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12 of the World’s Most Enlightening LGBTQ Museums

Check out these illuminating museums, galleries, and archives share the story of LGBTQ struggles and splendor around the world.

Many Americans are familiar with the mid-century backlashes that sparked the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil-rights movement. From those events came Pride marches that now happen all over the world. Those early battles also inspired many LGBTQ advocates to commemorate and honor their communities through enduring institutions.

In America, plans to open the National Museum of LGBT History & Culture in New York City are in the works for a potential June 2019 opening—to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall riots. But there already are dozens of museums and archives around the globe sharing the story of LGBTQ lives and the fight for equality.

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Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay & Lesbian Art

Art is vital to the LGBTQ community as a form of both reflection and expression—and the world can thank two New Yorkers for being the first to build a gallery devoted to it. Fritz Lohman and Charles Leslie collected gay-themed art for years until finally hosting the first exhibition of it back in 1969 in their Soho loft. Through struggles and opposition, they established their gallery. Now, a half-century later, the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay & Lesbian Art is the world’s top institution for the genre, with a collection of more than 30,000 works by thousands of queer artists dating back three centuries. In 2017, the museum doubled the size of its Wooster Street location, making use of its prime lower Manhattan corner with exhibits, a bookstore, an ongoing speakers series, and other public and private events.

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Schwules Museum

Considered the first “gay museum,” the Schwules Museum is a multi-faceted institution that covers the full spectrum of LGBTQ life. Its origins date back to an exhibit at the Berlin Museum in 1984 that was so successful it inspired a group of friends to open the Schwules Museum. Spring 2013 saw the opening of today’s multi-story institution in the Tiergarten district, which maintains a research library and singular archival holdings in its climate-controlled basement. The museum also houses offices, a workshop, a café and event space, and four exhibition spaces that share a truly incredible array of art and history. The Schwules Museum is among Germany’s prized cultural institutions thanks to its remarkable collection and engaging, informative exhibits.

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One Archive

It’s a beautiful irony that the largest repository of LGBTQ materials on earth—more than two million items—is called “ONE.” But ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives champions the notion that preservation promotes public awareness, and it all amounts to the singular endeavor of understanding. Thanks to the University of Southern California Libraries, ONE’s comprehensive assemblage has been preserved in its West Adams Boulevard archive since 2010. There, researchers and other visitors can explore everything from periodicals, books, and films, to photography, audio recordings, and personal papers. To complement the USC space, the recently renovated West Hollywood satellite, ONE Gallery, hosts ongoing art and history exhibits you’re unlikely to experience anywhere else.

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Stonewall National Museum & Archives

It seems an unlikely city for such an institution, but Fort Lauderdale is actually home to a strong LGBTQ community, as well as the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association and the dynamic Pride Center of Florida. Among the city’s top cultural offerings is the Stonewall National Museum & Archive, which started as a library in 1984 by south-Florida student Mark Silber. Taking its name from the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City, the outfit grew steadily, earned non-profit status, and has amassed more than 30,000 works of art, history, records, and ephemera. Stonewall’s Wilton Manors Museum Gallery hosts revolving exhibits throughout the year, along with film screenings, readings, fundraisers, and other events.


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Lesbian Herstory Archives

Lesbian history is often overshadowed by the umbrella term of “gay pride,” which tends to focus on male homosexuality. That was a driving force for the small group of women who founded the Lesbian Herstory Archives in the 1970s. They avidly worked to gather and preserve multi-media materials, memorabilia, and publications specifically by and about lesbian culture and herstory. The archives occupy a townhouse in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood, where countless shelves are laden with books and recordings, and it seems like every square inch is covered by unique mementos of the queer-female continuum. Guests and researchers are welcome there by appointment or during open hours or monthly events. The LHA also shares its collection through traveling exhibits, and maintains a digital collection that’s considered the world’s largest archive of materials devoted to lesbians and their communities.

