The Path to the Nation’s First Full-Scale LGBTQ+ Museum and Research Center

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I like to think of ourselves at the GLBT Historical Society as stewards of stories. Within our archives, we have the flyers, signs, costumes, newsletters, pins, leather jackets, and art of generations of people who have not always been allowed to exist but have always existed. Each of these items represents a story, carrying with it an invaluable resource for understanding the challenges of the present and inspiring dreams for a future of greater social justice.

We have stories of resistance like the very first San Francisco Pride program from 1972 referencing the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot. “It began when the police came into a cafeteria, still located there at Turk and Taylor, Comptons…” Now known as one of the earliest LGBT uprisings in United States history, the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot predated the Stonewall Riots by three years. Susan Stryker first found it referenced in our archives.

We have stories of aspiration like the ponytail Harvey Milk cut off to appeal to a broader audience in his bid to become Supervisor in 1975. He wouldn’t win in 1975, but during his fourth and final run in 1977, he would become the first openly gay person elected to office in California.

We have stories of love like the unnamed journal of a black lesbian nurse from World War II, detailing her loving and lifelong relationships as she navigated a world full of racism, sexism, and homophobia.

And we have stories of mourning like Sally Gearhart’s eulogy for Harvey Milk.

He was a man unlike most men I knew.
He was our companion, our friend, our comrade, and our brother.
And he knew as we must know
That eternity is measured not in length of days
But in quality of life.
And so, when in all our lives to come
We raise a banner high
Or speak a word for freedom here and there
The world can say of all of us:
“There is some corner in their fighting hearts
That is forever Harvey”

Within our archives, we keep these stories. Within our museum, we share them with the world. Since 2011, the GLBT Historical Society has operated a storefront museum in the Castro. But, a storefront lease is only so long and can display so much. This is why we’re plotting the course to develop the nation’s first full-scale LGBTQ+ Museum and Research Center. The journey is going to be difficult, but we believe that this is something we can do here in San Francisco. We’re just going to need the support of the entire community to make it happen.

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