Queer Is Here Opens At The Museum Of London

By Kate Smith | 10 February 2006
a photograph of a man with close cropped hair speaking from a podium

"Like that other Queen, I declare this exhibition open." Peter Tatchell opens the Queer is Here exhibition. Photo John Neligan © Museum of London

Saturday February 4 2006 saw the launch of the Museum of London's small, yet bright and attractively curvy new exhibition, Queer is Here.

Looking at the experience of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the last 40 years, and especially focussing on very recent history, it shows the huge changes in the lives of gay people, and in public attitude over that time. Although this is just a small foyer exhibition, the Museum of London will be doing further work on this subject in the future.

The exhibition includes a timeline, and small cases of objects. Photographs of Pride marches by Peter Marshall taken from 1993 - 2002 perfectly capture the exuberance and fancy dress of the marches, as well as the serious political message.

Soldiers carrying a Stonewall banner are shown alongside punk dykes, nuns and many plainly dressed people blowing the trademark Pride whistles. A man in a cowboy hat with an American flag pre-empts Brokeback Mountain by some years.

a photograph of a men's choir stood in a semi circle and wearing red t-shirts

Belting out a show tune - the London Gay Men's Choir were also on hand to open the exhibition. Photo John Neligan © Museum of London

With the launch of civil partnerships, the abolition of Section 28 and many other recent changes, Queer is indeed Here in a way that even ten or twenty years ago seemed impossible. But the exhibition also reminds us of the embattled position of gay people in the church, in football, and especially of schoolchildren.

The exhibition was opened by Peter Tatchell, who said: "Like that other Queen, I declare this exhibition open". The co-founder and most famous member of Outrage himself appears in the displays more than once - fighting the Bermondsey by-election of 1983, and staging a "Homo Promo" in the street.

The novelist Maureen Duffy who was present for a study day on gay history also commented wryly on finding that her earlier life now counts as "history".

The Gay Men's Choir then demonstrated the ancient gay art of singing show tunes. They too commented on the pace of change, and how they have moved from "sometimes very difficult" beginnings 15 years ago, to a huge and well-known gay institution today.

a photograph of a curved display banner with the words 'Queer is here' printed on it

Photo John Neligan © Museum of London

The Museum is hoping to add to its own gay collections, initially by collecting material that "speaks" to current issues in the LGBT communities. The Museum recognises that this creates a potential bias towards 'activist' related material, and so are hoping that organisations and individuals will consider donating material that reflects the whole spectrum of gay lifestyles, in particular ethnic-based associations who might not be so visible.

They are also keen to keep including LGBT issues in their exhibitions and programmes.

Quentin Crisp, from a much earlier generation of out gay people, wrote, "In an expanding universe, time is on the side of the outcast. Those who once inhabited the suburbs of human contempt find that without changing their address they eventually live in the metropolis".

The people and organisations described in this exhibition have, without shifting ground, found themselves moving from the status of extremists and undesirables, to that of opinion formers and law changers. And now their story is placed in neon colours in the foyer of a central London museum.

a photograph of a man with close cropped hair stood in front of a museum display banner with words and pictures on it

Photo John Neligan © Museum of London

The exhibition will be at the Museum of London until March 5th before touring London libraries, and possibly other venues outside London.

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
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