A new museum opened earlier this month, in King’s Cross devoted to all things alphabetical — the UK’s first LGBTQ+ museum.

It’s actually called Queer Britain, which the museum says in an explanatory sign is because Q is “the most inclusive letter in the evolving LGBTQ+ umbrella”. It’s a bit of a concern when the first thing you do in a museum is to justify your name. That’s usually the sort of thing that very old buildings named after inconvenient Georgian-era benefactors tend to do. But here, a “gay museum” is having to justify its name before you even step inside.

On a personal basis, being of a certain age, and hence, very old-fashioned and stuck with outdated opinions, queer is a term that I grew up with being a really nasty insult, and it still feels quite uncomfortable today.

He shakes off the cobwebs of a fusty old-person mindset…

The museum is currently still being set up, so they’ve opened with a photographic exhibition of people relevant to campaigning for gay equality in life. Opening with a combined drawing and photograph of Paul Harfleet, who draws birds, and then photographs himself wearing clothing inspired by his drawing. The main gallery space is a single decent sized room with the exhibition broken up into general themes of oppression, family, campaigning, and acceptance.

One of the more interesting sections looks at “chosen families”, and how many gay people abandoned by biological families find a new more diverse and welcoming family of friends in the gay scene. Further on, you can’t help feeling slightly sorry for the guardsman who has to stand immobile as Pride parader poses with him, but then again he’ll be used to all sorts of tourist pranks.

The older photos look back at the time when it was still illegal to be a homosexual man in the UK, and the many court cases that ensued as the government enforced the law to tell people to stop falling in love. The government didn’t always win as one caption notes in a court case, as the prosecution witnesses left the court, they were jeered at instead of the defendants. Times were slowly changing.

It’s a modest exhibition, but maybe slightly uncomfortably nostalgic looking back at times that were unpleasant to live through and badly affected many hundreds of thousands of people. This museum certainly wouldn’t have been possible a couple of decades ago, and maybe not even then.

Attitudes around gender and sexuality in general seem to have made a remarkable shift in the past decade. Even if there’s still a long way to go before a people aren’t judged on their grouping by gender, colour, etc, and only on who they are as an individual.

The Queer Britain museum is open Wednesday to Sunday from 12pm – 6pm, and is free to visit.

The current exhibition is open until 4th July, which I only found out by asking, because there’s still nothing about the exhibition on their website.

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One comment
  1. Andrew says:

    In Australia the word queer never took off as an insult towards gay men and doesn’t have the loading it clearly has in England for gays of a certain age but names worse than queer could be heard very often here.

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