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.
The flag takes pride of place in our museum, which reopened to the public on June 4. It is the centerpiece of our exhibition about the rainbow flag design’s creator, “Performance, Protest and Poltiics: The Art of Gilbert Baker.” Click here to learn more about the flag, and click here to reserve tickets to the museum!
The San Francisco Giants will support Pride Month on the field and on their uniforms and caps.
On Saturday against the Cubs, the Giants will feature Pride colors in the SF logo on their game caps along with a Pride patch on the right sleeves of their home uniforms — making them the first major league team to do so.
“Very proud that the San Francisco Giants are taking this step. Very proud to be part of it,” manager Gabe Kapler said Tuesday before San Francisco hosted the Los Angeles Angels. “Looking forward to the impact and the support that we can provide for the LGBTQ+ community.”
The 11 colors represented in the new Pride logo are: red (life); orange (healing); yellow (sunlight); green (nature); blue (serenity); purple (spirit); and black and brown for LGBTQ+ people of color. Light blue, pink and white represent those who are transgender.
“We are extremely proud to stand with the LGBTQ+ community as we kick off one of the best annual celebrations in San Francisco by paying honor to the countless achievements and contributions of all those who identify as LGBTQ+ and are allies of the LGBTQ+ community,” Giants President and CEO Larry Baer said in a statement.
Additionally, the Giants will host Pride Movie Night at Oracle Park on June 11-12.
The hilltop cottage belonging to a lesbian couple who were the first same-sex partners to legally marry in San Francisco has become a city landmark.
The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to give the 651 Duncan St. home of the late lesbian activists Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin landmark status. The home in the Noe Valley neighborhood is expected to become the first lesbian landmark in the U.S. West, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
“They provided a place for lesbians who were really, really, really in the closet to hang out and dance, have holiday potlucks so they wouldn’t have to go home and hang out with their homophobic relatives,” said Shayne Watson, an architectural historian who specializes in LGBTQ heritage conservation and was active in the movement to get the home landmarked.
Martin and Lyon bought the simple one-bedroom house, terraced up the hillside, as a couple in 1955, the same year they co-founded the Daughters of Bilitis, a political and social organization for lesbians.
The group started as a social support organization but quickly transformed into activism and politics.
“The Daughters of Bilitis didn’t have an office space, so 651 was really ground zero for the lesbian rights movement at the time. It was a place where people could be safe and reveal their sexuality,” said Terry Beswick, executive director of the GLBT Historical Society.
Lyon was a journalist who met her lifelong love, Martin, while working at a magazine in Seattle. The couple moved to San Francisco in 1953. Besides the political organization, they published a national monthly for lesbians and a book called Lesbian/Woman in 1972.
Gov. Gavin Newsom was a newly elected mayor of San Francisco in 2004 when he decided to challenge California’s marriage laws by issuing licenses to same-sex couples. His advisers and gay rights advocates had the perfect couple in mind to be the public face of the movement.
Martin died in 2008, and Lyon in 2020, and the house was left to Martin’s daughter, Kendra. The property was sold in September 2020.
After the sale, a loose organization called the Friends of Lyon-Martin House was formed to guard against demolition, with the GLBT Historical Society as a financial sponsor.
The new owner, Meredith Jones McKeown, supports landmarking and protecting the cottage, the Chronicle reported.
Within six months, the group will put forth a proposal, with a sidewalk plaque as “a bare minimum,” Beswick said. Beswick and Watson both want to preserve the interior as a student residency, public research facility and center for LGBTQ activism and history.
“No one wants to see a tour bus in front of the house,” said Watson, “but Phyllis and Del affected so many lives, including my own, and I feel strongly that the house where they did it should stay in the community.”
A new online exhibition provides a pathbreaking look at LGBTQ lives and culture in the Japanese American community in the United States. Curated by Stan Yogi and Amy Sueyoshi, a frequent GLBT Historical Society collaborator, Seen And Unseen: Queering Japanese American History Before 1945 is a project of J-Sei, a Japanese American community organization in Emeryville.
The show draws on a variety of sources, including some of our archival collections, to unearth a hidden past when same-sex relationships and female impersonation were accepted parts of nikkei (Japanese American) immigrant culture. The exhibition also explores how, over time, the nikkei community’s atittudes came to mirror white American fears of same-sex intimacy and gender nonconformity. We interviewed Stan and Amy to learn more about how they curated Seen and Unseen.
Q: The theme of “kinship” among issei (first-generation Japanese immigrants) is an important one. What does it mean in the greater context of nikkei?
