Gay and Lesbian Historical Society struggling financially

SAN FRANCISCO - It contributed to the Home Box Office film ''And the Band Played On,'' as well as Showtime's ''Tales of the City.''

The Gay and Lesbian Historical Society of Northern California is home to thousands of books, films, flyers, posters and other artifacts documenting the gay community in San Francisco over the past century.

It has gained the respect of the community, historians and even Hollywood, which has relied on the society to provide historical perspective to films and television programs.

Yet the historical society is struggling.

Because of its growth in recent years, the society's $12,000 budget can no longer cover more than $100,000 in rent, utilities, and pay for an archivist and other employees. The society's rent nearly doubled on Oct. 1 from $2,762 a month to $5,262.

In addition to relying on members' dues, Executive Director Susan Stryker must seek foundation and public funding to keep the society afloat.

''We are a very underappreciated resource in the city,'' she said.

The society started in 1985 when Willie Walker, a nurse, started thinking about the gay history that was dying along with victims of the AIDS epidemic.

''He realized that nobody else was keeping our stuff, so we'll have to do it ourselves,'' Stryker said.

Included in the archives are the papers of Donald Lucas, who founded the Mattachine Society in 1953, one of the first openly gay organizations in the country.

''I know I've always worried about them being destroyed or thrown away by people who didn't realize their historical value,'' Lucas said. ''I'm happy they have a safe home - and I hope it continues.''


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