written by Chrissy Partheni

The NWFED is committed to promoting equality and human rights issues in museum and heritage practices and offering a critical platform for new ideas and innovative work.  Given the range of recent projects on LGBTQI communities and histories across the North , our May event was an opportunity to celebrate the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia and to bring different practitioners together to discuss their practices. We were pleased that there was great interest for the event even from the neighbouring cities of Leeds and Birmingham.

John Vincent, author of the book LGBT People and the Cultural Sector, set the day and talked about his experience of ‘coming out’  as a gay man working in libraries in a senior position in the 1980s . In talking about the research for his book he exposed  the gap in the knowledge of any relevant cultural practices from the 1960 until 2006.  Although museums’ relevant work flourished since 2006 the first presentation on work with  LGBTQI communities for the Museums Association conference only took place 3 years ago.

Below are some of John’s useful recommendations for practitioners wishing to work closely with LGBTQI communities:

  • Prepare for the work, become familiar with the appropriate language.
  • Check out the objectives for the project and identify its relation to organisational values.
  • Consult and demonstrate  the value of the work.
  • Get to know the local communities,
  • Consider what may be missing from specific consultation, focus groups.
  • Find the right people to consult.
  • Link up with others for best practice, sharing expertise, benchmarking.
  • Evaluate your work, demonstrate benefits..
  • Sustain the trust and the relationship created.

John Vincent’s  Some steps towards working with LGBTQI communities

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. To view her presentation click here Working in collaborationKayJonescompressed

The day closed with  delegates discussing the problems of mapping, recording and interpreting collections in relation to LGBTQI 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 LGBTQI communities.

Things to watch out this summer:

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.

The Unstraight Museum Conference 13 -14 June at Museum of Liverpool.

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

Read here an article written recently for the Museum Journal by Head of Fina Arts at National Museums Liverpool Ann Bukantas.

We are grateful to all the speakers and delegates for their contributions to the event. Thank you to Mosi for their hospitality.

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