San Francisco GLBT Museum puts expansion plans on hold amid coronavirus pandemic

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The pride flags may be out in San Francisco's Castro district, but the doors are locked at the GLBT Historical Society Museum and Archives. It is the nation's first stand-alone museum of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender history and culture. But the museum's plans to expand into a larger space have been put on hold because of the economic impacts of the novel coronavirus.

At just under 1,600 square feet, the museum is small but the current exhibit tells the 150-year history of LGBT San Francisco. Items ranging from gold rush photos to the jacket Harvey Milk was wearing when he was killed. Just 1% of the museum's current holdings are on display.

This year would have marked the 50 anniversary of the San Francisco Pride parade. The event was expected to bring in as many as a million people to San Francisco. Organizers cancelled the event in April because of the pandemic.

"We normally have thousands of people coming through this small museum during the month of June and throughout the summer," said museum executive director Terry Beswick.

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Those crowds would have also been greeted with news - the museum was preparing for an expansion to this larger location at Market and Castro Streets. A space nearly seven times larger than the current museum.

"When COVID hit, we were in the midst of negotiating a lease for a much larger museum space, right here in the Castro," said Beswick. The plans to expand are now on hold.

"The public funding fell through, clearly we are in a recession right now and we weren't in a position to launch a capital campaign," said Beswick.

The museum is now re-evaluating its future, disappointed that plans to expand are on hold, but still eager to tell the stories of LGBT people.

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The GLBT Historical Society Museum is still open virtually, currently featuring an exhibit about Gilbert Baker.

"Gilbert Baker was most famously, was the creator of the gay flag, the rainbow flag," said Beswick.

The exhibit highlights Baker's artwork and talks about his contribution to gay culture. It is a celebration of the flag he made, first displayed at San Francisco's Pride Parade in 1978, a flag that will hopefully fly over a new museum someday soon.

If you'd like to help the GLBT Historical Society Museum and Archives, it has reduced its regular membership to just $35 for Pride Month. Click here, for more information.

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