Stan: Generational identity has been a defining factor of the nikkei community in the U.S. As we move farther away in time from the issei generation, we run the risk of forgetting that early immigrants were overwhelmingly male. There’s evidence that some had emotionally (not necessarily physically) intimate relationships. Many of us who identify as queer Japanese Americans have been unaware of ancestors who were involved in intimate same-sex relationships or defied gender roles. We hope that our exhibition reveals and informs the larger nikkei community, and queer-identified Japanese Americans specifically, about the rainbow branches of our collective family tree.
Amy: Issei arrived in the U.S. during a time of intense anti-Japanese sentiment. Before the Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907, which allowed more Japanese women to enter the country as wives, the community was overwhelmingly male. One cannot adequately underscore how much these men relied on each other for companionship and comfort as they made their way in a new land, in a new language, under the brutality of immense animus from whites. Immigrant poet Yone Noguchi wrote that when he tramped to Los Angeles, he was welcomed along the way at any Japanese person’s home for a meal or a night of lodging.
Q: The show uses a lot of literary and newspaper sources; can you tell us about how you located and interpreted these?
Stan: Literary scholar Andrew Leong, a contributing curator to the exhibition, shared his research about issei leaders who urged compatriots, many of whom led vagabond lives, to settle in America, marry and raise families. He has revealed the queer subtext in creative literature written by issei authors, several of whom depicted men who rejected the call to enter heterosexual marriages and maintained emotional intimacy with other men.
Amy: In the absence of oral histories, written texts are often the only sources we have, and they are often sparse since many queers could not afford to leave such materials. Literary sources and newspapers are among the few available materials. When I first started my dissertation in 1996, I had to read each newspaper day-by-day, page-by-page to find a queer nugget. Now many of the newspapers are digitized—even the Japanese American press—so it was easier to put together this exhibition, particularly in the context of the ongoing shelter-in-place.
Q: How does the exhibition change our understanding of LGBTQ history in the United States through 1945?
Stan: Our exhibition helps audiences understand that early Japanese immigrants came from a culture in which male same-sex relationships and female impersonation were accepted. Their children, the nisei, came of age when white Americans’ harshly negative judgements of homosexuality and gender nonconformity were crystallizing. Nisei adopted those attitudes and beliefs. Although issei weren’t necessarily celebrating what today we consider queer sexuality and gender expression, they were more accepting than subsequent generations. The incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II accelerated the community’s desire to prove itself “American,” which included conformity to rigid gender roles and condemnation of same-sex intimacy.
Amy: A number of scholars, such as Siobhan Somerville, have shown that racism breeds homophobia and transphobia, even within marginalized groups themselves. Many Japanese Americans are terrified of coming out to their families, and postwar Japanese immigrants or shin issei think being queer is an American phenomenon. Most are unaware that our grandparents or great-grandparents were likely more queer-friendly than our parents. Learning about this might reshape how queer Japanese Americans think of themselves.
NOTE: Seen and Unseen is available through the end of June.
Amy Sueoyoshi is dean of the College of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University.
Stan Yogi is a writer who has coauthored numerous books and essays, which have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Daily Journal and academic journals and anthologies.
The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus has gone virtual this holiday season and has added an inclusive twist to the Christmas classic “Silent Night.”
During its annual holiday concert, which will be held on Christmas Eve, the 300-member chorus will perform “Silent Night” while using American Sign Language, so the deaf and hearing-impaired community can enjoy the performance.
The chorus released a preview video of what’s to come during its 30th annual holiday celebration.https://www.youtube.com/embed/ycYIksZ5_nU
The chorus’ annual holiday concert began in 1990 in an effort to bring cheer to those who had been impacted by the AIDS epidemic.
As for the “Silent Night” performance, artistic director Timothy Seelig said it was inspired by past inclusivity efforts by other choruses.
“I wish I could take credit for this inspiration, but it actually came from the Seattle Men’s Chorus in the mid 1980s. It was first included as a way to include the deaf community in the concert experience,” Seelig told NBC News in an email. “It quickly swept through choruses everywhere and is a cherished tradition for all.”
The New York City Gay Men’s Chorus has also been incorporating American Sign Language into its performances since the ’80s.
