This photograph shows the priceless queer artifact that the GLBT Historical Society acquired in April: a segment of one of the two original rainbow flags first hoisted in San Francisco on June 25, 1978, for Gay Freedom Day. The flag was created by Gilbert Baker and hand-stitched and dyed with the help of volunteers and friends, including Lynn Segerblom (Faerie Argyle Rainbow), James McNamara, Glenne McElhinney, Joe Duran, Paul Langlotz and others.
The society formally unveiled the flag to the public at a press event in San Francisco on June 4. Mayor London Breed; District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman; State Senator Scott Weiner; GLBT Historical Society Executive Director Terry Beswick; Gilbert Baker Foundation President Charles Beal; GLBT Historical Society Board Member Tina Valentin Aguirre; and Board Chair Maria Powers all made remarks.
Mayor London Breed also announced that she is requesting $12 million in the city budget to establish a new LGBTQ museum in San Francisco.
Friday, May 21 6:00–7:30 p.m. PDT Online program Free | $5 suggested donation
Author, historian and OutHistory.org founder Jonathan Ned Katz will discuss his new book, The Daring Life and Dangerous Times of Eve Adams (Chicago Review Press, 2021) the story of the daring Jewish lesbian activist Eve Adams. Drawing on startling evidence while carefully distinguishing fact from fiction, Katz presents the first biography of Adams. Born into a Jewish family in Poland, Adams emigrated to the United States in 1912 and befriended anarchists, sold radical publications, and ran lesbian-and-gay-friendly speakeasies in Chicago and New York. In 1925 she risked it all to write and publish a book entitled Lesbian Love, presenting brief portraits of two dozen women (Katz’s book also reprints the long-lost-text of Lesbian Love). Adams’s bold activism caught the attention of the young J. Edgar Hoover and the Bureau of Investigation (later the FBI), leading to her surveillance and arrest. In a case that pitted immigration officials, the New York City police, and a biased informer against her, Adams was convicted of publishing an obscene work and of attempting sex with a policewoman deployed to entrap her. Jailed and deported back to Europe, Adams was ultimately murdered by the Nazis at Auschwitz. Register online here.
Monday, May 24 6:00–8:00 p.m. PDT Online program Free
In this event organized by City Lights Booksellers, author Sarah Schulman will discuss her new book Let the Record Show(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2021) with Marc Stein, a historian of LGBTQ history at San Francisco State University. Twenty years in the making, Let the Record Show is the most comprehensive political history ever assembled of ACT UP New York and American AIDS activism. Based on more than two hundred interviews with ACT UP members and rich with lessons for today’s activists, Let the Record Show is a revelatory exploration—and long-overdue reassessment—of the coalition’s inner workings, conflicts, achievements, and ultimate fracture. Schulman, one of the most revered queer writers and thinkers of her generation, explores the how and the why, examining with her characteristic rigor and bite how a group of desperate outcasts changed America forever, and in the process created a livable future for generations of people across the world. Register online here.
Friday, June 4 6:00–7:30 p.m. PDT Online program Free | $5 suggested donation
In the first event of our new program series “Mighty Reels,” we’ll be screening a selection of video footage of San Francisco Pride celebrations from years past, drawn from the GLBT Historical Society’s archives. The footage allows us to trace the evolution of Pride over the past half-century, bearing witness to the annual display of joy, performance art, social commentary and community-building. Historian and GLBT Historical Society founding member Gerard Koskovich will lead a conversation interpreting and exploring the clips after the screening. Koskovich was also the co-curator of the society’s 2020 exhibition about the first decade of Pride, Labor of Love: The Birth of San Francisco Pride.
Highlighting home movies, drag performances, amateur documentaries, and interviews with queer history-makers, “Mighty Reels” is a quarterly program series that provides an intimate look at the LGBTQ past straight from the camera lens. Each program in the series features a screening of footage from the archives, followed by a discussion with historians, community members and activists on the significance of these images. Register online here.
