Jul 20, 2022DisruptorsHow is the UK reclaiming and celebrating queer history?

Queer Britain, the UK's first and only LGBTQ+ museum has opened, with a new exhibition that offers a sense of acknowledgement and celebration of queer history. As the LGBTQ+ community wants brands to move past surface-level gestures, how is this being reflected in mainstream culture year-round?

Author
Max CockingMax Cocking is commissioning editor at Canvas8 and is deeply enthused by the blurry line that separates high and low culture. Outside of work he is currently learning Brazilian Portuguese and can usually be found either doing yoga or managing his cats social media presence.

Throughout time and across the world queer people have continued to impact culture, but with so many cultural artefacts and stories being hidden, lost or purposefully erased, it’s not surprising that many LGBTQ+ people grow up feeling like they don’t belong - two in five LGBTQ+ pupils (40%) reporting to have never been taught anything about LGBTQ+ issues at school.

By preserving the nuanced history of the LGBTQ+ community while educating brands about how to go beyond tokenistic representation, Queer Britain is reframing stereotyped queer narratives. Opening on the 20th of July 2022, the museums first full-scale exhibition ‘We Are Queer Britain’ is a place where people of all ages can learn about Britain's vibrant queer history. The charity is now a permanent space in Londons Kings Cross, representing and supporting the LGBTQ+ community year-round.

The opening feels particularly pertinent as this July marked 50 years since the first ever London Pride march. This has coincided with many other important queer milestones in recent history, such as PrEP becoming available on the NHS in April 2020, 2023 marking 35 years since Margaret Thatcher brought in the extremely harmful section 28 legislation, and it’s been 53 years since New Yorks Stonewall Uprising. In popular culture, queer history has become more visible in mainstream spaces such as Tate Britain's 2017 Queer British Art exhibition, and the Channel 4 drama It’s A Sin’s achieving huge global popularity and critical acclaim.

With a recent report showing that one in five Gen Z adults now identify as LGBT and 60% of UK queer spaces have closed down during the last decade, there's a need not just for dedicated conversations that reclaim queer history, but physical spaces that educate and inform. The importance and power of storytelling, truthful education and preserving queer artefacts can also reflect the multiple different types of queer peoples' histories and experiences, with Queer Britain facilitating different community groups being given the option to curate the space.

In a climate of increased hate crime, LGBTQ+ rights being rolled back and pushback against the commercialisation of queer spaces and events, people are looking for brands to represent and support the LGBTQ+ community above and beyond surface-level gestures with considered approaches to partnerships being key to this success. Queer Britain has announced a two-year partnership with Diageo, where members of the Diageo archive team will be providing resources to Queer Britain's archivists in their mission. Brands such as  Aesops educational Queer Library to Nyx’s beauty campaign in long-term collaboration with UK Black Pride and Stonewall show how to do this authentically and not just performatively.

Queer Britain as a new cultural institution is a hopeful step towards progress and exemplifies how vital it is for these stories and truths to not just be preserved but studied, platformed and championed. The importance of the museum is important for all ages, but with a new generation of young queer people, education is vital.


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