“They are a world-class organization, and I try my best to make sure that my interpretations are up to their level to make sure that the deaf audience is getting the same quality the hearing audience is getting,” Tom McGillis, who has been signing for the New York chorus since 1988, told NBC News in 2016.https://www.youtube.com/embed/6V_wwJZ7-4k
The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus gained national recognition for its talents last year in the award-winning documentary “Gay Chorus Deep South,” which followed the group as it traveled through the South in 2017 to promote a message of acceptance and unity. The film, directed by David Charles Rodrigues, won the documentary audience award in the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival and is now being shown on on Pop, Logo and Pluto TV.
LGBTQ Southerners have often faced social and political hardships across the Bible Belt. One Arkansas city last year attempted to enforce LGBTQ protections, but it was ultimately ruled it could not enforce its ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Circumstances like this are among the reasons why Seelig found it important for the chorus to embark on the journey after the 2016 election.
“We felt things were going to get much worse for the LGBTQ community, especially in states with the most egregious discriminatory laws already on the books. It was important for us to reach out to bring uplifting and unifying music to our brothers and sisters in the South,” he said.https://www.youtube.com/embed/IGN_NDfo5gw
In the wake of the pandemic and the surge of Covid-19 cases, Seelig said the San Francisco chorus will emerge resilient.
“From its courageous beginning one October night in 1978, the chorus has been at the forefront of the fight for equality for all — whatever direction that took,” Seelig said. “The chorus is now experiencing its second pandemic in its 43 years. We will come out of this one stronger and more committed to the work before us.”
The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus annual holiday concert, “Home for the Holidays,” will take place on Thursday, Dec. 24, at 5 p.m. PST/8 p.m. EST.
Legendary transgender perfomrer and singer Bambi Lake tragically passed away after being diagnosed with cancer, the Bay Area Reporter reports. Lake was 70.
Lake was a beloved performer in the Bay Area, and a mainstay in San Francisco’s queer underground scene. She was a sex worker, a porn actor, a cabaret artist, a songwriter, and a member of the legendary San Francisco theater group The Cockettes.
Lake’s friend, Birdie Bob Watt, called Lake a trailblazer. “She’s been inspirational to a lot of people as far as her ability to navigate her own path,” Watt said. “…In telling her story she gave a lot of other people power, as well as giving power to herself.”
In the 1990s, Lake co-authored a memoir titled The Unsinkable Bambi Lake with Alvin Orloff, the manager of Dog Eared Books Castro. Shealso released a solo album, Broadway Hostess, in 2005. Her show The Golden Age of Bambi Lake was a sold out hit at the popular nightclub Oasis.
In 2015, trans filmmaker Silas Howard made a short documentary about her, Sticks and Stones: Bambi Lake in 2014. Howard remembers her as being an unforgettable and unmatched figure in queer culture.
“An elusive and unstoppable force, Bambi lived for the stage, as it was one of the few places she was not only seen but revered for her talent and vulnerability,” Howard told Out. “She survived the AIDs pandemic, battles with houselessness and addiction, and lived to the age of 70s as a trans woman. A pioneer, an icon, a paradox, an overwhelming presence, a miracle to behold. She was fearlessly out as a trans woman when that term was not even in the popular lexicon.”
Howard also remembered her one-of-a-kind style. “She did it with a style which mixed DIY punk aesthetics with 1940s Hollywood glamour, a touch of Haute Couture and blatant sexuality,” he said. “She did it with a brash, confidence. In telling her story she gave a lot of other people power, as well as giving power to herself.”
Lake will be sorely missed, not just in San Francisco, but across the global LGBTQ+
Drag queens don their colorful wigs, elaborate makeup and knee-high stiletto boots, but instead of stepping on a stage, they’re putting on a face covering, grabbing a takeout bag and bringing their musical numbers to fans’ doorsteps in San Francisco.
The Oasis nightclub is turning the boring dinner blues into “Meals on Heels,” dispatching drag queens like Amoura Teese and Kochina Rude to bring food, cocktails and socially distant lip-synching performances to people during the coronavirus pandemic.
On a recent evening, Rude delivered dinner to Kelsie Costa and her family in the city’s Marina District and then lip-synched the drag show classic “Finally” by CeCe Peniston.
“There’s not a lot to do these days with shelter in place and COVID and all that,” Costa said. “So gotta spice it up somehow. It’s really fun.”
Oasis owner D’Arcy Drollinger said it’s a way to reconnect with their fans and bring a little joy to those who haven’t had much to smile about recently.
“You have the choice: You can either give up, go home and call it a night, or you can put some duct tape on, find a song you don’t know that well and go out there and sell the number,” Drollinger said. “That’s how I’ve been looking at this whole thing, is we’ve got to sell the number. The show must go on.”
