GLBT History Museum Opens in San Francisco’s Castro District

The "Textiles" section of "Great Collections" features the pantsuits worn by lesbian pioneers Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon when they became the first same-sex couple to wed during San Francisco's "Winter of Love" in 2004 and again when California briefly legalized such marriages in 2008. A couple for more than half a century, Del and Phyllis were cofounders of the Daughters of Bilitis, established in 1955 as the first lesbian organization in the United States.

Said Paul Boneberg, executive director of the Historical Society, in a statement to press.: "A quarter century after the founding of the GLBT Historical Society, we're proud to open a museum to showcase our community's history. The GLBT History Museum is in the heart of the Castro, a neighborhood visited not only by locals, but also by tens of thousands of tourists every year who come in search of queer culture. At our museum, they'll discover treasures from our archives that recount the diverse and fascinating stories of our lives. We have gone all out to create a museum as rich, diverse and surprising as the GLBT community itself. Whether they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or straight, visitors are sure to be moved, enlightened and entertained."

"Military Matters: Divergent Duties" in "Our Vast Queer Past" focuses on both GLBT demands for equality in military service and GLBT opposition to war and militarism. The document at upper left is the 1919 honorable discharge of gay novelist and short-story writer Clarkson Crane, who served in the U.S. Army medical corps in combat in France in World War I. It's one of the oldest items on display in the exhibition.

The museum will feature two debut exhibitions: In the main gallery, "Our Vast Queer Past: Celebrating GLBT History," curated by historians Gerard Koskovich, Don Romesberg and Amy Sueyoshi; and in the front gallery, "Great Collections of the GLBT Historical Society Archives."

"Bar Life: Going Out" section of "Our Vast Queer Past." The display includes 120 different matchbooks from San Francisco and Bay Area GLBT bars and clubs (1950s-1990s). The screen in the center shows more than 100 slides of façades of San Francisco LGBT bars (1968-1973) taken by Henri Leleu.

Funding for the museum has come from Levi's, the City of San Francisco, Castro district merchants, and numerous other sponsors and individual donors.

You can check out a whole gallery of these photos HERE (if you're on Facebook).


  1. says

    Bar life? Matchbooks? Pant suits? The pics above are disappointing to say the least. I hope there’s more pertinent content in the museum than was shown in this article.

  2. eric says

    It is very unlikely that it will be vandalized. For one, it is in the heart of the Castro. Second, it is next door to one of the more crowded bars so there are always people outside right by it til 2am.

  3. Paul R says

    I agree with Eric. I don’t see it any more likely to be vandalized than anything else in the Castro, and vandalizing or violent homophobes are too big of wimps to try to screw with things in the Castro. In addition to the large numbers of gay crowds, there’s a citizen security patrol (on weekends at least), and a good police and security presence, and crowded streets at almost all hours.

    I also suspect that this museum would fly under the radar of most vandals.

    That said, I have to agree with Tre. Calling a section of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon “Textiles” and showing their pant suits seems irrelevant. Showing photos, pamphlets, and other information from the 50s and the founding of Daughters of Bilitis would be more informative and stimulating, though perhaps the museum also contains such things. Still, “Textiles”? Odd.

  4. says

    As one of the curators for the new GLBT History Museum, I’d encourage folks to click on the link Andy has kindly supplied to my album on Facebook (accessible even if you don’t have a Facebook account). You’ll find 50-plus photos of the museum that help clarify the focus of the two exhibitions.

    The front gallery offers an overview of the range, depth and kinds of material the GLBT Historical Society has collected during its 25-year history. That’s the gallery where the sections are arranged by type — periodicals, ephemera, photographs, textiles and so on — with each represented by a few examples from the collection. The objective –clearly stated in the introductory text and the panels for the individual sections — is to give visitors a snapshot of how the archives work, why they’re important for LGBT people and what’s distinctive about the Historical Society.

    The exhibition in the main gallery, “Our Vast Queer Past: Celebrating GLBT History,” offers what a couple of the commenters are asking for: a look at more than 20 key themes from the history of LGBT people, drawing on the extensive archives of the Historical Society. The stories are often surprising and in many cases quite moving. It even includes a section on Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon as Paul R. requests, looking not only at their cofounding of the Daughters of Bilitis, but also at their subsequent half-century of activism on behalf of a range of progressive causes.

    If you live in Northern California — or will be visiting San Francisco at any point — we invite you to pay a visit to the museum. The front gallery exhibition will be open through May, and the main gallery exhibition will be open through the end of the year. After that, we’ll be mounting new exhibitions. If you would like to learn more about how you can support the new museum, please visit

  5. Chris stevenson says

    I went to the museum yesterday and it is indeed a great and moving collection. I love the fact that it includes the kind of ephemera (like the matchbooks and posters for gay events) that have defined our community as much as the political. I’m looking forward to the collection of oral histories (not yet installed) that will give some more perspective on our history, and to what I’m sure will be an interesting rotation of displays.

  6. says

    I am glad to say, that next month I will be featured for an up coming Documentary about my photography, and the stories behind them during the 1960s and 70’s in San Francisco. I have tried unsuccessfully to get the attention of the S.F. Gay History Museum, regarding my collection of images and memorabilia. When it is time to find a repository… I WILL NOT CONSIDER THEM AT ALL, based on my unanswered emails and phone calls over too long a period of time.

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