Organizers, led by former Smithsonian researcher Tim Gold and his husband, North Carolina furniture magnate Mitchell Gold, are raising money and collecting artifacts to open a national history museum to tell the stories of LGBT Americans at a time when gay rights were frequently a matter of political and cultural debate.
Tim Gold said he began thinking about the idea while working as a museum specialist at the National Postal Museum and reading about James Smithson, who created the Smithsonian Institution when he passed his inheritance to the United States in the 1830s. Gold said he discovered through research that Smithson was possibly gay, but his sexuality has rarely been publicized.
Gold founded a charitable group, the Velvet Foundation, in 2008 to gather donations. He and Mitchell, who does philanthropic work on behalf of gay youth and edited a book of coming-out stories, have enlisted a lawyer to arrange their fundraising, a museum design expert to plan exhibits, and a real estate broker to locate and acquire property needed for a 100,000-square-foot museum.
Tim Gold said the idea was for a place that would teach the often-ignored roles that LGBT Americans have played in the country’s history in a way that would reverberate with visitors of all kinds.
“This isn’t a museum just for gay people or just for lesbian people or just for transgender people,” he said. “I want anyone who walks through this door to be able to take something away from the experience.”
Although the project is years away from having a door to open, it has attracted the support of the Arcus Foundation, which promotes LGBT equality, and individual donors, and the Velvet Foundation has announced plans to attract other donors and investors. Contributors provided $300,000 to get the campaign started and Tim Gold needs $50 million to $100 million to open and operate the museum.
Its 40-page strategic plan, titled “Here I Am,” explores stories of gay men and lesbians and their searches for identity, among them lesbian performers at Harlem blues clubs in the 1920s, young demonstrators from the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York and John Fryer, a gay psychiatrist who advocated for homosexuality to be de-listed as a mental illness in 1972.
With the backing of his wealthy husband, who co-founded the $100 million home furnishing company Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, Tim Gold has been traveling the country acquiring artifacts from gay rights activists and their families, often explaining his project in their living rooms, then following them to pick through boxes in their attics.