Academic Literature Review

Below is an extract from LGBTQ Heritage and Collections – SSN Literature Review (RCMG, 2021) by Kris Reid and Richard Sandell downloadable here.

Although the development of queer practice at museums across the UK has grown exponentially in recent years – with new examples of LGBTQ+ exhibitions, tours, events, and programming continuing to emerge – this has been accompanied by increasing debate amongst practitioners and researchers around how to take this work forward.  What constitutes ethical practice in this area?  What opportunities and pitfalls are posed by queer collections and programming work and what strategies can be deployed to navigate these successfully? How can heritage bodies approach queer practice in ways that engage everyone, benefit LGBTQ lives and lend support to contemporary and ongoing struggles for LGBTQ equality?

This review of academic literature on LGBTQ heritage and museums explores key themes in writing primarily from the last two decades. It draws on publications from both the UK and, where appropriate, internationally.  It pays attention to differences and inconsistencies in approach across the four nations of the UK and, indeed, within each region, recognising the importance of acknowledging and understanding these regional variances within the context of the wider academic discourse on LGBTQ+ practice.

Two broad and related areas emerge from the literature:

  • The first explores the various approaches museums have taken when queering their collections and spaces, considering how they have engaged with LGBTQ+ history and identities. 
  • The second focuses on how these histories and narratives are presented and received within the public realm, contextualising practice within broader socio-political debates and reflecting on the contemporary implications of queer heritage practices for LGBTQ lives, for diverse heritage audiences and for society more broadly.

Within these two broad areas for discussion a number of themes have been identified which are analysed in greater detail throughout this literature review. Finally, gaps in knowledge are identified with recommendations for further research presented. It should be noted that the theme of ‘Trans Voices’ appears under both headings as the particular needs of this group in the current social and political climate demands a specific focus.


LGBTQ+ Good Practice Guide

Ten Easy Steps Towards More Inclusive Programming

An extract from LGBTQ+ Good Practice Guide (Arts Council England and Museums Association, second edition, 2020) by Dan Vo downloadable here.

1. Make A Statement Make sure your organisation’s equality and diversity statement is on display and staff and volunteers are aware of it. This should include a clear position on zero tolerance for homophobic, transphobic or biphobic language. 

2. Use Inclusive Language Listen to how people self describe their identity and the pronouns they may use to describe themselves, partners and relationships. Reflecting their choice of language is a meaningful step showing acceptance and acknowledging them. Take care to ensure any language used and behaviours exhibited does not assume people are heterosexual or cisgender. It is possible to do this by using gender neutral language. 

3. Set Up an LGBTQ+ Working Group Having a staff and volunteer network provides a valuable forum for issues to be discussed, opportunities for peer support and networking as well as a sounding board for proposals for the development of LGBTQ+ focussed programming. Through this group it is possible to develop sustainable relationships with local LGBTQ+ social and support groups. 

4. Share The Stories Identify stories from within your collection that speak to diverse LGBTQ+ histories and themes and post them onto your website or create a small trail based around the objects. It does not have to be extensive: some museums have simple trails of a handful of objects, while the British Museum probably has the gold standard offering in the form of a downloadable audioguide. Do make your staff and volunteers aware of the objects as they can be incorporated into existing tours or even developed into a specialist tour whether for a specific event or an ongoing basis. 

5. Get Involved with LGBT+ History Month Setting up a day of talks and inviting speakers to talk on LGBTQ+ history is an easy way to start engaging with the LGBTQ+ communities. Dedicated to ‘educating out prejudice’, LGBT History Month has been celebrated annually in February since 2005. Recently, to support LGBT History Month in galleries, libraries, archives and museums (GLAMs) an ‘OUTing the Past’ conference has also been organised by Schools OUT UK which provides a diverse range of expert speakers on interesting topics which your museum can choose from.

6. Training LGBTQ+ history is not just relevant to February during LGBT History Month. As a means of ensuring year round engagement, do include diversity and inclusion training as part of staff and volunteer training. Stonewall UK, the LGBT Foundation or Gendered Intelligence will be able to provide recommendations if you would like to source speakers beyond your own LGBTQ+ Working Group. Ensure there is training and support for staff and volunteers to challenge discrimination if they witness it. 

7. Fly The Flag Flying the Rainbow Flag during LGBT History Month or Pride Month is simple, yet highly effective, way of showing support for the LGBTQ+ communities. Do not underestimate the powerful impact of this gesture which can simultaneously signal acceptance, celebration and welcome to the LGBTQ+ communities. 

8. Show Your Support Having information about local LGBTQ+ community social or support groups creates a welcoming atmosphere. Similarly, if staff are able to wear rainbow pins or badges on their lanyards it is possible for them to show solidarity as allies or members of the LGBTQ+ communities. 

9. March With Pride You can support your staff and volunteers in marching at Pride in your local area, or having a community stall at a relevant event. This allows you to step out of the museum and directly engage with the diverse LGBTQ+ communities in your local area. 

10. Monitor Your Progress Consider including questions that allow the collection of information about the sexual orientation and gender of staff and volunteers as well as visitors. This may be done in HR forms as well as feedback forms. It is important to allow optional disclosure and ensure information collected is kept strictly confidential. Remember it is crucial to ask for information in a way that is comfortable for everyone and is not too complex or alienates people. All public sector bodies have an Equality Duty under the Act which requires them to take into account the needs of people whose identity is covered by one or more of the nine characteristics protected by the Act. This means that collecting demographic data is a prerequisite to fulfilling this legal duty.