By Milton Wendland for Diversity Rules Magazine
There are lots of fun LGBT vacation locales, many of which have long histories in LGBT life. Key West, Provincetown, and Fire Island, among many places, have long been havens for gays, lesbians, and others who are “in the life.” The Gay Key West Trolley Tour takes visitors on a tour of the LGBT history of the island to view the house where Tennessee Williams lived, learn about the city’s first gay mayor, view the site of the island’s infamous gay clubs, and soak up the tropical LGBT history of the island city that has as its official motto “One Human Family.” Many places that have played a central role in LGBT history are still open to the public. For example, the Stonewall Inn, which claims to be “where pride began” back in 1969, still operates at 53 Christopher Street in NYC.
But separate from such LGBT cities and islands are specific museums, archives, and historical sites that document LGBT history and lives.
The Leather Archives & Museum in Chicago is a treasure trove of artwork, toys, objects, clothing, and oral and written archival material related to the leather and s/m communities. The LA&M supports a visiting scholar every year, and its permanent and rotating exhibits are sensitive to women’s and trans issues. www.leatherarchives.org
Founded in the early 1970s, the Lesbian Herstory Archives has now grown to be the largest repository of materials related to lesbian lives on earth. The Archives not only exhibits some of its many holdings on site in Brooklyn but offers traveling exhibits that have included lesbian pulp fiction book covers and images of African-American lesbians. Digital collections and virtual tours are available as well. The website is: www.lesbianherstoryarchives.org.
The GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco’s Castro District is the nation’s first stand-alone museum dedicated to GLBT lives. www.glbthistory.org.
There is currently an effort underway to open a national museum of LGBT history in Washington, D.C. Although still years away from opening, you can view the strategic plan for the museum and its current status at nationallgbtmuseum.org
But not all such sites are located in big cities. The University of Kansas, for example, houses the recently acquired the Bruce McKinney Collection, a massive collection ranging from original advertisements for Harvey Milk’s photography shop in San Francisco to full runs of local and regional LGBT newsletters and ephemera of gay life including t-shirts, magnets, and photographs. The collection is especially notable because of its size and because of how deeply it documents LGBT lives in the Midwest. See www.lib.ku.edu/news/mckinney.shtml for more about this collection.
And if you’re able to “road-trip” by plane, train, or boat, there are a number of notable LGBT museums and archives in other countries – like the Irish Queer Archive in Ireland, the Pride Library in Ontario, Canada, and the Schwules Museum in Berlin. In addition many historical sites that are not at first glance LGBT-specific now pay specific attention to LGBT lives. For example, the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site in Germany includes coverage of lesbians, gays, and other “deviants” who were imprisoned and slaughtered in Dachau.
As you plan your road trip, be sure to check out the travel guides available at your local library, nearly all of which include LGBT specific information and many of which are designed especially for the LGBT traveler.