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First Gay Museum in U.S. Is Open in San Francisco

By L.K. Regan

The first gay museum in the United States—one of only two in the world— is now open for for visitors. The GLBT History Museum is located in the Castro district of San francisco, and provides a space for gay cultural events and exhibits. We encourage everyone to visit and support this history-making institution.

The museum was created to recognize the 25th anniversary of the GLBT Historical Society, which has an extensive archive of materials related to the history of gay culture in San Francisco. An exhibition in the front gallery shows selections from the archive's collection, including magazines, pictures, oral histories, textiles—all giving a sense of the depth of the archive's collection. In the main gallery, an exhibit titled "Our Vast Queer Past: Celebrating GLBT History" brings together what the museum calls "inspirational object[s] from virtually every year the society has been acquiring collections." These materials are organized to, the curators say, "bring together multiple stories, sometimes interlinking, sometimes isolated, sometimes in conflict." Those stories organize the museum's collection into experiences that range from the politics of equality to the history of bathhouses to sex toys to HIV/AIDS.

"We have gone all out to create a museum as rich, diverse and surprising as the GLBT community itself," said GLBT Historical Society executive director Paul Boneberg. For example, the accompanying photo shows a display commemorating Harvey Milk and including a few of his possessions. "At our museum, they'll discover treasures from our archives that reflect fascinating stories spanning nearly a century of GLBT life."

During the Civil Rights Movement, the first African-American museums were established as statements of pride and the determination to celebrate a distinct cultural legacy. Their origins resembled those of the GLBT Museum—they were created by African-American historical societies in major cities with large black populations. Their mission was multi-fold: often they were educational and community centers as much as spaces of collection and display. It makes perfect sense that our community, also fighting its way toward civil rights, has established a cultural institution to both curate our history and shape our future. Indeed, it's high time.

The museum is located in the heart of San Francisco's Castro district, at 4127 18th Street, and is open Wednesday to Saturday, 11:00 am to 7:00 pm, and on Sunday from noon to 5:00. Admission is five dollars, but is free on the first Wednesday of the month through 2011. And, of course, donations and volunteers are welcome. Check it out!