SF supervisors accept grant funds for LGBTQ museum

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday July 10, 2024
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The San Francisco Board of Supervisors recently approved a resolution accepting $5.5 million in state funds to go toward the development of an LGBTQ history museum that would replace the small storefront on 18th Street in the Castro. Photo; Courtesy GLBT Historical Society
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors recently approved a resolution accepting $5.5 million in state funds to go toward the development of an LGBTQ history museum that would replace the small storefront on 18th Street in the Castro. Photo; Courtesy GLBT Historical Society

Now that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors has accepted a $5.5 million grant from the state for an LGBTQ history museum, it needs to find a site.

The supervisors voted for the resolution June 11. The deadline to spend the funds is March 1, 2026.

The state money was secured two years ago by gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) to help develop an LGBTQ history museum in the Castro, as the Bay Area Reporter noted at the time. It supplemented $12 million allocated by San Francisco Mayor London Breed and gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman.

Mandelman said no museum site has yet been acquired.

"It just means we're accepting it to the city, not that we're pushing it out into the world," Mandelman said of the resolution. "We are not publicly designating a site right now, though I hope we are doing that soon."

Mandelman said the state money will be used "for building out, not for acquisition" of a space.

At the June 30 Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club's Pride breakfast before last month's parade up Market Street, Breed made reference to the museum, saying, "We're going to open a brand new LGBTQ history museum, Rafael Mandelman."

As the B.A.R. previously reported, officials with the GLBT Historical Society said last year they're ready to bid for a request for proposal for the museum. The mayor's office said at that time a site would have to be identified before the city puts out an RFP.

Roberto Ordeñana, a gay man who's executive director of the society, referred questions as to whether any progress has been made in finding a space to the mayor's office, which did not return a request for comment by press time.

The archival group operates a small museum on 18th Street in the heart of the city's LGBTQ Castro neighborhood. But it leases the storefront and would like to build a larger facility that it owns and is spacious enough to also house its extensive archives. It currently stores its collection in rented space along the Mid-Market corridor downtown where it also has its executive offices.

A site somewhere in the Castro is the preferred option to locate a new museum and archival facility. Yet, to date, city real estate officials have been unable to secure a property at a purchase price they would be willing to pay.

In a brief phone call July 9, Mandelman said he was "reasonably confident" a site would be found before the March 2026 deadline, and he's hoping to "find something this year."

Asked if he had any locations in mind now, Mandelman said, "There is a particular site."

While he told the B.A.R. that "yes," it was in the Castro, when asked if it was the former Pottery Barn site, he said, "Now I'm stopping." The property at the corner of Castro and Market streets has been vacant for years and repeatedly has been mentioned as an ideal site for the new LGBTQ museum, but city officials have said the owners want too much money for it.

In a related matter, the recently signed state budget includes some funding to help cover the operational costs of LGBTQ archives across California. The $750,000 allocation included in the state's fiscal year 2024-2025 budget is to be awarded via the California State Library.

"We have to wait and see how the state library administers them," Ordeñana told the B.A.R. in a July 8 phone interview.

Nonetheless, the society expects to receive some of those funds, as it has in the past. Ordeñana said that "the funding supports projects that educate people around the globe about the rich diverse history of LGBTQ individuals who have shaped California," and pays for the work of students, educators and researchers.

Ordeñana said that a dozen LGBTQ archives are funded through the grant program, which advocates had initially hoped to have funded to the tune of $1.5 million over two years.

The LGBTQ+ Preservation and Accessibility grant program was originally cut from Governor Gavin Newsom's May revise of the budget. The heads of eight archival groups and Equality California, the statewide LGBTQ rights organization, had sent a letter protesting the cut to Newsom and lawmakers. (See related story.)

"With a rise in hateful attacks against some of the most vulnerable members of the LGBTQ+ community across the United States, along with the banning of books, education materials, and even references to the LGBTQ+ community, the preservation and dissemination of LGBTQ+ histories are more important than ever," the June 4 letter states. "Our robust network of archives is at risk of being destabilized."

Ordeñana thanked San Francisco legislators for the assist in providing the funding after all.

"We're incredibly grateful to Senator Scott Wiener, who has continued to champion funding to support the LGBTQ archives throughout the state through the California State Library. His leadership was instrumental throughout the process," Ordeñana said. "I also want to applaud Assemblyman [Matt] Haney for his budget leadership."

Wiener, who chaired his chamber's budget committee this session, told the B.A.R. he was happy to help.

"We worked extremely hard to ensure the state continues to invest in LGBTQ historical scholarship," Wiener stated July 8. "Our LGBTQ historical archives up and down the state play a crucial role in strengthening and celebrating our community."

Haney, a straight ally and Democrat who represents San Francisco's eastside neighborhoods in the state Assembly, didn't return a request for comment for this report.

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