For Joseph Galliano, director of British charity Queer Britain, museums signal the stories and communities we care about. A new museum in London, dedicated to British LGBTQ+ history, will open in spring 2022 and share the journey of a community whose history many feared would be forgotten.
In 2013, the United Nations Human Rights Office launched the United Nations Free and Equal Initiativea global campaign against homophobiaand transphobia. More than a third of the world’s population countries criminalize consensual same-sex love relationships, entrenching prejudice and putting millions of people at risk. Although progress has been made in many countries to advance civil liberties and freedoms, promoting equal rights and fair treatment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people remains a global challenge.
It’s been an arduous journey for the LGBTQ+ community in the UK, so every February the UK celebrates LGBT+ History Month. It presents an opportunity to increase visibility and raise awareness of social and political issues affecting the community nationally and internationally. Many people in the UK are eager to summarize and commemorate a range of battles, victories and legislative and civil rights movements dating back to the 1950s.
For LGBT+ History Month this year, UNRIC spoke with Joseph Galliano, director and co-founder of Queer Britain, a charity that just created the UK’s first LGBTQ+ museum in London.
Why is it important to collect and share the stories of LGBTQ+ members in a museum?
We’ve lost our stories enough as it is. We must recognize that those who have been silenced have a voice. We show people, whose self-esteem is systematically damaged, that they are valued, that their life is valued, interesting and worth recording. So that we can understand where we come from, so that we can understand who we are, so that we can all work together to imagine the best of possible futures.
Why has a museum dedicated to LGBTQ+ history never been created before in the UK?
There have been similar projects that I have been aware of over the past twenty years, but none have reached the critical mass that this one has. I guess communities are a bit more aware of the importance of their own history and the importance of fighting against their previous erasure.
What were some of the obstacles Queer Britain faced in establishing the museum?
I think the volume of work and the number of people we had to engage with. Additionally, to become credible, resilient and sustainable, we set out to put in place a rigorous governance structure and grow as a best-practice charity, to understand our place within the LGBTQ+ communities and the country. wider.
Why is a physical space important for showcasing LGBTQ+ history and culture?
Our stories need their own home where they can be experienced in a tangible way. When groups have been excluded, it is symbolically important that they are seen and can see each other. It’s also important, as we lose more and more LGBTQ+ places, that there are new kinds of spaces around which to build community. It is good for cultural and mental health.
How did Queer Britain collect materials and artefacts for the museum?
In our early days we collected passively, people offered things to us, but we have recently developed a collections policy with a fabulous group of curators and collectors, chaired by our Trustee Katy Ashton, who is the Director of the People’s History Museum of Manchester. We collect all kinds of filmed oral histories, archives and personal items, artifacts from pop culture and activism. We want to celebrate and explore how people have lived and how we have insisted on our rights and how far there is to go.
What impact would you like the museum to have on members of the LGBTQ+ community and non-members?
We call it the LGBTQ+ museum for everyone, regardless of sexuality or gender identity. I keep coming back to the image of the young person who has just come out to their parent or friend and it is a place for both of them to see themselves reflected, so that they both come away feeling to be part of this exciting and brilliantly diverse and large family.
For Queer Britain, LGBT+ History Month is a “catalyzing moment that draws attention to compelling and important stories” from individuals in the UK and around the world. For the wider LGBTQ+ community, Queer Britain offers them the opportunity to preserve and protect their culture, step out of the margins of the history books and take center stage.
Learn more about Queer Britain and the LGBTQ+ Museum at 2 Granary Square on their website, Twitter and instagram.
Keep up to date with the United Nations Free and Equal campaign on instagram, Facebook and Twitter.