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National Gay & Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame

Chicago is so big on sports, it’s home to the country’s sole LGBTQ athletic museum. Located inside the Center on Halsted in Boystown, just a few blocks from Wrigley Field, the National Gay & Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame opened in 2013. Its mission is to honor people and organizations that “have enhanced sports and athletics for the LGBTQ community,” and to preserve that history for future generations. The hall of fame launched shortly after Jason Collins became the first out NBA player, and since then has inducted dozens more, including Billie Jean King, Greg Louganis, Megan Rapinoe, and even the Chicago Cubs, for being the first pro franchise to host an LGBTQ day back in 2001.

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Transgender Archives at the University of Victoria

To access the world’s most comprehensive archive of transgender publications and memorabilia, head to beautiful British Columbia, Canada. There, the University of Victoria maintains records of trans activism and art stretching back more than a century, contributed by gender non-binary and two-spirit people and supporters from nearly two-dozen countries. Located within the serene campus library, the Transgender Archives also serves as a classroom, research area, archival vault, and exhibit space that hosts a variety of talks, community events, and performances.

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GLBT History Museum

Some think of it as the “queer Smithsonian” for its comprehensive assemblage of printed materials, artifacts, oral histories, and other LGBTQ historical matter. Fortunately, the GLBT History Museum in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood lives up to that characterization through an incredible permanent collection, research library, digital archive, and dynamic exhibition space (rivaled only by Berlin’s Schwules Museum). The non-profit museum was founded in 2010 by the GLBT Historical Society, which for decades received donations of irreplaceable LGBTQ-related materials from personal collections around the world. Visitors today can view some of the museum’s treasures in its exhibits, or join community forums that channel LGBTQ heritage for today’s struggles for equality.

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Canadian Lesbian & Gay Archives

In a gay-friendly country like Canada, it’s not surprising that its national LGBTQ archives have been a well-supported endeavor since 1973, and a charitable institution since 1981. Today, the Toronto-based Canadian Lesbian & Gay Archives is among the largest queer historical collections in the world. Naturally, the archive focuses on memorabilia, publications, artworks, recordings, and other materials produced in or concerning Canada. But it stands out as an archive of physical artifacts not as commonly found in other repositories, so visitors can explore a diverse sampling of the LGBTQ movement’s flags, posters, matchbooks, buttons and pins, trophies, and other eye-catching ephemera. Plus, the archive hosts walking tours, seasonal exhibits, presentations, and showcase events around its extensive collection, as well as making many of its materials available digitally.

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World AIDS Museum

Along with a vibrant LGBTQ culture and active community, Fort Lauderdale is home to the non-profit World AIDS Museum. It’s located in a multi-functional space that in 2013 was dedicated by Earvin “Magic” Johnson (who was diagnosed with HIV 22 years earlier), and through a comprehensive exhibit explains the history of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The museum’s mission is to confront the stigma associated with the disease, and to encourage youth and at-risk individuals to make informed choices about their self-care. Today it hosts art exhibits, seminars, panel discussions, readings, and more; as well as serving as an educational center and meeting place for support groups.

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Australia Lesbian & Gay Archives

In 2018, the Australian Lesbian & Gay Archives marks its 40th anniversary of running a robust, volunteer-based community archive and library. The Melbourne-based institution houses more than 150,000 items related to historical LGBTQ life, stretching back to the country’s first settlers through today. The archives host academic conferences, publishes books, and organizes tours and history walks, and also puts on exhibitions in partner galleries around Australia, and participates in big annual LGBTQ events like Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras and January’s Midsumma festival.

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Can’t seem to track down a specific issue of an obscure LGBTQ publication? Consider heading to Amsterdam’s voluminous International Homo/Lesbian Information Archive, better known as IHLIA LGBT Heritage. Established in 1999 inside the city’s Public Library, the archive maintains the largest assemblage of LGBTQ items in Europe—more than 113,000 of them. Unlike similar institutions with a broader physical collection, IHLIA is especially strong on books and other printed materials that tell each author’s unique story as it relates to LGBTQ culture.

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