Queer museums: hidden heritage on the rise? - Museums Association

Queer museums: hidden heritage on the rise?

Myla Corvidae asks whether the sector is as committed to queer representation as it often claims
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Myla Corvidae
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In the last decade, queer representation in the culture sector has been on the rise. Museums such as the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and Bristol Museums offer LGBTQ+ tours and the conversation around queer representation in collections is getting louder.

Venues such as the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh and the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford are picking up the long-awaited change of pace, and staff sector wide are encouraging others to do the same.

The Queer Heritage Forum (@QHForum), founded by Danny Tokay Reid, provides networking support for these voices and new collections are being created by people like Eleanor Affleck with the Museum of Youth Culture, E-J Scott with the Museum of Transology and Dan Vo with Queer Britain.

With all this in mind, we start to question why so many museums are continuing to ignore or claim ignorance of this section of history.

Almost every museum has at least one themed event to celebrate LGBTQ+ lives but when we investigate this work, we often find transitory conversations around queer culture that rarely extend beyond the ephemeral.

All too often support is limited to installations or one day of commercialised advocacy that is hidden away when the month of Pride is over. Museums are often afraid to “upset” the majority when supporting minorities, which leads to convincing themselves that collecting queer histories is surplus to requirement.

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Throughout 2020 we saw organisations lazily re-use rainbow flags to signal vital NHS solidarity, and quietly changing pace on the community they claim to support. This leads us to believe the sector often only does what it can to avoid basic ethical speculation and moves on.

We can’t help but question who is stopping more concrete advocacy from happening when there are so many of us asking for this work to be done. Is it the directors themselves, the funders threatening to pull out or simply the sector wanting to continue the pretence of heritage neutrality?

We know from pre-pandemic key performance indicators that queer exhibitions, talks and tours are wildly popular. Is it not worth analysing how museums can gain from this market while also showing solidarity for a marginalised community?

The Pitt Rivers Museum received £91,000 in 2019 to create Beyond the Binary, a project “queering and questioning” its collections and displays. As a sector screaming out for grants and funding, we should be reaching for all the opportunities we can rather than avoiding the subjects we lack awareness of simply due to avoidance.

It is clear that queer heritage and culture is here to stay with their collections and heritage work set to increase in the future. The only question that remains is how long will it take heritage spaces to pick up the slack?

Myla Corvidae is co-director of the Queer Heritage Forum

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