A half century is a long time in the history of the modern LGBTQ rights movement, encompassing more change than could have been imagined in the early 1970s. Nowhere is this better reflected than in the archives of the Bay Area Reporter (BAR), “America’s longest continuously published and highest-circulation LGBTQ newspaper,” which is celebrating its 50th anniversary with special coverage, events and a new online exhibition with the GLBT Historical Society. The exhibition, “Stories of Our Movement: The BAR at 50” is made possible by generous support of the Bob Ross Foudation, and will debut on the society’s website on April 26; information is available here.
“Back in 1971, the mainstream media wasn’t really covering gay and lesbian people, much less bi and trans people,” said Cynthia Laird, the BAR’s news editor for the last 22 years, who joined the paper as assistant editor in 1996.
From its first issue, published April 1, 1971, the BAR laid out its independent but unifying mission: “This publication is in no way connected with any organization and will publish the views and thoughts of all groups. This paper will also try to help bridge the communication gap that seems to exist between groups in our own community.”
A RELIABLE WORKHORSE
Surely, this goal is still a work in progress, but over the intervening decades, the Bay Area Reporter became a reliable workhorse of original LGBTQ political and cultural reporting and, like many alternative weeklies around the country, an advocacy paper, influencing elections and helping to advance a civil rights movement that changed the world. Bob Ross, who founded and published the paper until his death in 2003, “had a real keen vision and foresight to see that a newspaper could bring the community together,” said Laird, one of a very few women news editors in LGBTQ media.
As the LGBTQ community and the broader culture have evolved, so has the BAR, said Michael Yamashita, who began working with the paper as an assistant editor in 1989. Now the publisher and perhaps the first LGBTQ Asian man to publish a legacy LGBTQ newspaper, he notes a more inclusive trend in the paper’s coverage and intended audience. “During Bob’s time … the focus really was on the, how would you say it? The power brokers in the gay community, which was really a lot of men,” Yamashita said in a recent interview. “White men who were heading up the agencies and running businesses and attempting to run for office. And increasingly women became part of that, (especially) in terms of the [San Francisco] board of supervisors. And so the focus really did have to enlarge, but I don’t think he would have ever imagined that it would enlarge and change as much as it has in the last, maybe 10 years.”
In 2018, with funding from the Bob Ross Foundation, the GLBT Historical Society completed a project to digitize the entire run of the BAR, from 1971 to 2005, when the paper went online. Since then, the key-word searchable version at the California Digital Newspaper Collection has proven a treasure trove for historians, and provides ample evidence of the breadth and depth of the BAR’s coverage. Laird notes in particular the paper’s reporting on HIV/AIDS, and now COVID, which continues to be critically important to the community’s survival. Nowadays, of course, LGBTQ issues are frequently covered in print and online outlets serving the general public, a fact Yamashita acknowledges, but he thinks there is still a clear need for the LGBTQ press. “I mean, [the mainstream press] just doesn’t have the bandwidth. They don’t have enough people to cover all the subjects that they should be covering and so one of the first things to go are minority and LGBTQ in any kind of reporting.”
EXPANDING THE FOCUS
“The BAR still plays an extremely critical role because we do publish stories that you won’t really find anywhere else. A lot of our content is original. Or if it’s something that everyone else is covering like a major event or major news or something, we will often speak to other voices that the mainstream media don’t speak to,” said Laird. “I think you see that especially in transgender coverage today, and trans women of color in particular. What I’ve tried to do in my story assignments in our coverage is really focus on other communities within the LGBT umbrella.”
Both Laird and Yamashita also spoke of their efforts to be more fully representative of all races and classes within the LGBTQ community. “After the George Floyd killing and all the Black Lives Matter actions and activity,” said Laird, “we’ve worked hard to feature people of color, queer people of color, in our stories, and photos of queer people of color with our stories even before that. But I have been really more aware of it in that context.”
