2024 leg candidates support LGBTQ museum funding

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday February 21, 2024
Share this Post:
Assembly candidate Catherine Stefani. Photo: Courtesy the candidate
Assembly candidate Catherine Stefani. Photo: Courtesy the candidate

Candidates running in the March primary for California legislative seats are supportive of continuing to keep funds earmarked for a full-scale, freestanding LGBTQ history museum in the Golden State. It's been nearly three years since San Francisco's mayor first announced she was budgeting money for the project.

The San Francisco-based GLBT Historical Society has long sought a larger, permanent home for its collections. Right now the society operates a small storefront museum at 4127 18th Street in the heart of the LGBTQ Castro neighborhood.

The society would prefer a location in the Castro, executive director Roberto Ordeñana, a gay man, told the Bay Area Reporter last year, but isn't necessarily tied to the neighborhood if the most feasible space for its museum, archives, and offices can be found in another neighborhood important to the city's LGBTQ history, such as the Polk Gulch. The society's archives and offices are located in a building downtown.

As the B.A.R. has extensively reported, the search for a location for the museum in San Francisco has been underway for several years. Despite $17.5 million in state and city funds earmarked for the project, officials have not been able to find a suitable site. And while society officials said they are ready to bid on a request for proposal, or RFP, for the money, it is unclear if that process can proceed without a location first being acquired. A vacant retail space on upper Market Street at the intersection with Castro Street has long been eyed for the project, but city leaders have balked at the multimillion-dollar price tag the property owner has sought for it.

The GLBT Historical Society told the B.A.R. in October that it should be allowed to bid for an RFP before a site is found. Reached for comment January 23, Andrew Shaffer, a gay man who is the society's director of development and communications, referred the paper to Victor Ruiz-Cornejo, a gay man who advises San Francisco Mayor London Breed on LGBTQ issues.

"The city is taking the lead on site selection for this project," Shaffer wrote.

When he was asked for an update the same day, Ruiz-Cornejo replied he didn't "have an update to share at the moment, but I am happy to reach back out once I do."

Gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who represents the Castro on the Board of Supervisors, has been engaged in the site selection process for the museum since 2018. He also didn't have anything to add when contacted by the B.A.R. this month.

"We're continuing to look at spaces and hope to have settled on one in the next few months," Mandelman stated.

He did not reply to follow-up questions about whether the earmarked funds are safe, considering the current projected state and city budget deficits, and another as to whether there's a particular site that has a good chance of being settled on in the next few months.

The city has budgeted $12 million for a museum, while gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) secured $5.5 million in state funds for it, as the B.A.R. previously reported.

In San Francisco, Breed asked city departments in December for 10% cuts across the board. A deficit of about $800 million is expected over the next two fiscal years, and Breed has said it could reach $1 billion by Fiscal Year 2028.

State legislative candidates David Lee, left, Jovanka Beckles, Kathryn Lybarger, Dan Kalb, and Christopher Cabaldon all support state funding for an LGBTQ museum. Photos: Courtesy the candidates  

'YES and YES'
The state is also facing a budget deficit of as much as $73 billion, according to reports this week, and it remains to be seen if, or how much, state funding will be available for capital projects. In its questionnaire, the B.A.R. asked legislative candidates if they support state funding for an LGBTQ history museum in San Francisco or elsewhere in the state, and whether they would author legislation to that effect.

Six candidates for seats in San Francisco, the East Bay, and North Bay responded.

District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani, a straight ally who has queer siblings, is running to replace outgoing Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) in the 19th Assembly District that covers the western portion of the city. Stefani told the B.A.R., "Yes, I support this effort."

"This is not specific legislation I have yet to look into, but is something I would be eager to discuss further with LGBTQ+ advocates, organizations and residents throughout the state," she continued.

Stefani, a Democrat, is running against educator and fellow Democrat David Lee, a straight ally who has taught at San Francisco State University and Laney College, part of the East Bay's Peralta Community College District. Lee stated in response to the same query that he "would be interested in pursuing legislation about this."

"I would definitely support state funding for a LGBTQ history museum in San Francisco," he stated.

Queer former Richmond city councilmember Jovanka Beckles is an elected member of the AC Transit board who is running to succeed termed out state Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) in the East Bay's 7th Senate District, which spans western Contra Costa and Alameda counties. She's also in favor.

"Yes, I would" support the project, she wrote.

Her opponents did as well. California Labor Federation President Kathryn Lybarger, who identifies as both lesbian and queer, stated she "would be proud to lead this effort."

Oakland City Councilmember Dan Kalb, a straight ally, replied, "YES and YES. Great idea. Very happy to support (and author) this legislation. Might also need a State budget play to help with capital funding for this new institution."

Gay former West Sacramento mayor Christopher Cabaldon, who is seeking the open District 3 Senate seat currently held by retiring Napa Democrat Bill Dodd, went into further detail.

"LGBTQ history is intertwined with American and California history, and people should have the opportunity to learn about the hard fought battles and the human lives impacted by centuries of bigotry and intolerance," Cabaldon stated. "I would be proud to author such legislation with my colleagues in the Bay Area."

Dodd's district sprawls across a number of counties, from Contra Costa and Sonoma to Yolo and Sacramento.

Never miss a story! Keep up to date on the latest news, arts, politics, entertainment, and nightlife. Sign up for the Bay Area Reporter's free weekday email newsletter. You'll receive our newsletters and special offers from our community partners.

Support California's largest LGBTQ newsroom. Your one-time, monthly, or annual contribution advocates for LGBTQ communities. Amplify a trusted voice providing news, information, and cultural coverage to all members of our community, regardless of their ability to pay -- Donate today!