In the more than 35,000 American museums, a surprisingly diverse range of exhibits is devoted, from key events in the history of mankind to quirky odes to inventions “only here” (how do you mean you never visited the Minnesota Spam Museum?). Although one subject may seem totally different from another, all museums are linked by a common mission: to preserve memories of the good, the bad and the ugly, so that each generation can become wiser than the last.
For the LGBTQIA + community, museums and archives dedicated to queer history, culture and causes play a vital role in the continued pursuit of equal rights and representation. These institutions – whether they chronicle the gay liberation movement of the 1960s or showcase contemporary queer-made art – establish LGBTQIA + people not only as characters in the Great American Story, but as writers. who write their own future, in their own way. In the words of Gay Senator Tammy Baldwin: “All of us who are openly gay live and write the history of our movement. “
And the next chapter looks more rainbow than ever. Here are our favorite LGBTQIA + museums across America to plan your visit now.
World AIDS Museum in Fort Lauderdale
Fort Lauderdale World AIDS Museum delivers a revealing and at times heartbreaking presentation using first-hand testimonials from people affected by the outbreak. As the very first institution dedicated to HIV / AIDS, the association works to alleviate the persistent stigma associated with the virus, while organizing educational programs and seminars to promote dialogue between young people and those at risk. Above all, the World AIDS Museum is an emotional tribute to the lives lost to the virus and a recognition of the daily struggles millions of people still face today.
ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives in Los Angeles
Drawing on the extensive collection of activist Jim Kepner, ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives has become one of the world’s largest repositories of LGBTQIA + material. Since 2010, ONE has kept more than 2 million articles to promote awareness of LGBTQIA + issues, including 30,000 volumes of books and periodicals, 4,000 films, 21,000 videos and 6,900 audio recordings. The archives, which are part of the University of Southern California library system, also has a satellite space called A gallery in West Hollywood.
Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in New York
New York collectors Fritz Lohman and Charles Leslie had collected gay-themed artwork for years before launching their collection in their Soho loft in 1969. Fifty years later, the duo would establish one of the Nation’s premier LGBTQIA + institutions for queer creativity, amassing over 30,000 diverse visual artworks spanning three centuries. In 2017, Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art has expanded its footprint to a trendy corner of Wooster Street, where it continues to host rotating exhibitions, a bookstore, and a public programming schedule.
Stonewall National Museum and Archives in Fort Lauderdale
One of the best cultural institutions in the country dedicated to LGBTQIA + history, the Stonewall National Museum and Archives holds over 28,000 books of fiction, non-fiction, biography and art related to the crucial Stonewall Riots of 1969 in New York City. In 2020, the museum moved from the historic gay enclave Wilton Manors to the same building as the original Fort Lauderdale library, which has been in existence since 1984. The Stonewall National Museum & Archives is an educational powerhouse not only for visitors, but also for historians, academics and students researching LGBTQIA + culture.
National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame in Chicago
For sports enthusiasts, Chicago’s National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame – the only one of its kind in the United States – deserves a prime spot on any Windy City itinerary. You’ll find it inside the Center on Halsted in Boystown, Chicago’s quintessential gay district, a few blocks from the legendary Wrigley Field. The attraction opened in 2013 to share the legacy of pioneers who “improved sport and athletics for the LGBTQ community,” and to honor each year proud new LGBTQIA + athletes in its hall of fame, joining legendary inductees like Greg Louganis, Megan Rapinoe and Billie Jean King.
GLBT History Museum in San Francisco
Located in the Castro neighborhood of San Francisco, the nonprofit GLBT History Museum has earned his exalted rank (and his ironic nickname: “the Gay Smithsonian”) for its astonishing permanent collection of historical LGBTQIA-themed artifacts dating back to 1850. Although the museum focuses on San Francisco and the northern region of California (you’ll learn a ton about pioneering gay rights activist and political figure Harvey Milk here), it also archives and displays materials donated from around the world. As a participating member of the national association Museums for all program, entry is free for visitors every Saturday.
New York Lesbian History Archives
In the 1970s, a group of women who were originally part of the New York-based Gay Academic Union founded the Lesbian History Archives, determined to face a particular qualm: that the umbrella of homosexual history was still dominated by a patriarchal perspective that addressed overwhelmingly to the male homosexual experience. It would effectively make lesbian history disappear as quickly as it was made. Today, the Brooklyn organization still collects material to document lesbian “history” from all geographic, cultural, political and economic backgrounds and historical contexts, enabling future generations to continuously investigate and reassess l lesbian experience.
Tom of Finland House in Los Angeles
Finnish artist Touko Laaksonen – although you probably know him better as Tom of Finland – is perhaps the most prolific queer illustrator of all time. The former home of virtuoso Echo Park, owned by Laaksonen’s business partner Durk Dehner, is now the headquarters of the Tom Foundation of Finland, which houses Tom of Finland’s largest art collection. (Some say it’s the largest repository of homoerotic art in the world.) Visitors can enjoy over 1,500 works by Laaksonen and over 100,000 period porn images, documents and films inside the Tom House from Finland, which was designated a Historic and Cultural Monument by the LA Conservancy in 2016.
American LGBTQ + Museum in New York
As part of the New York Historical Society’s latest expansion, the city’s oldest museum will soon be home to the American LGBTQ + Museum – proof that there are more and more LGBTQIA + museums emerging. When complete, the 70,000-square-foot exhibition space will be New York City’s first-ever museum dedicated to global LGBTQIA + history and culture, amplifying voices (over 3,200 LGBTQIA + people across the United States have helped inform the museum’s establishment), achievements, and challenges faced by community members. Until its official debut in 2024, the museum will host virtual programming on its website.