|Above, the exhibit includes the suit that Harvey Milk was assassinated in, which still has the bullet holes and blood stains. Thereâ€™s also a rugby ball dedicated to Mark Bingham, one of the heroes killed on 9/11 in the United Flight 93 tragedy.
By Joseph Amster
With the closing of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Societyâ€™s Passionate Struggle: Dynamics of San Franciscoâ€™s GLBT History exhibit at the corner of 18th and Castro Streets this coming weekend, Executive Director Paul Boneberg says the year-long run was a success for both his organization and the neighborhood.
â€śOur intent a year ago was to see if this would work. If we built the exhibit, would anyone come? I think we proved our point: that weâ€™re an economic draw for the Castro, and I think thatâ€™s why the city is supporting us to try to do it again longer, and thatâ€™s what weâ€™re going to try to do,â€ť he says. The GLBTHS has secured a $100,000 grant from the City of San Francisco and is currently in negations to continue a presence in the Castro. â€śWe are now exploring spaces. We are in negotiations with the Walgreenâ€™s corporation, and the space they have next to the Badlands bar,â€ť he says. â€śThat may happen, it may not happen, but we have the city grant, and weâ€™re actively looking to see if we can open another space. If we can, we will, but it will not be until the spring of next year.â€ť A spring opening would coincide with the GLBTHSâ€™ 25th anniversary.
The exhibition space for Passionate Struggle at 18th and Castro Streets was never intended to house the artifacts for more than one year, and was made possible by a donation by Chase Bank. Boneberg says the exhibition attracted over 25,000 people during its run and had a positive economic impact on the neighborhood. â€śWeâ€™ve had some businesses say that their business was up during the year, and considering the enormous recession, that is extraordinary - they attribute that to us,â€ť he says. â€śItâ€™s clearly a cultural attraction of enough note that itâ€™s enhancing the visitor experience for the Castro.
â€śOne of the things that I was pleasantly surprised by was how many of the visitors were non-GLBT community,â€ť says Boneberg. â€śI would say that at least a third of our overall visitors were non-gay, which is great and wonderful. Theyâ€™re going to the Castro looking for queer culture and finding us.â€ť
Neighborhood businesses also supported the exhibition, with the Castro Theatre donating T-shirt sales proceeds during its run of the film Milk, as well as a significant donation from Harveyâ€™s restaurant. The GLBTHS also credits a dedicated staff of volunteers with keeping the exhibition open during its run.
Passionate Struggle resonated with attendees for a myriad of reasons, says Boneberg. â€śSome are stunned that we have a history, and they had never realized the breadth and depth of GLBT history - that includes people from our own community or not,â€ť he says. â€śFor some, it can be something that relates to their history. Perhaps itâ€™s a flyer they made or a photograph of an event they were at, or a T-shirt that relates to something in their livesâ€™ experience. Thatâ€™s another place where people are just stunned that the objects survived, and it moves them.â€ť
The item with the most emotional impact in the exhibit, however, was a blood-stained, bullet ridden suit at the back of the exhibit. â€śThe single item that impacts the most, the suit [Harvey Milk was wearing when he was assassinated], because many people saw the film Milk, and many people came to San Francisco because of Harvey. A number of times I have found people stunned looking at the suit. Weâ€™d often talk to them about how we got the suit. Clearly, thatâ€™s the single most powerful, emotion-packed item for many people.â€ť
Passionate Struggle attracted far higher attendance numbers than any exhibit at the GLBTHSâ€™ downtown space on Mission Street, one reason why Boneberg hopes to secure a more permanent space in the Castro. â€śFor us, the fundamental message is that the exhibit has succeeded and it allows us to now return for a longer runâ€ť, he says. â€śIt makes the case that there should be a GLBT museum in San Francisco, and weâ€™ve taken the first step toward that with this successful one-year exhibit.â€ť
While the GLBTHS seeks donations of significant, historical items for their collection, the number one way the community can support the organization is by becoming a member. â€śWeâ€™re a membership organization, and memberships begin at $30,â€ť says Boneberg. â€śCertainly, people can support us by becoming members. They can do that by going to our Web site. Weâ€™re a small institution with a staff of three with a lot of volunteers. Our annual budget is under a half million dollars.â€ť
Another way to support the GLBTHS is by attending their first-ever gala, on Thursday, Oct. 29, from 6:30-9:30 pm in The Green Room at the San Francisco Performing Arts Center and War Memorial, 401 Van Ness Ave. Titled Unmasked, the Halloween gala includes a performance from Beach Blanket Babylon and the Twilight Vixen Review, an all queer burlesque troop, as well as appearances by Honorary Gala Chair Supervisor Bevan Duffy, The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, and Dykes on Bykes. Advance tickets begin at $75 and are available at http://www.glbthistory.org/gala2009/index.html.
The GLBTHS is located at 657 Mission St., San Francisco. For more information, go to www.glbthistory.org, or call (415) 777-5455.