Like many community newspapers and businesses, the BAR faces many challenges, particularly in the midst of the COVID pandemic. Last year, the paper was forced to lay off two long-time employees as print advertising revenue plummeted and online advertising has not made up the difference, despite an increase in online traffic. But Laird and Yamashita expressed confidence that, with the community’s support, the BAR will persevere. “Part of survival, I think, is paying attention to meeting your readers where they are and giving them what they want. So we’ve tried to stay away from sensational, quick clickbait things which work, but we’re hoping to cultivate a more consistent and loyal readership, “said Yamashita. “We hope to provide a steady diet of the kind of news coverage that local people here are looking for.”
Regardless of what comes next, 50 years — or some 2,600 weeks — of writing the first draft of LGBTQ history is an extraordinary contribution . “It’s really amazing,” commented Laird on the BAR’s quinquagenary. “It’s really a milestone and I’m really proud of the paper. I’m proud of everyone that’s contributed to it over the years to make it this great resource. I think the Bay Area is really lucky to have it.”
Terry Beswick is the executive director of the GLBT Historical Society. He spearheaded a successful campaign to preserve the Castro Country Club for the queer recovery community in San Francisco, co-founded the Castro LGBTQ Cultural District and co-chaired the LGBTQ Cultural Heritage Strategy.
The LGBTQ community lost a pioneer in April, when LGBTQ activist Phyllis Lyon (1924–2020) passed away at her house in San Francisco. Together with her partner and later wife of over 50 years, Del Martin (1921–2008), Lyon cofounded the Daughters of Bilitis in 1955, the first lesbian-rights organization in the United States. Just a few months after Lyon’s death, the Noe Valley house that Lyon and Martin shared for over five decades was sold and is now threatened with demolition. Community members are organizing to attempt to save this historic structure from erasure, establishing the group Friends of the Lyon-Martin House, for which the GLBT Historical Society, whose archives hold Lyon and Martin’s papers, is serving as fiscal sponsor. On October 19, District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman initiated the process to name the Lyon-Martin House a San Francisco Landmark. With Mayor London Breed’s approval on October 30, the nomination moves to the San Francisco Planning Department and from there to the Historic Preservation Commission. Success in naming the house a landmark will require major support from the LGBTQ community during the series of hearings that accompany the landmarking process. History Happens interviewed architectural historian and preservation planner Shayne Watson, who is spearheading the preservation efforts with Friends of the Lyon-Martin House.
Why is it important to preserve the Lyon-Martin house as a queer historic space in San Francisco?
Connecting our history to the physical places where that history unfolded makes the stories really come to life. Imagine trying to convey the significance of Stonewall without the actual Stonewall Inn, or the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot without that now-iconic building at the corner of Turk and Taylor. A bronze sidewalk plaque just doesn’t cut it. The Lyon-Martin House is a landmark with or without formal designation. Just as Americans claim Independence Hall as a birthplace of American democracy, queer people throughout the world can claim the Lyon-Martin House as a place instrumental in the development and advancement of our fundamental rights — it’s part of our collective experience.
With our Executive Director Terry Beswick, you served as the co-chair of the Arts, Culture and Heritage Committee for the LGBTQ+ Cultural Heritage Strategy, which went to the Board of Supervisors last year. Does it provide guidance on saving sites such as the Lyon-Martin House?
The LGBTQ+ Cultural Heritage Strategy was published in 2020 after three years of engagement with LGBTQ communities in San Francisco. Feedback from queer San Franciscans was clear: as current stewards of our history, we have a responsibility to ensure that San Francisco’s LGBTQ heritage — in all its colorful diversity — is preserved for future generations to experience and celebrate. Our committee developed actions to realize this goal, including the development of a Historic Preservation Advocacy Group composed of experts in the areas of LGBTQ history, historic preservation and related fields. A primary goal of this group would be to fulfill the recommendations outlined in the Citywide Historic Context Statement for LGBTQ History, adopted by the Historic Preservation Commission in 2015, which serves as a guide for the treatment of historic properties associated with LGBTQ history. One of the first recommendations is to landmark sites of significance.
