Monday, October 20, 2008

Gay history museum shows current debate is nothing new

Marriage issue made headlines even 50 years ago

By DAVID NG Los Angeles Times

Oct. 18, 2008, 6:16PM

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CALIF. — They read like dispatches from the controversy over Proposition 8, the current ballot initiative that would ban same-sex marriage in California.

"Homosexual Marriage?" asks one magazine headline in large white type. Another takes a more aggressive approach: "Let's Push Homophile Marriage," accompanied by an illustration of muscled men in amorous poses.

But a closer look at these magazine covers reveals something rather unexpected. They were published in 1953 and 1963, respectively — decades before same-sex marriage became a national lightning rod, let alone a rallying point for gay rights activists.

Copies of these yellowing periodicals are on display at the ONE Archives Gallery and Museum, a new space in West Hollywood that appears to be the first museum in Southern California solely dedicated to gay history.

The museum — really a micro-museum at 600 square feet — has set a macro goal for itself: to bring little-known aspects of gay history into the public sphere. The museum is an offshoot of the ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives, which is affiliated with the University of Southern California.

The old magazine covers dedicated to gay marriage come from ONE magazine, the first gay publication in the country.

"They show that we've been having this fight for a very long time, longer than most people think," said Joseph Hawkins, president of ONE. "It was an act of defiance to publish stuff like that in the '50s and '60s. I'm surprised that alone didn't get the magazine shut down."

Hawkins, a professor of anthropology and gender studies at the University of Southern California, serves as curator of the museum. Because the archives are a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, the museum by extension cannot directly support political causes, including the effort to defeat Proposition 8.

"Let's just say we have to be extremely careful," Hawkins said.

The city of West Hollywood donated the space — a former storage garage — to the museum and is helping with some of the costs.

The rest of the funding comes from the ONE Archives.

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