February is LGBT History Month. It takes place during an important year for the LGBT community as 2017 marks 50 years since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales.
Throughout the year there will be a UK-wide celebration of this significant milestone for social justice.
In the heritage sector, we’ll see LGBT individuals and communities working with heritage organisations to build our collective knowledge of archives and historic sites, including a range of events hosted by the National Trust. With ‘citizenship’ one theme of the 2017 LGBT History Month, I’ve been finding out about the ways LGBT communities are using heritage projects and sites to explore equal citizenship.
Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum
[quote=Marie Adams, volunteer]“This year marks an important anniversary especially in the knowledge that our rights are under attack in so many other countries and we need to lead by example in the UK in raising awareness of LGBT issues.”[/quote]
One project I’ve learnt about is the work of a group of LGBT volunteers based at the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum in Bournemouth.
Russell-Cotes is keen to widen the diversity of its audiences and reflect the significant contribution made to cultural life by LGBT communities.
The project, made possible thanks to National Lottery players through an HLF grant, sees volunteers work with gallery staff to select highlights from the museum collections that fit into the themes of the LGBT rainbow flag.
Volunteers get to see behind the scenes at Russell-Cotes, working in the picture store, selecting artworks and exploring objects from the collections. Their choices will be displayed in the upcoming exhibition Refracted: Collections Highlights, which opens on 12 May and runs to September 2017.
Meet the volunteers
"I think Bournemouth has a great LGBT community and the wider community is very tolerant and cosmopolitan in my experience. As a transgender woman I wanted to make a contribution to the community. This [year marks] an important anniversary especially in the knowledge that our rights are under attack in so many other countries and we need to lead by example in the UK in raising awareness of LGBT issues […] we need to stand up and be counted.
"I visited the museum quite a few times in the summer when I was recovering from a broken shoulder and I was struck by how peaceful and relaxing the surroundings are; not only the artworks but the lovely building in particular. I also noticed all sorts of different people visiting the museum. It is close to the town centre and I think it is an essential part of Bournemouth's unique character … an ideal platform for the exhibition.”
“I would recommend anyone and everyone getting involved [in a heritage project] – the more the merrier. It is amazing to be given the opportunity to participate in something worthwhile and it’s great fun too. You never know what you might learn, who you might meet and what it might lead to. I have been genuinely surprised about how involved in the process we have been allowed to get and how good I have felt when my opinions have been valued by the people around me.”
Phuong Thao Nguyen
Phuong Thao Nguyen, a Creative Events Management student at Arts University Bournemouth, got involved out of “personal curiosity” as well as to socialise:
[quote=Phuong Thao Nguyen, volunteer]“I would say for anyone who wants to get involved in heritage partnership working: just do it. It is overwhelming at first, but it’s a great experience to have.”[/quote]
“I volunteered … to learn the process of putting up a new exhibition, especially when it is related to the course I am doing. Besides, it is a great opportunity for me to be active in Bournemouth and meet new people.
"The best part for me was the process of choosing the theme and the artworks. I would say for anyone who wants to get involved in heritage partnership working: just do it. It is overwhelming at first, but it’s a great experience to have and gives enough freedom for creativity. Everyone is welcomed to participate; also the meetings are usually really chill with biscuits and tea, which is a nice bonus!”
Encouragement has been given by Alice Cox, Exhibitions and Audience Development Officer at Russell-Cotes, a post supported by the project. She’s been impressed by the dedication of volunteers, saying “it has been so lovely to work alongside them".
Find out more about how the exhibition is developing on the Russell-Cotes website.
Perhaps this creative energy from the Russell-Cotes volunteers has alerted you to a piece of LGBT history you’d like to explore? A great way to get started is though our Sharing Heritage grant programme.
We look forward to the upcoming 50th anniversary exhibitions and events happening across the UK and we’ll be continuing to share the impact of our funding for LGBT heritage over 2017.