2019

Curated by Sue Englander, Paula Lichtenberg, and Glenne McElhinney

On 4 November 1978, Californians decisively voted down Proposition 6, a ballot initiative that would have given the state the power to fire current K–12 teachers who were either LGBTQ or who expressed support for LGBTQ rights. This was the culmination of a seventeen-month campaign waged by LGBTQ people and their allies against an attempt by right-wing politicians and public figures to “save” school-age children from the pernicious influence of homosexuals.

This exhibition documents the effort to defeat California State Senator John Briggs, the ballot measure’s sponsor, and is being mounted during the 40th anniversary of the final months of campaigning and the November 1978 election. It celebrates a unified effort by many Californians, and San Franciscans in particular, to mobilize support for LGBT rights.

The exhibition draws on the extensive collections of the GLBT Historical Society, the San Francisco Public Library, the Labor Archives and Research Center at San Francisco State University, contemporary press and broadcast materials, and several private collections. The exhibition centers around the major episodes of this struggle, from the foundation and growth of the anti-Briggs organizations to the nail-biting finish on election night.

Photos: Dave Earl, Main Gallery of the GLBT Historical Society Museum; Dave Earl, entrance to the Main Gallery of the GLBT Historical Society Museum; Dave Earl, Rex Ray exhibition; Dave Earl, Briggs Initiative exhibition.