This spring and summer, many San Francisco cultural organizations are sponsoring special events to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, when a countercultural convergence put the city on the map as an international center of the 1960s youth uprising. The GLBT History Museum is taking part by mounting a new exhibition opening April 7: “Lavender-Tinted Glasses: A Groovy Gay Look at the Summer of Love.”
The curator of the show is Joey Cain, a San Francisco-based activist and historian who has created queer-history exhibitions about Walt Whitman, Edward Carpenter and Harry Hay for the San Francisco Public Library. His writing has appeared in RFD Magazine, the Walt Whitman Quarterly Review and the anthology The Fire In Moonlight: Stories From the Radical Faeries (White Crane Books, 2011). In this interview, Cain offers a look at his curatorial vision for “Lavender-Tinted Glasses.”
What stories do you highlight in the exhibition — and how did you choose them?
The exhibition tells the stories of four queers: gay poet and activist Allen Ginsberg, gay filmmaker Kenneth Anger, bisexual astrologer and philosopher Gavin Arthur and bisexual singer Janis Joplin. All of them were significant players in what came to be known as the San Francisco Summer of Love. I also look a little bit at how the city’s homophile movement of the time responded to the social and cultural uprising in 1967. These four were chosen because of my personal admiration for each of them and the fact that they were important not only for San Francisco, but for American and LGBTQ culture in general.
What part of the exhibition is most likely to surprise visitors?
I think the story of Gavin Arthur will be the most surprising. He’s certainly the least known of the four people I focus on. He started out as the grandson of U.S. President Chester A. Arthur and ended up being a guiding presence and influence in the Summer of Love. In many ways, he was the queer grandfather of the hippies.
What are some of your favorites among the materials that will be displayed?
There are some truly great photographs included in the show. One example is a really beautiful and rarely seen photo of Janis Joplin by famed photographer Lisa Law. Another is a lovely photo from the Historical Society’s collection of Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky by San Francisco gay activist and businessman Stephen Lowell, who started the Paperback Traffic bookshop and the Eureka Arcade/Patio Cafe complex on Castro Street back in the 1970s. The graphics from the Haight-Ashbury underground newspaper The Oracle are also amazing.
What can LGBTQ people and our allies today learn from queer involvement in the Summer of Love?
That we queer people have a unique role throughout human history making cultural and social change happen — change that contributes to the evolution of society and the species. Too often we have been written out of history, and our contributions, which are in large measure the product of our desires and unique consciousness, have been dissolved into the melting pot of hetero oblivion. The role that LGBTQ people played in the Summer of Love — and its erasure in the popular history of the 1960s — is just one instance. I’m hoping the exhibition inspires queer people and our friends to again claim our place in a counterculture of love and resistance.
“Lavender-Tinted Glasses: A Groovy Gay Look at the Summer of Love” opens with a public reception at the GLBT History Museum on Friday, April 7, from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. The exhibition runs through September 27.