Lesbian Couple Told to Stop Holding Hands at Gertrude Stein Exhibit in San Francisco

The Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco is taking very seriously an incident in which a guard tried to get a lesbian couple to stop holding hands while they were viewing — ironically enough — an exhibit on lesbian writer and poet Gertrude Stein.

The SF Chronicle wrote:

Stein Levikow was in the gallery with her partner when she noticed a young lesbian couple in heated conversation with a security guard.

"They were holding hands," Levikow said, "and he told them they couldn't hold hands in the museum."

The couple did not agree. A small crowd began to form and the guard attempted to shoo the couple out the door to quiet things down.

"And they said, 'No we are not leaving and we want to talk to somebody in authority right now,' " Levikow said. "The idea that in 2011, in San Francisco, at the Jewish Museum, this guard could be that out of touch was shocking."

Museum officials have sent a letter to those affected by the incident and the museum's board and staff, the Bay Citizen reports:

“It caused quite an uproar,” [Daryl Carr,  Director of Marketing and Communications of the museum] said, who was out of town at the time of the incident.

The museum does not employ its own guards, instead outsourcing work to a company called Guardsmark. Carr said the guard who reprimanded the couple was filling in due to a shortage and was not regularly assigned to the museum.  Shortly after the incident, the guard was asked to leave the museum, according to Carr. The museum wrote a letter to Guardsmark, expressing their unhappiness over the incident.

“We asked for him to be fired, actually,” Carr said, but said that the company had instead reprimanded the guard and promised to provide sensitivity training to guards currently assigned to the museum and any guards assigned in the future. The guard who objected to the hand-holding will never work at the museum again.


  1. scott says

    He got what was needed — a reprimand and some training. I think the call to fire him was excessive and would have only added to the “persecuted Christian” myth they like to perpetuate.

  2. Francis says

    Just another example of homophobes attempting to drive us in the closet. The fact this happened in San Francisco, when the museum was holding an exhibit on a lesbian writer, really speaks wonders to the degree of homophobia of many of these bigots, completely unable to even exist with or around anyone knowingly gay. Hopefully the name of the security guard is leaked.

    These stories of these security guards, bus drivers, etc., who literally stop what they’re doing and instead of focusing on their job, and all of the true security risks at whatever establishment their in, focus on essentially harassing any gay/lesbian person they see or anyone who shows any sign of affection towards their same-sex partner, is really ridiculous.

    Sensitivity training won’t do anything to prevent incidents such as this, homophobes like this act on impulse. The question that has to be raised is——what exactly are these homophobes so affected by?

  3. Mike in the Tundra says

    My brain couldn’t really comprehend the guard’s actions. Not only is he a class A idiot, he obviously knows very little about Gertrude Stein.

  4. Mark Jansen says

    I’m tempted to say that such stupid people as the guard should not be allowed into museums, but museums exist to educate, and in a roundabout way this person will now be educated. Whether he likes it or not!

  5. Mark says

    “We asked for him to be fired”
    –Daryl Carr, Director of Marketing and Communications of the Contemporary Jewish Museum

    They “ASKED”? The did NOT demand the guard’s firing as a condition of future work with the company???

    1. The company “reprimanded the guard”.

    2. The company “promised to provide sensitivity training”.


    Has the museum fired the security company? Surely this one company is not the only option for museum security in the entire city of San Francisco.

    Funny how the situation would be different had a white guard similarly mistreated a person of color. When its race you get fired. When its sexual orientation you get a warning.


  6. ohplease says

    “I think the call to fire him was excessive…”

    You’re absolutely right. Everybody knows that a security guard’s job is to harrass any queers stupid enough to come into their museum.

    I’ll go you one better: if he also was kicking out people of color, then he should have got a raise. And if he was throwing out the Jews from their own museum, then they should have given him the key to the city.

    In other words, what the hell is wrong with you?

  7. Lexxvs says

    I’m not surprised as –no offence intended- guards usually are not very learned people, so who knows his backgrounds. It happens often everywhere, as they use their own primal criteria (primal could be replaced by biblical many times) to decide.
    What surprised me more –if the facts are accounted verbatim- is the idea that the security company have this solution of just providing sensitivity training to those guards assigned to the museum… as if it’s gonna be ok to have assholes at everywhere else. Maybe I misunderstood and they will extend the policy to all their deluxe personal.
    All in all, I’m glad the guard was the one that actually had to leave and got into trouble.

  8. THE QUEEN says


  9. Paul says

    Duuuuuuh. I protect da paintings. Duuuuuuuuur.

    I agree with the poster who wrote: demand his firing or tell the security company the museum will fill its security needs elsewhere.

  10. Josh says

    Dismissal of the guard, sensitivity training, apology to the couple. The museum covered its bases. And “Queen”, I don’t know if Gertrude and Alice ever held hands in public in the 1920’s-30’s, but there is no “decorum” rule today that says no couples may hold hands in a museum, so I fail to see your point.

