The People’s History Museum (PHM) in Manchester has found itself at the centre of a censorship row after it removed a sticker from its Protest Lab gallery, an interactive space that invites visitors to tell their personal stories of protest and share “ideas worth fighting for”.
The sticker read: “Woman, noun, adult human female. Sex is a protected characteristic – Equality Act 2010.”
After retweeting a picture of the sticker, the museum later removed it from the gallery, saying: “We’ve been made aware that the sticker in this image we retweeted is associated with hostility… Any such images/material will be removed from the Protest Lab.”
The controversy stems from the increasingly divisive debate taking place between advocates for the trans community, who want trans women to have equal access to women's services and legal provisions, and gender critical feminists, who believe the law must make a distinction between biological sex and gender identity.
A billboard featuring a similar message was taken down in Liverpool last year after complaints that it made trans women feel “unsafe and unwelcome”.
The decision to remove the sticker led some commentators on social media to accuse the museum of censorship. One responded: “If by 'protest' you meant 'protest that no one disagrees with' you should have said so”, while another wrote: “You, the People's History Museum of all people, [deeming] the word woman as hostile and worthy of censorship, when the exhibition is about protesting and disrupting, is beyond parody.”
However, many commended the museum’s actions, with one saying: “Well done to the museum staff. Sorry you've got all this crap from people”, and another writing: “Proud that PHM has a long tradition of fighting transphobia AND supporting inclusive, intersectional feminism.”
The PHM said in a subsequent statement: “PHM supports trans rights and women’s rights. We recognise that there are many different perspectives on this subject, which we will always listen to and encourage debate around, as with all issues. Protest Lab is designed to be a space that invites thought and discussion, whilst being a welcoming space for all.”
The Protest Lab is part of the museum’s current Disrupt? Peterloo and Protest exhibition marking the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester.