Auctioning of LGBTQ Historical Items Draws Controversy

In celebration of Pride Season, a New York auction house, Swann Galleries, is holding what they are calling a first-of-its-kind “pride auction,” featuring historical queer artifacts. Some of the items for sale include a handwritten note from Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California, and an Act Up poster protesting Reagan’s role in the AIDS crisis.

But, after seeing the items advertised on Twitter, members of the queer community questioned whether funds raised from the Auction would be used to support organizing work within the LGBTQ community. The official ACT UP New York Twitter account replied to the tweets advertising the auction to ask where the money from the sales would go.

Other Twitter users wondered the same thing, concerned that money made from these historical artifacts, many of which are from an extremely painful era in queer history when AIDS and homophobia were ravaging queer communities.

After the call-out on Twitter, Swann Galleries clarified that they do not own any of the items being auctioned and that they are just facilitating the auction. They did say, however, that they are partnering with the Leslie Lohman Museum, which is “the only dedicated art museum in the world to exhibit and preserve artwork that speaks about the LGBTQ experience.” Owners of the historical artifacts to be auctioned at the pride sale may choose to have a portion of their proceeds donated to the museum. Swann galleries committed to matching those donations.

The pride sale brings up difficult questions that the queer community must continue to grapple with: as gay rights continue to gain mainstream acceptance, many LGTBQ people—especially LGBTQ people of color—still face disproportionate rates of poverty and violence. This raises questions about the responsibility of giving back when queer history is being auctioned off.

What Do You Think?