If the Board of Supervisors designates the Lyon-Martin House as a landmark, what protections does this status offer?
The current reality is that the Lyon-Martin House is private property and the new owners have a right to propose demolition. But if the Lyon-Martin House is designated a San Francisco Landmark, any proposed project that would result in demolition or substantive alterations to the building would need to be reviewed and approved by the Historic Preservation Commission at a public hearing. I certainly wouldn’t want to be the person at the hearing trying to demolish or muck up the longtime home of one of the most significant lesbian couples in history. Those who are interested in supporting our efforts to preserve this historic building can join the Friends of Lyon-Martin House by signing the letter of support. And participate in the webinar on January 19 (check the Friends website for information) on the future of the house cohosted by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the California Preservation Foundation, and the GLBT Historical Society. Finally, you can write a letter or speak in support when the Lyon-Martin House Landmark designation is heard by the Historic Preservation Commission (in late February) and the Board of Supervisors (TBD).
Mark Sawchuk is communications manager at the GLBT Historical Society. Shayne Watson is the owner of Watson Heritage Consulting, a Bay Area-based consultancy for architectural history and historic preservation planning.
The San Francisco ACT UP Oral History Project at the GLBT Historical Society collects and documents the unique and diverse history of Bay Area direct-action movements that protested social and governmental inaction in the face of the AIDS crisis during the 1980s and 1990s. ACT UP/San Francisco, ACT/UP Golden Gate, Stop AIDS Now Or Else, AIDS Action Pledge, Citizens for Medical Justice, Enola Gay and related groups were part of a nationwide ACT UP movement that would go on to change the very practice of medicine and speed up the transformation of cultural attitudes about gender and sexuality.
After four years of efforts, I am pleased to share that the San Francisco ACT UP Oral History Project has been completed in time for World AIDS Day this December 1. Composed of interviews with 23 Bay Area activists, this new collection in the society’s Oral History Collection is among the most extensive histories of local AIDS activism in the United States. The interviews, available here, paint a communal portrait of the unique challenges, debates and triumphs of this remarkable movement.
Historian Joey Plaster launched the San Francisco ACT UP Oral History Project to document the determination and kinds of activism that had defined queer politics during the AIDS crisis. While the Gay Men’s Health Crisis and ACT UP/New York had already been documented in films such as How to Survive a Plague and United in Anger, the history of the Bay Area’s response to the epidemic had received relatively little attention until the publication of Emily Hobson’s Lavender and Red. In her monograph, Hobson argues that Bay Area activists were the first to confront the epidemic using direct-action tactics — even before Larry Kramer gave the speech that is often regarded as the catalyst for ACT UP in New York.
The San Francisco ACT UP Oral History Project provides new information and context to ACT UP’s work in the Bay Area. Plaster’s conversation with Jack Davis is a prime example. Davis planned the “Blood and Money” ritual protest that Enola Gay performed at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in 1984, during which protestors poured blood on the road at the entrance to the nuclear-weapons laboratory to decry government research priorities emphasizing weaponry over AIDS research. Most accounts suggest that the blood was fake, but Jack clarifies — the blood was real. It was his own. “This was also the period when we didn’t know — we knew that AIDS was transmitted by body fluids, so this blood was dangerous,” Davis explains. “And most of the people watching us knew that as well.” It has been an honor to play a part in bringing these interviews to the public. I want to thank Joey for getting the project off the ground, the volunteers who supported this work over the years, and the interviewees. But the lion’s share of my thanks must go to all those activists who have fought and continue to fight the battle against AIDS.
