Museum Stories

Queer Britain – Join Us and Let’s Make History!

Joanna Kaszubowska 13 June 2022 min Read

Rejoice! The UK’s first national LGBTQ+ museum is now open! Queer people have impacted every part of the culture. However, even today, their stories are often omitted from the mainstream narrative. Queer Britain is a space dedicated to preserving, exploring, and celebrating queer people and their stories. Without them, the world as we know it is not complete.

A Long Way

The campaign to create Queer Britain began in February 2018. In the words of Joe Galliano, the museum’s director, who led the campaign: “It is a necessary and long overdue resource. We don’t underestimate the challenge, but artefacts and people’s stories are being lost every day and we need to save them. Already many of the people – inevitably mainly men – who directly experienced the situation before the partial decriminalization of homosexuality in 1967, are no longer with us.”

Queer Britain, 2022, phot. Joanna Kaszubowska

Installation view in Queer Britain, London, UK. Photo by the author, 2022.

It certainly was a journey, but after four years of securing support, sponsors, and partners, as well as organizing numerous events and exhibitions, Queer Britain finally found a home in January 2022. It is based in Granary Square, King’s Cross, London, occupying part of a historic building owned by the Art Fund. It opened to the public in May 2022. Entry is free of charge and visitors have access to four gallery spaces and a gift shop, to be followed by education and workshop spaces.

Madame F Award

In 2021, while still working on securing a permanent physical space, Queer Britain teamed up with wine brand Madame F to launch The Queer Britain Madame F Award. The theme was Queer Creativity, inspired by illustrator Justin Kemp, who designed the Susy the Frog image featured on the Madame F wine label. (In the museum’s shop you can also buy gadgets with Susy.) Sadie Lee won first prize with her portrait of the artist David Hoyle.

Justin Kemp, Madame F label with Susy the Frog.

Justin Kemp, Madame F label with Susy the Frog. Harpers.

Regarded by many as Queer Royalty, David’s work often highlights inequalities and can be at once uplifting, challenging, euphoric, and uncomfortable. As in all my work, the painting centers the subject from their perspective and the concept was developed through discussion and mutual input.

Sadie Lee

Sadie Lee, David Hoyle, 2011, Private collection, phot. Joanna Kaszubowska

Sadie Lee, David Hoyle, 2011, private collection. Photo by the author.

Chosen Families

In 2019 Queer Britain created an exhibition in partnership with Levi’s and gal-dem magazine, inviting four photographers – Bex Day, Kuba Ryniewicz, Robert Taylor and Alia Romagnoli – to respond to the theme “Chosen Family”. Their works were shown in a pop-up exhibition in Covent Garden that year, and can now be seen as part of Queer Britain’s permanent collection.

Alia Romagnoli, Chosen Family, 2019, Queer Britain, phot. Joanna Kaszubowska

Alia Romagnoli, Chosen Family, 2019, Queer Britain, London, UK. Photo by the author.

Chosen families are an important part of LGBTQ+ people’s lives, as they provide the strength, comfort, fun, and support that otherwise may be missing. The photos reflect that sense of warmth, happiness, the need for support, and the joy of giving it. Through the sheer fun of being together and the power that comes with it, we overcome loneliness and fragility.

Bex Day, Chosen Family, 2019, Queer Britain, phot. Joanna Kaszubowska

Bex Day, Chosen Family, 2019, Queer Britain, London, UK. Photo by the author.

Getty Images/M&C Saatchi Collection

Also in 2019, Getty Images and M&C Saatchi donated a photography collection. It documents queer history in Britain starting as early as the 1870s. Through it, you can encounter the music hall drag kings, trans pioneers, and activists whose work, energy, and struggle shaped the world we live in. While the historical angle may seem less moving than the Chosen Families exhibition, it is fascinating to realize how many people had to work to get us here. How many laws had to be changed, and how recent some of these changes are. We should celebrate the people who achieved all this. But it is also our responsibility to make sure those achievements are not wasted but rather used as a foundation for an even more equal society.

Steve Eason/Getty Images, Paraders representing Terrence Higgins Trust, London Pride 1996, Queer Britain, phot. Joanna Kaszubowska

Steve Eason/Getty Images, Paraders Representing Terrence Higgins Trust, London Pride 1996, Queer Britain, London, UK. Photo by the author.

Steve Eason/Getty Images, Changing the Guard, 1995, Queer Britain, phot. Joanna Kaszubowska

Steve Eason/Getty Images, Changing the Guard, 1995, Queer Britain, London, UK. Photo by the author.

It’s Just the Beginning

The current exhibition is open until 3 July, 2022, and a new one opens on 20 July. The museum draws on its existing collection and constantly expands it with new acquisitions. Queer Britain has come a long way to get to Granary Square and the best part of it is that it’s just the beginning! The museum has a lot more potential, drive and energy to use. Furthermore, its “new kid” status on London’s museum scene, gives Queer Britain a lot of freedom to experiment. With so much going for it, I’m sure it will soon become one of the most vibrant institutions in the city.

Robert Taylor, Andrea with Amber, 2002, Queer Britain, phot. Joanna Kaszubowska

Robert Taylor, Andrea with Amber, 2002, Queer Britain, London, UK. Photo by the author.

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