PHOTOS: Harvey Milk, Paul Monette, LGBT Vets Get Rubbed For History

Steven Reigns now rubbing stolen Harvey Milk plaque in SF photo by Jim GladstoneLGBTQ people often lack a grasp of our own history. The places, events, and people from the past that shaped our current reality aren’t given equal airtime or ink-space in history classes. This is especially true with historic commemorative markers such as plaques or monuments.

The idea of The Gay Rub came when I learned that a plaque less than a mile from my home was the first in the country honoring trans victims of hate. I started wondering how many markers were in the world quietly educating and validating our experience.

The Gay Rub is a collection of rubbings from LGBTQ landmarks. It’s a participatory project where people from all over the globe have submitted rubbings.

setting up rubbing Steven Reigns Gay Rub Photo by Tony CoelhoBefore photography, rubbings were done as keepsakes of gravestones or monumental brass. I wanted a collection of LGBTQ rubbings. To only gather photographs of our queer markers would rob the tactile nature of a marker. I also thought the interaction with the marker was important. When doing rubbings I’m awed at the topography, the lettering, and how artisans created these plaques to be publicly appreciated for years to come.

Etching in granite or casting in bronze the people and places that shaped our history legitimizes our experiences. It helps combat the erasure of our history. Displaying the rubbings together honors these markers, the people and events they commemorate, and forms a sort of collective LGBTQ history lesson. It brings together markers from all over the world, some from out-of-the-way places tourists seldom venture. They’re also visually stunning.

The collection of over 100 rubbings is impressive in scope and appearance. A rubbing I’m pleased to have is of a plaque honoring Harvey Milk. The plaque was located at Market & Castro in San Francisco and was stolen shortly after and never replaced. There are rubbings in Spanish, French, and German. The rubbings themselves act as an archive of historic markers, calling attention to what LGBTQ events and individuals get legitimized through public commemoration.

The Gay Rub collection is activist and educational but it’s also artistic. The exhibition marks the first time the rubbings have been assembled together for public display. The exhibit will be on display February 2-23 at the One Gallery in West Hollywood, where the idea originated and this feels like the project has come full circle.

See more photos of The Gay Rub below.

Steven Reigns Horst Buchholz Gay Rub Photo by David Stumpff


Paul Monette rubbing Steven Reigns Gay Rub



Hate Crime Rubbing Steven Reigns Gay Rub



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  • RayJacksonMs

    There is a plaque in the sidewalk outside the Jimani Lounge in New Orleans dedicated to the victims of the Upstairs Lounge fire, which was the largest mass murder of gays in US history. It should be added to the collection if it isn’t already part of it.

  • AuntieChrist

    “LGBTQ people often lack a grasp of our own history.”
    If THAT isn’t the understatement of the year I don’t know what is…I sure wouldn’t mind lettin that guy give me a gay rub…What an awesome idea I hope he does a book so I can see them all.

  • QJ201

    A decade ago I worked in an office with many gay men of various ages. We started an in house email game called “The Weakest Twink” in which the older gays would pose gay history questions to the younger gays. They knew NOTHING. Worse part: Some of these “twinks” took “queer courses” in college. So they could quote Foucault to you, but they had no idea who Harvey Milk was (this was before the Hollywood movie).

  • sheldonjjennings

    I have no problem with gays.

  • Stache1

    @sheldonjjennings: Well, that’s a relief..:)

  • Stache1

    @QJ201: I guess that’s akin to knowing who the founding fathers were but not knowing who Lincoln was. Book smart twinks but dumb as a brick to real history.

  • Sammy Schlipshit

    Harvey’s plaque was stolen?

    Sure seems as though with all the money some folks have down there, someone would have another one made and more securely installed.

    No one will remember history if they are not exposed to the facts and folks.

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