FundraiserThe Edge Cares: A Benefit for the GLBT Historical Society
Tuesday, February 188:00–11:00 p.m.The Edge4149 18th St., San FranciscoFreeThe Edge is a longstanding bar in the heart of San Francisco’s Castro district, right down the street from the GLBT Historical Society Museum. With a long history of supporting local charities and bringing communities together, the Edge has recently established the Edge Cares, a weekly initiative that earmarks a percentage of Tuesday night proceeds to local LGBTQ nonprofits. The GLBT Historical Society is honored to have been selected as the Edge’s beneficiary on February 18. Join us for an evening of throwback music videos, vintage 1990s hits and two-for-one drinks.
Panel Discussion“The Rainbow Did That”: Remembering Gilbert Baker
Thursday, February 207:00–9:00 p.m.The GLBT Historical Society Museum4127 18th St., San Francisco$5| Free for membersA panel of contemporaries and friends of the late Gilbert Baker, the creator of the iconic rainbow flag, will discuss Baker’s artistic output, activism and legacy. Panelists will include activist Charley Beal, the manager of the Gilbert Baker Estate; Baker’s friend Vincent Guzzone; community activist Ken Jones; and Cass Brayton, better known as Sister Mary Media, a longtime member of the LGBTQ activist and fundraising group the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Swapping stories, spilling secrets and sharing memories, the speakers will recall the life and times of a complex and deeply passionate man. This program is being held in conjunction with the exhibition “Performance, Protest and Politics: The Art of Gilbert Baker,” on display at the GLBT Historical Society Museum through April 5. Tickets are available online here.
Book LaunchFollowing Lou: Searching the Archives for Our Queer Past
Thursday, February 277:00–9:00 p.m.The GLBT Historical Society Museum4127 18th St., San Francisco$5| Free for membersLouis Sullivan (1951–1991) was a founding member of the GLBT Historical Society and a transgender gay man whose pioneering activism on behalf of trans men in the 1970s and 1980s helped shape the modern understanding of sexual orientation and gender identity. The society’s archives hold Sullivan’s extensive diaries, written between the 1960s and the 1990s, which chronicle his coming of age, coming-out as a gay trans man and work as a historian. Researcher Ellis Martin and poet and artist Zach Ozma have compiled selections from the diaries into a new book, We Both Laughed In Pleasure: The Selected Diaries of Lou Sullivan (Nightboat Books, 2019). In this discussion, Martin, Ozma and the society’s reference archivist, Isaac Fellman, will read excerpts from Sullivan’s diaries and will discuss the complex issues involved in queer historical storytelling. Copies of We Both Laughed in Pleasure will be available for purchase and signing. Tickets are available online here.
Community EventA March to Remember & Reclaim Queer Space
Saturday, February 292:00–4:00 p.m.Harvey Milk PlazaMarket and Castro Streets, San FranciscoFreeA group of LGBTQ leaders, neighborhood organizations, activists and community members will gather at Harvey Milk Plaza and march through the Castro district, laying black wreaths at the sites of former queer spaces in this historic LGBTQ neighborhood. Join drag queen Juanita MORE!, activists Ken Jones and Cleve Jones, and San Francisco District Eight Supervisor Rafael Mandelman at this event cohosted by the GLBT Historical Society, the San Francisco LGBT Center and the Castro LGBTQ Cultural District. Participants will call on elected officials, foundations and philanthropists, as well as residents and lovers of San Francisco, to both commemorate the city’s LGBTQ past and take active steps to sustain the city’s living queer heritage and culture.
Sunday, December 1, 3:30–5:00 p.m. San Francisco Public LibraryLatino/Hispanic Meeting Room, Lower Level100 Larkin St., San Francisco Free
A public reading, cosponsored by the GLBT Historical Society in honor of World AIDS Day, celebrates the lives of Steve Abbott and Karl Tierney, two gifted Bay Area writers prominent in gay literary circles who were both lost to AIDS. Editor Jamie Townsend will read from a new collection of Abbott’s work, Beautiful Aliens: A Steve Abbott Reader(Nightboat Books, 2019) which brings together a cross-section of Abbott’s work over three decades, including poetry, fiction, collage, comics, essays and autobiography.
