written by Chrissy Partheni

The NWFED is committed to the role of museums and cultural providers play in promoting equality and human rights issues.  Given this commitment and the range of recent different projects across the North on LGBT communities and histories, we chose to celebrate the International Day Against Homophobia by offering the opportunity for different practitioners to come together and discuss their practices. The event soon attracted the attention of different colleagues and we had delegates from the neighbourhoood cities of Leeds and Birmingham.

John Vincent, author of the book LGBT People and the Cultural Sector, set the day talking about his experience of ‘coming out’  as a gay man working in libraries in the 1970s . In talking about the research for his book he exemplified the shocking gap in the knowledge of any relevant cultural practices from the 1960 to 2006.  Activity in museums had flourished since 2006 happened but the first presentation on LGBT histories for the Museums Association conference only took place 3 years ago.

John made useful recommendations and offered guidelines before embarking on any work in your institution:

  • Prepare for the work, become familiar with the appropriate language.
  • Check out your objectives for the project and how it relates to your  organisational values.
  • Consult and demonstrate  the value of your work.
  • Get to know your local communities, what may be missing from your consultation, focus groups.
  • Find the right people to consult.
  • Linking with other for best practice, share expertise, benchmark.
  • Evaluate what you do, demonstrate the benefits of your work.
  • Sustain the trust and the relationship created.

Catherine O’Donnel presented the project Pride in Progress and discussed her collaboration with the Manchester Lesbian and Gay Foundation. The project from the People’s History Museum was strongly embedded in the mission and objectives of the organisation to promote equality in society and gave the museum the opportunity to update and develop their collections as well as to link up with new audiences. For Catherine’s presentation please click here

Kay Jones discussed the lessons learnt in working with the Transgender community for the April Ashley exhibition at the Museum of Liverpool. The project was initiated by Homotopia and funded by the HLF. Kay made valuable points about the importance of building sufficient time to work with third parties as well as adopting a flexible approach in developing collaboratively exhibition content.  She also pointed at issues of authorship and decision making as crucial to the outcome of any such collaborations as well as the importance of qualitative research and using projects to enrich museum collections.

The day closed with  delegates discussing the problems of mapping, recording and interpreting collections in relation to LGBT histories and cultures, the confidence required by museum curators in identifying and speaking with authority about gay identities and historical figures, the importance of Queer theory in overcoming political and ideological differences, the dangers of homogenising different communities and experiences and the opposition to creating tokenist and celebratory events that simply tick boxes.  Delegates expressed their concern about the current social tensions and economical challenges across Europe and the dangers they pose to people’s sexual freedom and expression. These final remarks and concerns sum up the reasons for sustaining and promoting our work with LGBT communities.  We are collecting feedback about the session and hope to schedule another event soon. If you have ideas and topics you would like to discuss email us info@nwfed.org.uk

Here are some links to useful resources and events from the North:

Pomogaze the festival of queer cultural events in West Yorkshire is on this  summer of 2014 . An interesting conference takes place as part of the festival on Female and Transgender Masculinities at Leeds Art Gallery on the 16th and 17th of June.

Imperial War Museum North has created a series of short films discussing the experiences of gay officers in the Royal Navy Forces.