9 LGBT Museums & Memorials Around The World You Should Visit
With news breaking in June that the Stonewall Inn, famous for the riots that kick-started the gay rights movement in the U.S., would become the first national monument in America for LGBT rights history, it got me thinking: Where else in the world is the art, history, and culture of LGBT people celebrated in an institutional manner, whether it's as a monument, a museum, an archive, or a library? What ranks is the Stonewall Inn joining, and what will it have to do to stand out? As it turns out, the quality is already exceptionally high: across several nations, diverse groups have assembled substantial amounts of art and historical material that attests to the struggles and everyday lives of LGBT people in history, politically, and otherwise. If you're looking for something to do next weekend (or next time you travel overseas), allow me to fill your head with a few ideas.
LGBT history and its preservation in institutions matters. Even if you think museums are where interesting things go to die, they represent something important: a recognition that LGBT issues and experiences deserve to be known, understood, studied and placed in the larger historical narrative. Considering how persecuted the LGBT community has been as a minority for centuries (something that most of these places talk about extensively), this is a big deal. Legitimacy is part of the political fight, whether it's for the right to marry or the right to be remembered as a slice of the bigger picture.
Here are nine LGBT-focused museums and historical monuments worldwide that are worth your attention and donations. While we're busy making LGBTQ histories, we also need to devote time to the places that study and preserve them.
1. Leslie-Lohman LGBT Art Museum, NYC
If you're an art history lover, this is one of the most comprehensive collections of LGBT art in the world; the collection houses a whopping 24,000 objects, including some dating back to the 16th century. It's current getting a lot of press for its groundbreaking nationally touring exhibition "Art AIDS America," the first retrospective of art by artists from the onset of HIV/AIDS in America in the 1980s. (The New York Times asked "what took museums so long?") The museum had its origins in the art collections of J. Frederic Lohman and Charles Leslie, who first exhibited LGBT-themed art in 1969; it now exhibits across three spaces in NYC. Here's how to visit.
2. Alan Turing Memorial, Manchester, UK
The brilliant life and tragic death of Alan Turing, a pioneer in the development of computing who is believed to have committed suicide in 1954 after being arrested for homosexuality, is one of the most famous in Western LGBT history. A statue to him, erected in the English city of Manchester (it's where Turing created one of the first computers, the Manchester Mark I), is dedicated to both his huge contributions to computing and the desperate suffering caused by societal hatred for his sexuality: the plaque beneath the life size bronze sculpture reads,"Father of computer science, mathematician, logician, wartime codebreaker, victim of prejudice". Flowers are often laid around the statue on June 23, Turing's birthday, and June 7, the date of his death. Here's how to visit.
3. Schwules Museum, Germany
The Schwules Museum has been open since 1985, and has been a pioneering force in the art of recording and exhibiting on LGBT life. It tends to focus on history; its first (controversial) exhibit in 1984 was "Eldorado — the History, Everyday Life and Culture of Homosexual Women and Men 1850-1950," and from 2004 it hosted a hugely popular exhibition about the 200 years of LGBT fights for rights in Germany, from legal testimonies to the small successes of the gay rights movement. It's had a checkered history in location as well: originally located above an LGBT nightclub, it's now got its own dedicated building in the suburb of Kreuzberg, Berlin, and now houses archives, a library and a collection of art. Here's how to visit.
4. ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives, USC
Located at the University of South California, the ONE archives boast that they're "the largest repository of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) materials in the world". As they should be: they've been collecting materials since 1952, when ONE Magazine was founded as the first national magazine devoted exclusively to LGBT lifestyle. It's a research archive with huge resources for historians on the gay rights movement and other seminal parts of LGBT culture in the United States, but it also holds exhibitions: right now it's showing a multimedia art exhibition by the artist M. Lamar, for instance. Here's how to visit.
5. Denkmal für die im Nationalsozialismus verfolgten Homosexuellen, Berlin
This is a monument for a gigantic group of people with a special purpose: it translates as "memorial for the homosexuals persecuted under National Socialism," otherwise known as Nazism. LGBT people were specifically targeted by the Holocaust, and this memorial, opened in 2008, is directly opposite Berlin's famous Holocaust Memorial itself. It's a memorable experience: created by artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset, it's a giant concrete cube with a tiny window, through which observers can watch a video loop of two kissing men or women, depending on the year. It's also surrounded by plaques describing the particular conditions of persecution for LGBT people in Nazi Germany, including the fact that they weren't particularly recognized as victims until the 1980s. Here's how to visit.
6. Australian Lesbian & Gay Archives, Melbourne
If you're located in the Southern Hemisphere or are interested in Australian LGBT life, this is the place for you. It's been going since 1978, and aims to preserve and record all aspects of historical LGBT life in Australia across all time periods, from the AIDS crisis to early settlers. It also publishes books, runs history walks across Melbourne and runs academic conferences, but the core of its work is in archiving and exhibitions; last year it ran a history of drag in Melbourne in an associated gallery. Here's how to visit.
7. Homomonument, Amsterdam
One of the more moving monuments to LGBT persecution worldwide is actually not hugely visible; it takes the form of three triangles inlaid on the ground of Amsterdam near a canal. Erected in 1987, it was one of the world's first LGBT-centric monuments, particularly focused on commemorating the members of the community targeted by the Nazis (the pink triangles that make up the monument reference the pink triangle patches that LGBT people were forced to wear under Nazism). The location by the canal is thought to represent a jetty on which LGBT people were transported to concentration camps, though this isn't clear. Either way, it's a moving and effective space. Here's how to visit.
8. Stonewall National Museum and Archives, Ft Lauderdale
America is definitely the international frontrunner in the LGBT museum department; this particular example in Fort Lauderdale is one of the largest and most influential in the country, participating in everything from marches on Washington for gun control to the recent creation of a collection to honor Orlando victims, #WeAreOrlando. It was first created in 1973, and now has a collection including things like the gavel used by Nancy Pelosi to signal the end of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" in 2010. It's also got something for everybody: right now it's running an exhibition on Marilyn Monroe memorabilia. Here's how to visit.
9. GLBT Historical Society & Museum, San Francisco
If there's anywhere in the U.S. qualified to host a museum on LGBT life, it's definitely the Castro in San Francisco, one of the hotbeds of gay culture and the gay rights movement for decades. The GLBT Historical Society & Museum located in the area doesn't disappoint; it's both a research library with thousands of pieces of material and a museum space with significant collections and exhibitions. Its permanent exhibition includes erotica and significant moments in the city's LGBT history. Here's how to visit.