Tierney’s work will be shared by Jim Cory, the editor of the new poetry collection Have You Seen This Man? The Castro Poems of Karl Tierney (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2019), a time capsule of San Francisco in the 1980s and 1990s that ranges from observation and humor to hunger and fear with razor-sharp wit. Free and open to the public; no reservation required.
Thursday, November 21 7:00–9:00 p.m.The GLBT Historical Society Museum4127 18th St., San Francisco$5 | Free for members
With its plate-glass windows looking out on the corner of Castro and Market Streets, the landmark San Francisco gay bar Twin Peaks Tavern is not only one of the Castro’s most beloved establishments, but also a living testament to the revolutionary idea that LGBTQ people should be seen and celebrated rather than hidden in the darkness of alleys and behind blacked-out windows.
Filmmakers Petey Barna and Bret Parker will present their new documentary, “Through the Windows” about the history of Twin Peaks Tavern, featuring deeply personal interviews that illuminate the history of the bar and the lesbian owners who transformed it from a straight working-class tavern into a gay landmark in 1972. The film recounts the ways this establishment has provided a feeling of home, family and emotional nourishment for its patrons every day of its 47-year history.Tickets are available online here.
In 1978 a young artist named Gilbert Baker (1951–2017) created a flag to represent the LGBTQ community at that year’s San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade. Over the subsequent 40 years, the rainbow flag has become an internationally recognized symbol of the LGBTQ community and an icon of contemporary design. In 2017, shortly after Baker’s death, his estate selected the GLBT Historical Society to preserve his personal archives, artwork and memorabilia.
These precious materials are at the heart of a new exhibition, “Performance, Protest and Politics: The Art of Gilbert Baker,” opening November 1 at the GLBT Historical Society Museum. Co-curated by Jeremy Prince, who has overseen many exhibitions at the museum, and Joanna Black, the archivist who oversaw the donation of the Gilbert Baker Collection, the exhibition positions the rainbow flag as a starting point for exploring Baker’s artistic endeavors, showcasing how Baker deployed his talents in service of his activism. History Happens interviewed Prince and Black to discuss their curatorial approach to the exhibition.
How has the concept for this exhibition evolved since the GLBT Historical Society received the Gilbert Baker Collection two years ago?Prince: It was always intended to explore Baker’s life and artistry beyond the rainbow flag, including his drag personas. But the more Joanna and I explored the treasures in the collection, the more amazed we were by the sheer depth and breadth of his artistic output. From his “Pink Jesus” persona to the recreated concentration-camp prisoner uniforms, Baker’s artistic oeuvre was shocking, provocative and expressed his opposition to the injustice he witnessed in the 1980s and 1990s. That’s what led us to focus the theme of the exhibition on art and performance as protest.
Black: As I arranged the transfer of the collection to the society’s archives, I sorted through exquisite costumes, large-scale paintings, silk-screened posters and bedazzled footwear, but also protest banners, fliers and provocative photographs. I came away deeply moved and knew that we had to share this aspect of Baker’s life with the public. One constant of the exhibition has been to provide a sense of Baker’s artistic range and his unique personality. But it wasn’t until later in the process that Jeremy and I decided to incorporate quotes from Baker’s posthumously published memoir, Rainbow Warrior, into the curation. It’s comparatively rare to be able to include an artist’s own words alongside examples of their work; Baker tells his own story, and the exhibition helps bring those words to life.
What aspects of Baker’s artwork do you think viewers will find surprising?Prince: I think they’ll be struck by the facets of Baker’s personality — artist, provocateur, diva. And they’ll be impressed by his achievements: Designing and overseeing construction of the two original flags for the 1978 San Francisco Gay Freedom Day parade was a groundbreaking accomplishment, but sewing a mile-long flag — and later a 1.25-mile-long flag — is recordbreaking.
