Trusted partner

Alistair Brown, 08.08.2017
In support of the National Trust's Prejudice and Pride programme
What should we make of the fury directed at the National Trust’s Prejudice and Pride programme, which celebrates the LGBT histories associated with its properties?

The latest clash occurred this weekend, as the newspapers took up the cause of a group of volunteers at Felbrigg Hall who refused to wear a badge and lanyard featuring the Pride flag.

Enforced badge-wearing is a sensitive subject, and in the end the National Trust chose to make participation optional. But the press has had it in for the Prejudice and Pride programme since it was announced last year, and the badge issue was a mere pretext.

Witness some of the outrider arguments that were made about the project at Felbrigg Hall – the criticism that the National Trust was "outing" a private man after his death (homosexuality was illegal during his lifetime – the Trust has made a beautiful film on the subject); that the Trust had "rifled through his documents" (they had conducted historical research); that the programme is merely a marketing campaign (it’s the result of a joint research project with Leicester University).

Each looked less like principled argument against the programme, and more like naked prejudice against the airing of LGBT history. The MA wrote to the Daily Telegraph to complain about the coverage.

Shocking though this coverage was, it shouldn’t have been hugely surprising. In the views of sections of the press and a vocal portion of its supporters, the Trust is a keeper of staid country houses and well-manicured lawns – an apolitical organisation whose job is to freeze in time a particular, rose-tinted view of English country life.

For them, asking volunteers to promote LGBT histories is "political correctness gone mad" and a betrayal of the Trust’s values. So is anything else that challenges the notion that the Trust exists solely to preserve, rather than to question, critique and adapt.

Museums undoubtedly face similar pressures: to avoid boundaries, to cover safe subjects, to deliver a script written elsewhere. For the most part, we’re good at sticking to our guns and demonstrating the legitimacy and importance of the stories that we tell. Look, for example, at the huge success of so many other exhibitions celebrating the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality this year.

But we need to be clear as a sector – it’s not our job to be dictated to by the papers. No organisation that chooses to acknowledge and celebrate subjects such as LGBT history can genuinely be accused of betraying its values.

No museum should be dragged through the mud for conducting research that increases knowledge of an important subject. It’s vital, therefore, that we speak up in support of the Prejudice and Pride programme, and against the cheap criticisms levelled by its detractors.