With the club’s shows on hiatus because of the pandemic, it also gives drag performers a chance to make some much-needed money and keep up with their passion.Subscribe to The Morning Email.Wake up to the day’s most important news.
“Drag is such a beating heart of the city,” Rude said. “So it’s not only good for us, but it’s good for the people around us in our community. I’m inspired by it, and I’m honored to be a part of it.”
A legendary trans bar and nightclub in San Francisco will be closing up shop at the end of the month.
Divas bar and nightclub in the city’s Polk Gulch neighborhood will be throwing a final goodbye party on March 30 before closing for good.
Divas has billed itself as ‘the largest bar and nightclub in the United States devoted to the TS/TV community,’ and is one of the few trans-focused nightclubs in the US.
The three-story venue has been a cornerstone for many in San Francisco’s trans community since 1998.
Divas’ previous incarnation was as The Motherlode, which had been situated down the street from its current location.
It had been one of the few remaining LGBTI venues to survive in Polk Gulch, as property prices continue to skyrocket in San Francisco.
‘I’ve been the manager here for 31 years,’ Alexis Miranda told SFGate. ‘It’s depressing. It’s the only transgender club in California, one of three in the country.
‘We will find another place in the city. I’m working on it,’ Miranda added.
Divas in San Francisco’s Polk Gulch neighborhood | Photo: Google Maps
‘This is a nightmare that has been coming for a long time’
While the news will be upsetting for many of its regulars, it is unlikely Divas’ closure will come as surprise.
The building has been on the market since at least 2014 with a reported price-tag of $3.8 million.
Many of its fans had hoped the iconic venue would remain a space for the trans community.
Divas featured prominently in photography book ‘Divas of San Francisco: Portraits of Transsexual Women’, by photographer David Steinberg.
In a heartfelt Facebook post, alongside photos he had taken in Divas over the years, Steinberg wrote about his sadness in seeing the club go.
‘This is a nightmare that has been coming for a long time, but is nevertheless a real tragedy, for the community, for the city, and for me personally,’ Steinberg wrote.
‘Divas has been a unique and wonderful place for so long that it’s hard for me to even wrap my mind around the reality that, very soon, it will no longer exist.
‘Stories from Divas could fill a dozen mind-dazzling books, and an equal number of films. Beautiful stories, ugly stories, crazy stories, wonderful stories, amazing stories all.’
Steinberg added that the owners are planning on converting the bottom floor into a coffee house, and the top floors into offices and condos.
Divas’ goodbye party will take place between 10pm and 2am on 30 March.
The threat to LGBTI venues across the US
San Francisco is consistently listed as one of America’s most expensive cities.
Divas is far from the first LGBTI venue to fall victim to San Francisco’s high-priced property market.
Earlier this month, it was reported that Blow Buddies, the city’s largest gay sex club, was facing the prospect of closure as the building’s owners are looking to sell.
The Lexington Club, a well-known San Francisco lesbian bar, also closed its doors in 2017 due to rising property prices.
The east coast has also seen similar trends, with a number of New York City’s LGBTI venues either closing or facing the prospect of closure.
After over two decades in business, the Bum Bum Bar, a lesbian bar in Queens, unexpectedly closed down earlier this month.
Film, Performance & Discussion
The Indian Is Still Alive: Two-Spirit History
Thursday, November 1
The GLBT History Museum
4127 18th St., San Francisco
An evening of music and history with the Bay Area American Indian Two Spirits (BAAITS) drum group, including a screening of the documentary short The Indian is Still Alive and the Indian Knows the Songs directed by BAAITS drum member Susana Caceres, followed by songs by the BAAITS drum group and an audience discussion. The evening brings together arts, music, dance, culture and traditions to help educate natives, nonnatives and all LGBTQ people. Cosponsored by BAAITS. Purchase tickets here.
Two-Spirit Story Time
Reading Native American Tales for Children
Saturday, November 3
The GLBT History Museum
4127 18th St., San Francisco
Regular Museum Admission:
$5.00 (general); $3.00 (students)
An afternoon of story time for children presented by members of Bay Area American Indian Two Spirits to create visibility for LGBTQ Native peoples and to celebrate the diversity of genders, ethnicities and cultures in the Bay Area. Landa Lakes will read 47,000 Beads, a book about Two Spirit acceptance written by Koja Adeyoha and Angel Adeyoha. Ruth Villasenor will read Rainbow Crow: A Lenape Tale, a Native American legend written by Nancy Van Laan that symbolizes the values of selflessness and service to the community. Reserve free tickets here.