Black: I think viewers will be most surprised by aspects of Baker’s drag personas. For example, “Pink Jesus” is pretty shocking, and Baker ownedthat persona entirely. He crashed the 1990 Pride Parade nearly naked, covered in hot-pink body paint and carrying a giant cross — now that’s a statement! And it wasn’t out of vanity. He was always guided by the desire to press for social and political change.
What do you hope visitors will take away from the exhibition?Prince: Exploring the history of the rainbow flag and contextualizing it really underlines its significance. This is an American story about a gay boy from Kansas who designed a wildly successful symbol — and then spent his life deploying his artistic talents as a weapon to fight for rights, equality and dignity against institutions actively trying to erode them.
Black: I hope viewers bear witness to what a multifaceted, complex, passionate and compassionate human being Baker was. His struggle to exist and live his truth openly is universal. Without the courage of artists like Gilbert Baker, we’d all be living in a less free society than we do.
NOTE: “Performance, Protest and Politics” is on display at the GLBT Historical Society Museum through March 8, 2020.
Charles Beal is a lifelong social activist and an award-winning art director for film and television. He was a close friend of Gilber Baker.
On June 7, the GLBT Historical Society Museum unveiled a new exhibition, “Chosen Familias: LGBTQ Latinx Stories,” curated by Tina Valentin Aguirre (genderqueer, they/them). A longtime activist, poet, producer and member of the Bay Area LGBTQ Latinx community, Tina currently serves as chair of the GLBT Historical Society Board of Directors. “Chosen Familias” explores LGBTQ Latinx kinship through 20 photo albums individually curated by members of the Bay Area’s LGBTQ Latinx community documenting the specific ways they define their familias —their families. Each tells a unique story of strength, resilience, culture and community. This month it was my pleasure to interview Tina to learn more about the genesis of the exhibition.
What inspired the exhibition and the title “Chosen Familias”? I lost my parents a few years ago, and at that time I examined what family meant to me, biological and chosen. Over the last few years, I have also met a number of younger LGBTQ Latinx people who would ask me how I keep pushing forward. A lot of these young people look to us, our histories, cultures, localities and even our losses to help them process. Looking to the past has helped me understand how I can build community and make stronger connections among people. We are living in difficult times. But at the same time, we are mobilizing. Many LGBTQ Latinx people do that through our chosen familias.
How did you decide on the idea of photo albums? What do you want people to take away after viewing them? A collaborator and friend, Kimberlynn, suggested it. Today, when we add a new “contact” on social media we don’t usually go back and look at their photos or their history. LGBTQ relationships are hinted at on social media but they are not always featured. The exhibition is intended to do exactly the opposite. Whom do we love and who supports us? Here’s my past, here are my connections, here is how I have lived my life. Photos are the best way to represent that. Diving into someone’s memories electronically can feel weird; there is something great about being able to flip through a photo album of someone’s curated past experiences. I hope people learn about LGBTQ Latinx people and see our experiences as universal. You don’t need to be Latinx to relate to them. I want people to learn about our relationships, our love, the challenges we experience. It’s our familias that help us to get back on track, find a different direction and get through difficult times.
Why was it important that this exhibition take place at the GLBT Historical Society Museum? People from all over the world come to the GLBT Historical Society Museum and other LGBTQ-focused sites — especially in the summer — to learn about our history, culture and communities. But even within the LGBTQ community, the stories of people of color, genderqueer/trans people and elders are often marginalized. One of the strategic initiatives of the society is to feature underrepresented members of our community. I’m glad we are showing “Chosen Familias” during the museum’s busiest season. Visitors are going to be able to experience our familias. We are complex, we are dynamic and we are supportive; and the GLBT Historical Society is a great location to encourage this type of exchange.
Rigoberto Marquez is a member of the GLBT Historical Society Board of Directors.