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GLBT Society Celebrates Museum’s Second Anniversary

by Sylvia Rodemeyer
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Jan 16, 2013

The GLBT History Museum celebrated its second anniversary on Jan. 13. Quickly becoming a educational and entertaining hub in San Francisco's Castro District, the museum is the first full-scale, stand-alone museum of its kind in the United States.

In only two short years, the museum has not only become a beacon in the Castro District, it has also put the public history of the GLBT Historical Society on the map locally, nationally and internationally.

CNN featured The GLBT History Museum in its August 2012 "Best of San Francisco" and the San Francisco Weekly named the museum one of San Francisco's "Top 10 Offbeat Museums."

The museum celebrates 100 years of the city's vast queer past through dynamic exhibitions and programming, many of the exhibits growing out of the expansive archives of the GLBT Historical Society. Referred to as San Francisco's "queer Smithsonian," it is one of approximately 30 LGBT archives in the United States.

The idea for the permanent museum occurred in November 2008 when the GLBT Historical Society sponsored a pop-up museum. The space featured an exhibition, "Passionate Struggle: Dynamics of San Francisco’s GLBT History," that traced more than a century of the city’s LGBT history using documents and artifacts from the society’s collections. The exhibit ran through October of the following year.

Among the objects displayed were the sewing machine used by designer Gilbert Baker to create the first rainbow flag, and the suit worn by openly gay San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk when he was assassinated on Nov. 27, 1978. More than 20,000 people from throughout the United States and around the world visited the exhibition during its 11-month run.

"We had great support from the city of San Francisco when we approached the idea of the pop-museum in conjunction with the release of the movie ’Milk.’" Executive Director Paul Boneberg told EDGE. Soon after, the permanent location was unveiled.

"In the past two years, the work just gets better and better. It’s more accessible and is constantly improving," said Renee Perry, co-chair of the board of the GLBT Historical Society.

The Huffington Post lists the GLBT Historical Society as one of "the best LGBT history archives in the U.S." The society collects, preserves and interprets the history of GLBT people and the communities that support them. Founded in 1985, the society is recognized internationally as a leader in the field of GLBT public history.

The GLBT Historical Society’s artifacts collection includes the personal effects of Harvey Milk, featuring everyday objects such the battered, gold-painted kitchen table from Milk’s apartment and several antique cameras that had been displayed at Castro Camera, his shop in San Francisco’s Castro District.

Prominent support has come from presenting sponsor Levi’s, the City and County of San Francisco, Starbucks, the Bob Ross Foundation, and numerous individual donors, as well as a number of matching grants for which the museum is currently raising funds.

A large goal of the museum for its third year of existence is to continue to expand their offerings to local schools.

"We would love to assist schools with the passing of the law requiring LGBT history to be taught throughout the curriculum," said Boneberg. The museum has already been a resource for dozens of school field trips, but will aim to expand that with the addition of audio tours and specialized exhibits.

To honor the GLBT Historical Society’s 25th anniversary, the curators of "Our Vast Queer Past" burrowed into every corner of the society’s extraordinary archives. To spark the topics for the show, they picked an inspirational object from virtually every year the society has been acquiring collections. Their objectives: raising new questions about familiar LGBT stories and evoking largely untold stories that speak eloquently about our diversity.

"The greatest moment is when someone is visiting the museum and archives and recognizes themselves in one of the photographs," said Boneberg. "Sometimes they don’t even realize they were a part of something historical."

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