SF LGBT history museum project enjoys broad political backing

  • by Matthew S. Bajko
  • Wednesday October 24, 2018
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The effort to construct the country's first major museum devoted to LGBT history enjoys broad political support among San Francisco elected leaders and political candidates, as most believe the city should help fund the construction of the cultural institution.

In editorial board meetings this year with the Bay Area Reporter and candidate questionnaire responses, no one argued against seeing the city allocate taxpayer funds toward the LGBT museum. Rather, considering San Francisco's central role in the advancement of LGBT rights, the political leaders argued it is as worthy of city support as the numerous mainstream museums that already receive taxpayer funds.

"For 10 years, I ran the African-American Art and Culture Complex, so I know that supporting a community also means supporting its history and its art," Mayor London Breed, who was elected in June, told the B.A.R. "We can inspire the next generation of artists, leaders, and organizers by celebrating the lives of the leaders who changed our understanding of the LGBTQ community."

The GLBT Historical Society aims to build a large facility somewhere in the city, either in the gay Castro district or South of Market neighborhood, in order to tell the story of the local fight for LGBT rights and display its vast collection of artifacts and ephemera in its archives. The archival group's lease for its small museum space on 18th Street in the Castro is set to expire in 2021.

As the B.A.R. reported in May, the nonprofit had the architectural firm Gensler's Oakland office do an assessment on the museum project. It concluded it would require at least 35,000 square feet.

Terry Beswick, executive director of the GLBT Historical Society, recently told the B.A.R. that he hopes to launch a feasibility study of the museum project in early 2019. A key focus of the study will be to identify possible locations to site the building.

"I hope to have it in the Castro," said Beswick, adding that, "our time is running out in the Castro. We have to break ground soon if we are going to stay in the Castro."

Various locations have been floated as possibilities, from the former Pottery Barn space at the corner of Market and Castro streets to several city-owned parking lots in the neighborhood. Another option mentioned is having the preservation group team up with a developer of a mixed-use building somewhere in SOMA or another area of the city.

"There are a lot of possibilities," noted Beswick. "We need to be visionaries about it. I am really encouraged."

Support for the LGBT museum is expected to become official city policy next year when the Board of Supervisors adopts a proposed LGBTQ+ Cultural Heritage Strategy. A draft version of the document calls for the establishment of a permanent Museum of LGBTQ+ History and Culture. A final version is to be voted on by various city agencies and the supervisors in early 2019.

Supe candidates weigh in
The plan is vague, however, when it comes to funding for the build out and operation of the LGBT museum. BART board member Nick Josefowitz, who is running against District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani for her board seat, suggested to the B.A.R. that the LGBT museum could be included in the parks bond set to go before voters in November 2019. Or perhaps, he added, the city could adopt a dedicated bond for cultural institutions.

"Museums are the same thing as parks, places where the community comes together and are very inclusive of everybody," said Josefowitz, adding that, "memorials are important but static. Museums take it to the next level."

Stefani, who has a lesbian sister, also told the B.A.R. that the city should financially back the LGBT museum.

"I definitely think, for things like that that are so integral and important to San Francisco and representative of our values here in San Francisco, we should have at least the conversation of how we can support something like that," she said. "Definitely, it is something I would be willing to discuss."

District 10 supervisor candidates Theo Ellington and Shamann Walton also see the museum proposal as an appropriate recipient of city funds. Ellington equated it to how the city financially supports the Bayview Opera House, where he serves as board president.

"It could be like the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts model, with community stakeholders partnering with developers on funding for the arts," he said.

Walton echoed others in noting how many significant events in LGBT history took place in San Francisco as for why he would support funding for the museum.

"It is only fitting and right to have a museum that highlights that history. This is a civil rights fight for everyone, and having a museum telling that story will be exciting," he said.

In the District 6 supervisor race, which includes SOMA where much of the city's LGBT leather scene has been centered for decades, Sonja Trauss predicted an LGBT museum would be "a tourist draw" for the city and therefore worthy of having taxpayer funds spent on it.

And fellow candidate Matt Haney joked, if elected, he would be fighting with gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman on seeing the museum be located in his district.

"I want to see it happen. We already have what it takes to make this a large success," said Haney, who over the summer visited the GLBT Historical Society's archive space on mid-Market Street, which is in District 6.

Haney envisioned seeing the LGBT museum as being a focal point for the leather-themed LGBT Cultural District the city has designated in western SOMA.

"There is a lot more development in SOMA to say the least, especially on Folsom Street within the leather district," noted Haney, compared to the Castro district. "We could have a conversation to see if it's possible to have it funded as part of a development deal. That is a real possibility in District 6."

Informed of the overwhelming support for the museum project by those running for supervisor seats next month, Beswick told the B.A.R. it is "validating" to hear.

"Sometimes it feels like pushing a boulder up a mountain," he said of the project.

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