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Editorial: The time for LGBTQ museum is now

by BAR Editorial Board

GLBT Historical Society Executive Director Terry Beswick, left, was joined by Mayor London Breed at the organization's gala atop Salesforce Tower in October. Photo: Rick Gerharter
GLBT Historical Society Executive Director Terry Beswick, left, was joined by Mayor London Breed at the organization's gala atop Salesforce Tower in October. Photo: Rick Gerharter  

It's taking longer than expected for the planned LGBTQ history museum to get some momentum, but it's critical that community members and allies support this important addition to San Francisco's cultural landscape. After several years of fits and starts, the GLBT Historical Society has completed a feasibility study, and has the support of city leaders for the crucial next step of identifying a site, ideally in the Castro, as Terry Beswick, the executive director of the historical society, told us last week. The larger vision of combining the society's archives and museum will likely be postponed, although he said the long-term goal is to house both components in the same building. "We're good with the current archive location," he said, referring to the society's 989 Market Street space.

Positioning an LGBTQ museum in the Castro is logical, and would help draw visitors to the gayborhood. The society's GLBT Historical Society Museum, at 4127 18th Street, already sees a lot of visitors, Beswick said, but is tiny by museum standards and unable to showcase large-scale exhibits. "The fact that we don't have a full-scale museum of LGBT history anywhere in the U.S. is a disgrace. If not San Francisco, where? I think we need one. You can only do so much with 1,600 square feet," he said, referring to the current museum.

We agree. A museum will not only preserve historical artifacts, but also help future generations of queer people learn about our communities' past. "It helps them to get the pride and sense of connectedness and sense of their own value," he explained, referring to younger visitors.

Right now, the society, like many nonprofits, is conducting an end-of-year fundraising appeal. Beswick was careful to note that the historical society has not yet embarked on a capital campaign for the new museum. "We are capacity building," he explained. "So that when we acquire a site we can program it and pay for it." To that end, the society has a matching program that will double gifts by December 31, thanks to the Excelerate Foundation, Emily Rosenberg and Darlene deManincor, and Al Baum and Robert Holgate. But even without an ambitious capital campaign, the society is dependent on financial support from the community. Its operating budget for 2020 is $1.5 million, Beswick said, meaning that even if a site were available next month, the historical society wouldn't have the funds to operate it.

"We're looking at it from multiple levels," he explained.

This is not where the society expected to be in 2020 when this process started in 2016, Beswick said. Back then it was thought that a larger museum space would be open by 2020. Now, Beswick hopes to have a site identified and the capital campaign launched in the new year.

"We hope to see a lot of progress in 2020," he said.

Beswick has been meeting with gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman and his staff to identify a location, as well as the mayor's office for additional help. A positive signal was Mayor London Breed's offer of support for the idea of an LGBT museum at the society's annual gala in October 2019. Beswick told attendees that it took about a year to get the mayor on board with the project.

"When the society applies for funding, we've been there with support," Breed said at the event, held on the Ohana Floor of Salesforce Tower. "We will continue — in my administration — to look at this through an equity lens." Beswick said the mayor's office has followed up and is working with his organization.

A successful museum project will rely on LGBTQs in the Bay Area and beyond — and supportive allies — to make it a reality. Already, the historical society is doing a lot of work; it has tripled in size in the last few years, Beswick pointed out, but its operating budget needs to increase to support the project.

We encourage the community to step up to the challenge. President Donald Trump and his anti-gay allies are working tirelessly against LGBTQs and the progress we've made for equality, so it's more important than ever to have a museum where we can see our history on full display — and others can too.

The mayor said the city should have a place somewhere in San Francisco "that celebrates history, the movement, and vibrancy" of the LGBTQ community.

"And I look forward to cutting that ribbon," she added.

Let's all pitch in to speed up that day when the country's first full-scale museum of LGBTQ history opens in San Francisco. To help out, and for more information, visit www.glbthistory.org

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