5B: A New Documentary on San Francisco AIDS History
Sunday, November 4
429 Castro St., San Francisco
In the mid-1980s, a ward on the fifth floor of San Francisco General Hospital became the first in the country designed specifically to deal with AIDS patients. Nursing on the ward emphasized holistic well-being, constituting a small miracle in the midst of a devastating crisis and panic. The new documentary 5B tells this story through first-person testimony of patients, their loved ones and hospital staff who volunteered to work on the ward, resulting in a bittersweet and moving celebration of quiet heroes worthy of remembrance and renewed recognition. Presented by SFFILM as the closing night of its Doc Stories festival; cosponsored by the GLBT Historical Society. Purchase tickets here.
Harvey Milk: American Icon With Lillian Faderman
Tuesday, November 6
James C. Hormel LGBTQIA Center
San Francisco Public Library
100 Larkin St., San Francisco
Harvey Milk — eloquent, charismatic and a smart-aleck — was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, but he hadn’t even served a full year in office when he was assassinated by a homophobic fellow supervisor. Milk has become arguably the most famous gay man in modern American history. His death made headlines 40 years ago, but what did he accomplish during his life that explains his continued importance? Renowned LGBTQ historian Lillian Faderman will address this and other questions as she presents her new book, Harvey Milk: His Lives and Death, published by Yale University Press as part of its Jewish Lives series. Presented by the James C. Hormel LGBTQIA Center of the San Francisco Public Library; cosponsored by the GLBT Historical Society. For more information, visit the Hormel Center web page.
Evoking Two-Spirit Experience on Screen
Thursday, November 8
The GLBT History Museum
An evening of short films created by Two Spirit people offer insight into their lives and their spirituality. Most of the films were produced through the Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project. A discussion with the filmmakers follows the screening.
Journey to the Drum (2009); 4 minutes. Filmmaker: Phoenix Lara. A short digital story about Phoenix Lara sending out a call to the Creator and their journey to the drum as a Two-Spirit person.
Renacimiento de una Bruja (2008); 9 minutes. Filmmaker: Zemaya. Many years after a Two-Spirit Xicana woman raised in the city experiences a spiritual awakening that connects her more deeply with her ancestors, she is guided to live on a country hilltop.
Traditional Indigenous Values (2009); 10 minutes. Filmmaker: Ruth Villasenor. The dissonant frequencies of colonization and Proposition 8 spark new thinking.
Tuupash (2018); 5 minutes. Filmmaker: L. Frank Manriquez. Native American song and meaning glow through a looming sky and give birth to resilience.
Two Spirits Belonging (2005); 10 minutes. Filmmaker: Rope Wolf. Spiritual connections abound throughout the Bay Area urban reservation.
Fighting Back: Harvey Milk’s Living Legacy
Wednesday, November 28
The GLBT History Museum
4127 18th St., San Francisco
Free Tickets | $5.00 Donation Welcome
The latest in our monthly “Fighting Back” series exploring contemporary queer issues in a historical context, this community forum will will highlight the living legacy of Harvey Milk and how it continues to inspire progressive, coalition-based political and electoral organizing in San Francisco and beyond. Commemorating the 40th anniversary of the assassinations of Harvey Milk and ally Mayor George Moscone on November 27, 1978, a panel of historians, veteran organizers and young activists will assess how the events of 1978 affected the progressive movement in the city and how Milk’s example continues to inspire work for positive change today. Cosponsored by the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club. Reserve your free ticket here.
Video Showing & Discussion
Listen Up! Voices of AIDS Activism
Thursday, November 29
The GLBT History Museum
4127 18th St., San Francisco
The first public showing of video interviews from our ongoing San Francisco ACT UP Oral History Project documenting the history of direct-action AIDS activism in the Bay Area. The full videos will eventually be made available to researchers and will form the basis of an exhibition at the GLBT History Museum, providing new insights into the contributions of activists as LGBTQ people and people with AIDS fought against the epidemic and the lethally slow response of the government. Current project manager Eric Sneathen and veterans of ACT UP will lead a discussion after the video program. Purchase tickets here.
Exhibitions & Programs
4127 18th St.
San Francisco, CA 94114
Monday – Saturday: 11:00 AM – 6:00 PM
Sunday: Noon – 5:00 PM
Closed for the Thanksgiving Holiday:
Thursday, November 23, and Friday, November 24
Collections & Research Center
989 Market St., Lower Level
San Francisco, CA 94103-1708