Reunion: celebrating queer history with the GLBT Historical Society

  • by David-Elijah Nahmod
  • Tuesday October 3, 2023
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JuanitaMORE!, Supervisor Rafael Mandelman and Donna Persona at the 2022 GLBT Historical Society gala (photo: Bradley Roberge)
JuanitaMORE!, Supervisor Rafael Mandelman and Donna Persona at the 2022 GLBT Historical Society gala (photo: Bradley Roberge)

On October 14 the GLBT Historical Society will pull out all stops when it presents "Reunion," the organization's annual gala. The event, which takes place at the Marines Memorial Club and Hotel, promises to celebrate the community's vast queer past, to honor the history makers who move the community forward, and to raise funds to keep LGBTQ history alive. In addition to maintaining a vast archive, the society also operates the GLBT Historical Society Museum at 4127 18th Street in the Castro.

The GLBT Historical Society was founded in 1985. According to Andrew Shaffer, Director of Development and Communications at the GLBT Historical Society, the founders had been looking back to the 1970s, a time when the community had achieved a few victories, having won some local elections and securing non-discrimination ordinances in select places around the USA. But anti-LGBT activists had quickly attempted to reverse those gains and push LGBTQ people back in the closet.

Andrew Shaffer, Director of Development and Communications at the GLBT Historical Society  

"The GLBT Historical Society was founded, in part, to ensure those activists would never succeed, by making sure we keep our history alive for each other," Shaffer said in an interview with the Bay Area Reporter.

There are two 2023 History Makers Award recipients at this year's gala. First to be honored will be the legendary drag artist Heklina, who passed away earlier this year. Also set to be honored is the Queer Ancestors Project. Shaffer explained why these two were chosen.

"The History Makers Awards are given to individuals and organizations for artistry and contributions to LGBTQ history and culture," Shaffer said. "Both of this year's honorees are incredible exemplars."

The late Heklina (photo: Jose A Guzman Colon)  

The society was unable to notify Heklina of her award before she passed, but feels that the sheer amount of love and tributes she received after her passing proves that the award is well deserved.

"The award is given not just to showcase her artistry and contributions to queer culture, but the incredible community she cultivated and the indelible impact she has had on San Francisco," Shaffer noted.

Shaffer feels that the Queer Ancestors Project is just as deserving of the award as Heklina.

"The Queer Ancestors Project has brought numerous groups into our archives to connect young people with their history," he said. "Their mission is perfectly in alignment with ours, and the prints they create are such beautiful tributes to queer family. We are delighted to be able to shine a light on their work, and to have a few alumni on hand to share their stories."

The gala will have two equally illustrious co-hosts, community icons Sister Roma and Honey Mahogany. Shaffer is delighted to have them aboard.

"Honey Mahogany and Sister Roma are truly powerhouses, and they've done so much for our community," Shaffer said. "We're beyond thrilled that they've agreed to serve as hosts for the evening, and to bring their signature brand of wit and fun to the event."

Shaffer added that the gala is meant to be a reunion of chosen family.

James Baldwin print by Joan Chen, from the Queer Ancestors Project  

"The goal is to provide a space once a year where people from across the LGBTQ+ spectrum can gather to celebrate, learn, and enjoy each other's company," he said. "Our gala includes an awards ceremony, as well as time for mixing and mingling with a wide range of queer history supporters and local dignitaries. We'll have music by Bill Quist and Obsidienne Obsurd, tributes to our fabulous honorees, and an open bar and food stations active through the night."

There will also be a silent auction. Items include pieces from artists such as Serge Gay, Jr., Joseph Abbati, and Our Fellow Mortals. People can also bid on experiences such as dinner and drinks to the Napa Valley Wine Train, and neighborhood packages designed to showcase what makes San Francisco such a vibrant place to live.

"Bidding will be open both online and in person, so even folks who aren't able to join the event will have a chance to bid," Shaffer said.

Shaffer hopes that gala attendees will feel proud of the impact their contributions are making.

"The last year has shown us how vital it is to stand up for our history and culture, when anti-LGBT activists have been working overtime to erase us from the landscape and push us back into the closet," he said. "There are a lot of echoes between today and the world of the 1970s and 80s that first inspired the creation to the GLBT Historical Society. We need to preserve and share our history now more than ever."

Reunion: The GLBT Historical Society Gala, October 14, 6pm-9pm, Marines' Memorial Club and Hotel, 609 Sutter St. General admission $190, VIP admission $300

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