Castro museum reopens its door to LGBTQ history

GLBT Historical Society archives remain closed, but public is welcome back

Across The City, repositories of science, art and history are emerging from the sudden isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic like sleepy bears after a six-month hibernation. In the Castro, the GLBT Historical Society Museum in The Castro will reopen on Saturday.

Though what’s in the museum today remains unchanged since the doors closed six months ago, the museum’s executive director Terry Beswick is pleased to make at least some of its resources available again to the public, particularly to children and teens.

“For me, it’s about the young kids. It’s 2020, but kids still get a lot of bullying and I think it’s important that people can get a sense of their heritage and identity from these stories that they don’t necessarily get at school or at home,” says Beswick, an AIDS-era activist and local founding member of ACT UP.

Beswick describes the reopening process as “difficult” due to continually evolving health information and available resources.

Operations won’t be business as usual. A limited number of tickets timed at hourly intervals must be reserved online in advance and are limited to five people per hour on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Visitors will undergo a temperature check and answer basic recent health questions.

The museum’s current and colorful temporary exhibit celebrates the art of Gilbert Baker, designer of the iconic rainbow flag.

Although museum archives remain closed, the main gallery houses small displays touching on various constituencies within the expansive LGBTQIA+ community, including pioneers such as Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, Sylvester, Jose Sarria and others.

Brief but fascinating sections summarize the gay rights movement, the leather community, the AIDS pandemic and historically gay districts, including Valencia Street and the Tenderloin. A centerpiece is a small interactive frame on Harvey Milk that reveals the blood-stained suit he wore when he was assassinated in 1978.

An exhibit at the GLBT Historical Society Museum showcases artist Gilbert Baker’s love for fashion design. (Samantha Laurey/Special to S.F. Examiner)

An exhibit at the GLBT Historical Society Museum showcases artist Gilbert Baker’s love for fashion design. (Samantha Laurey/Special to S.F. Examiner)

“Any one of those panels could be a room unto itself,” says Beswick, whose long-range planning includes the goal of expanding beyond the current 1,500 square-foot space. “I’ve always seen this currently facility as a demonstration project of what we’re capable of.”

Among upcoming activities is a virtual fundraiser on Oct. 16 hosted by drag impresario Peaches Christ and comedian, actor and playwright Marga Gomez. The gala event will bestow five “History Makers” awards — to Miss Major, Pamela Peniston, Maggi Rubenstein, Juanita More and Gerard Koskovich — and includes a silent auction of historical LGBT memorabilia including an original Harvey Milk campaign poster.

Founded in 1985, the GLBT Historical Society opened the museum in 2011 thanks to a collaborative lease arrangement with Walgreens pharmacies, which they hope to renew.

Beswick remains optimistic about the Historical Society and its mission. “I feel hopeful that we’re going to survive and thrive because there’s a need and we feel a lot of interest in LGBTQ history from people of all ages,” he says.

IF YOU GO: GLBT Historical Society Museum

Where: 4127 18th St., S.F.

When: Noon to 5 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays

Admission: $6 to $10; free first Tuesday every month and Saturdays for S.F. residents through 2020

Contact: (415) 621-1107,

Note: Advance reservations are required.

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