Welcome to the Queer Heritage and Collections Network Symposium 2021

Our two-day online Symposium 2021 showcased work by leading practitioners modelling best practice in LGBTQ+ heritage. You can view the full Symposium programme online here.

Over 400 participants registered for the event, including practitioners from heritage and museum organisations as well as freelancers, historians/researchers and volunteers. Informal poll statistics captured during the Symposium suggest that 59% attending were from a heritage property/collection and that 24% had not engaged in LGBTQ+ programming before but would like to do so. There was a reported increase from 33% confidence in attendees developing LGBTQ+ programming to 58%. 

A very new way of thinking opened up. Just what I’d hoped for.

– A QHCN Symposium 2021 Attendee

Day 1 Session 1: How do we co-curate with queer communities?
Dominique Bouchard | English Heritage
Anna Niland | National Youth Theatre
Presented by English Heritage with Dominique Bouchard, Head of Learning and Interpretation, and Anna Niland, Associate Director, National Youth Theatre discussing the process of developing the award-winning Our House as well as Shout Out Loud, a programme for 11–25 year olds across England that supports them in exploring heritage sites and collections that are important to them. It invites young people to lead new projects and uncover untold stories from our past, and it puts young people’s ideas and voices at the heart of English Heritage.

Day 1 Session 2: How do we find queer connections in our collections?
Sean Curran | Historic England
Allison Oram | Pride of Place: England’s LGBTQ Heritage
E-J Scott | Museum of Transology
Presented by Historic England (Sean Curran) with Alison Oram, lead researcher for Pride of Place: England’s LGBTQ Heritage and E-J Scott, founder of the Museum of Transology. Pride of Place (Historic England 2015–2017 and still available) was a national project that aimed to highlight queer heritage not only through disseminating research but through engaging with LGBTQ people and communities across England and drawing on their knowledge and expertise, especially through social media. Alison speaks about making connections across queer communities. E-J discuss how hard-to-reach audiences aren’t. Together, they reflect on some of the different ways they’ve made connections with different queer and trans communities on various projects including West Yorkshire Queer Stories and the Museum of Transology.

Day 1 Session 3: What do you need?
Andrew McLellan and Hannah Bruce | Pitt Rivers Museum
Hannah and Andy talk about the National Lottery Heritage Fund supported Beyond the Binary project which is Queering and Questioning Collections and Displays at the Pitt Rivers Museum, including changes to museum procedures, gallery interventions, a co-curated temporary exhibition and public engagement work. They describe the processes they have been through, the successes, difficulties and learning, and then have lots of time for discussion and questions about how to navigate this type of work within the sector, including provocations for the audience to get involved with.

Day 1 Session 4: Our House screening and Q&A
The premiere screening of ‘Our House’ by English Heritage. It was originally a theatre piece devised entirely by young people under 25 from LGBTQ+ Charity METRO and the National Youth Theatre that explored the history of Eltham Palace and LGBTQ+ heritage. This new film gives you an intimate look at the creative process behind the live immersive theatre performances which won the 2020 UK Heritage Award for Best Exhibition / Festival / Event. The screening is followed by a panel discussion chaired by Joseph Galliano, CEO of Queer Britain along with playwright Benjamin Salmon and performers Jamie Cottle (Edward II) and Jules Bethley (Queen Isabella) as well as Anna Niland (NYT) and Dominique Bouchard (English Heritage).

Day 2 Session 1: How do we interpret queer lives?
Matthew Storey and Kris Reid | Historic Royal Palaces
Hosted by Historic Royal Palaces with Matthew Storey, Curator and Kris Reid, Researcher for QHCN. Historic Royal Palaces has produced innovative LGBTQ+ live programming, including 2017’s Long Live Queen James and 2020’s Queer Lives At The Tower, which have presented the work of contemporary playwrights, directors and performers in historic spaces. Matthew talks about the process of working as a curator with creative teams to provide accurate historical content about the lives of LGBTQ+ people in the past and present in original and engaging ways. This includes deciding what stories to tell and how to present them, while giving space for contemporary and engaging creative interpretation, including gender and colour-blind casting. Kris talks about Hillsborough Castle, the official residence of the British royal family in Northern Ireland. Cared for by Historic Royal Palaces, the house and gardens opened to the public for the first time in 2019. One of a number of specialist offers, a monthly LGBTQ+ tour exploring Hillsborough Castle’s queer past and present was launched in that same year. Kris also covers his research for QHCN exploring key themes in writing from the last two decades. Broad themes emerging from the literature are examined in greater detail and are accompanied by recommendations for further research.

Day 2 Session 2: How do we engage audiences creatively?
Rachael Lennon | National Trust
David McAlmont | Singer Songwriter and Historian
Hosted by National Trust with Rachael Lennon, Marginalised Histories Curator, and renowned singer-songwriter David McAlmont, discussing Prejudice and Pride. In 2017, the National Trust marked the 50-year anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of same-sex acts with Prejudice and Pride, a year-long programme of LGBTQ+ heritage. Prejudice and Pride drew together LGBTQ+ histories from across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. As a new national programme for the National Trust, Prejudice and Pride combined interpretative methodologies to provide greater access to histories of gender diversity and same-sex desire. NT created new publications and a podcast hosted by Clare Balding, downloaded over 17,000 times. Two artists in residence undertook new research and created film installations. The National Trust recreated a 1930s queer club in London in partnership with the National Archives and installed an exhibition of National Portrait Gallery works at Sissinghurst in Kent, the home of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson. 12 Trust places programmed new exhibitions and events showcasing LGBTQ+ experiences, visited by over 350,000 people. NT worked with many artists and creative agencies both on a national and local scale and these partnerships brought exciting, engaging content but also new expertise, credibility and authenticity and built the confidence of the organisation. Throughout the programme, a partnership with the Research Centre of Museums and Galleries (RCMG) at the University of Leicester enabled the organisation to stretch its ambitions and share learnings.

Day 2 Session 3: What difference can we make?
Richard Sandell | Research Centre for Museums and Galleries
Robert Taylor | Photographer
Dan Vo | Queer Britain
Hosted by the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries with Richard Sandell, Co-Director and Dan Vo. This session considers the impact of stories, interpretation and programming that reveals and celebrates queer lives, past and present. What difference can we make for queer visitors today? How can we enrich experiences and understanding for all? And what part can we play in advancing LGBTQ+ equality and respect? Robert Taylor discusses his recent projects with heritage places and talks about the impact he feels can be achieved as an artist, but also how it can leave a lasting impression in the hearts and minds of visitors. He talks about his most recent collaboration with David McAlmont for Queer Britain entitled Chosen Family as well as his current work in progress which will look at the queer black presence in heritage houses. Robert is a lecturer for the V&A Academy’s A Queer History of Objects.