CALIFORNIA TODAY

Telling Untold Stories About Queer California

What Gets Left Out section: The original eight-striped flag by Gilbert Baker in front of Amanda Curreri’s piece, from 2013, “Misfits 1979 (Sex and Art).”CreditCourtesy, Oakland Museum of California
What Gets Left Out section: The original eight-striped flag by Gilbert Baker in front of Amanda Curreri’s piece, from 2013, “Misfits 1979 (Sex and Art).”CreditCreditCourtesy, Oakland Museum of California

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When the famous rainbow gay pride flag was first pieced together by a man named Gilbert Baker in 1978, he used eight colors. Each one represented a certain idea.

There was red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, indigo for harmony and violet for spirit. That first version also had two other colors that would be left out of later flags: pink, which represented sex, and turquoise, art.

Christina Linden said she kept those last two at the front of her mind as she put together, “Queer California: Untold Stories,” an exhibition at the Oakland Museum of California that opened earlier this month.

Kaucyila Brooke, the artist, has traced the politics of lesbian bars in California and elsewhere.
The Boy Mechanic/ Los Angeles 2005–2019.
CreditCourtesy of the Oakland Museum of California
Kaucyila Brooke, the artist, has traced the politics of lesbian bars in California and elsewhere.
The Boy Mechanic/ Los Angeles 2005–2019.
CreditCourtesy of the Oakland Museum of California

“I think that we used that as a moment to frame the whole show around the question of what gets left out, and why and things get left out,” she told me recently.

Sometimes the reasons that stories get left out of mainstream historical narratives are banal, Ms. Linden said. Such was the case with Mr. Baker’s later flags: He wanted to make them more broadly available, and a flag maker didn’t have the right colors.
Other times, there are social, political and economic forces at work. She mentioned the AIDS crisis as one example: While it took immense effort to bring any attention to the issue, many of the stories that are more widely known center on white cisgender men. That’s in part, she said, because there’s just more material — writings, photos — that helps to understand their experiences.

A timeline traces LGBTQ stories and asks viewers to imagine a queer future. Pictured here is an AIDS Memorial Quilt including squares for Jon Langley, Bob, Sylvester, Roger Lyon, Greg Monaghan, Roberto Arcelona, John M. Ritter, and Bill Sullivan.CreditCourtesy of the Oakland Museum of California.

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A timeline traces LGBTQ stories and asks viewers to imagine a queer future. Pictured here is an AIDS Memorial Quilt including squares for Jon Langley, Bob, Sylvester, Roger Lyon, Greg Monaghan, Roberto Arcelona, John M. Ritter, and Bill Sullivan.CreditCourtesy of the Oakland Museum of California.

[See powerful images of the AIDS crisis from The Times in this Past Tense feature.]

The exhibition isn’t comprehensive, Ms. Linden said. Still, she said she hoped to include a wide range of kinds of pieces, from images of drag performers in the 1950s, to a map of historically lesbian places in California, to art about the experience of living in a transgender body, like a large bronze and concrete sculpture by Cassils.

Ms. Linden said the exhibition goes back even further with material from the 17th century that shows there was a third gender in indigenous culture before European settlers came to California.

“I think very few people know about that longer history,” she said.

The “Gayme” LoungeCreditCourtesy of the Oakland Museum of California

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The “Gayme” LoungeCreditCourtesy of the Oakland Museum of California

And if you need a break from information that can be pretty heavy, Ms. Linden said, there’s a “Gayme room.”

The show is open until Aug. 11. Here’s more information about how to go to the Oakland Museum of California.