  11. Jenna says

    Since they won’t fire the bigot, the museum should contract a new security company. By keeping the company that tollerates homophobia, the museum in turn is not taking a stand and is tollerating homohobia on some level as well. Money talks. Get a new security company.

  12. Hollywood, CA says

    I wish we could speak to the guard and understand what he was thinking, and why he felt so compelled to speak out. I get when guys do stuff, but when two woman hold hands, I never assume they are gay. My mom and aunt hold hands all the time, so why react? Also, assuming the guard was a man, what’s the problem with lesbians? Most men I feel don’t really have too much to say on them, so I would love to hear what was going on in his head…

  13. MattGA says

    Weird. I’m just now understanding fully the importance of the LGBT History legislation in CA. People are so oblivious to the contributions of LGBT individuals in our society. For this person to display such bigotry in a setting celebrating the achievements of someone just like those they were attacking is definitely a huge STATEMENT.

  14. Conversion therapy anyone? says

    The guard acted totally inappropriately — he should have quietly slipped them a flyer advertising Bachmann & Associates.

  15. Jessica Naomi says

    You should have published the museum director Connie Wolf’s letter to the guard company published in http://www.baycitizen.org/blogs/culturefeed/jewish-museum-gertrude-stein-lesbian/

    As Director and CEO of The Contemporary Jewish Museum (CJM), I am writing you about an event that occurred at the Museum on Sunday, July 17, 2011.The purpose in sharing this information with those visitors affected, as well as members of our Board’s executive committee and the Museum’s senior staff, is to inform you of the CJM’s position on this matter, and the steps taken to ensure that something of this nature will not reoccur.

    While viewing the exhibition “Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories” in the Koshland Gallery, two women who were holding hands were informed by a contract security guard, acting in his individual capacity, that such behavior was not allowed at the Museum and asked the couple to leave. The couple requested to speak to the head of security, who upon arrival immediately removed the guard from duty and issued a verbal apology to the couple for the guard’s behavior.

    We note that the security guard in question is employed by a security services company with whom the CJM has contracted and is not assigned to the CJM on a regular basis. In fact, that guard was called in to fill a temporary slot due to staffing shortage.

    The guard’s behavior resulted in an event that cannot be allowed to happen again. Please let me be crystal clear that the CJM has a zero tolerance policy concerning any type of prejudiced or racist word or action— whether directed at CJM visitors or staff. Since the Museum opened its new facility in June 2008, it has engaged audiences of all ages and backgrounds through dynamic exhibitions and programs that explore contemporary perspectives on Jewish culture, history, art, and ideas. The Museum has distinguished itself as a welcoming place where visitors, regardless of their backgrounds, can connect with one another through dialogue and shared experiences with the arts. Consistent with the CJM’s zero tolerance policy, we promptly filed a formal complaint with the security services company which employs the guard in question. We informed the company that the type of behavior exhibited by the guard is contrary to the CJM’s policy and is unacceptable.

    We demanded that the guard never be assigned to the CJM in any capacity at any time. Moreover, the CJM demanded that the company instruct all security guards it assigns to the CJM on appropriate behavior toward Museum visitors and provide the CJM with a corrective plan of action.

    The company has assured the CJM that the guard in question has been reprimanded, and that going forwarded all of the company employees assigned to duties at the CJM will be required to attend a sensitivity training course that addresses how Museum visitors are to be treated. On behalf of the Museum, its staff, and Board of Trustees, we are truly sorry that this incident occurred in our facility. We are proud to be presenting the exhibition Seeing Gertrude Stein and welcome all visitors to experience the work on view. If you have any further questions about this matter, please do not hesitate to contact me directly.

    Thank you.


    Connie Wolf, Director & CEO

    Source: The Bay Citizen (http://s.tt/12SAz)

  16. sheshe says

    I’m straight, but pro-gay!!!I live in the Bay Area and have worked over 15 years in San Francisco. This story does not make sense to me. I think there is more to the story here, I personally think the ladies were doing more than just holding hands for a Security Guard to go out of his way to say something. I’m quite sure during his time at the site he saw several straight and gay couples holding hands alike. I would also think that when he was hired he was given a history of the museum. If he had a problem with the site the guard could have been assigned to another site. This would not have been a big deal at all. So, the way I see it, clearly these ladies were doing more than holding hands. There is more to this story and I think the truth needs to come out.

  17. Jonathan says

    I used to work for a security guard company and used to be assigned to art galleries and museums, among other businesses and events. I can attest to what other commentators here have observed: Most guards are dumbo cop-wannabes. They do it partly because it’s easy, requires little-to-no training, and gives them an illusion of power thrill by intimidating others with a poker face and stares.

    The job actually consists mostly just of standing around, circulating, reflexively keeping people from getting too close to the artworks, tactlessly stopping people from talking too loudly, and on occasions being helpful by answering people as to the loos are. It’s kind of embarrassing really.

    The sensitivity training may not do much to change the way this homophobe thinks, but Instead of hassling lesbians and gays, he’ll learn to make do with staring rudely.

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