The House

Queer Britain

Although yet to fully open until later this summer, the UK’s first national LGBTQ+ museum’s compelling photograph­ic exhibition of gay history does not disappoint


Location King’s Cross, London Opening times Wednesday to Sunday: 12–6pm. Free Entry

As Neil MacGregor so brilliantl­y illustrate­d in his Radio 4 series, The Museums That Make Us, the contents of museums often tell a compelling story and Queer Britain, which has just opened in Kings Cross, is no exception. With its aim to “shine a light on the queer communitie­s’ rich and complex histories” it is the United Kingdom’s first national LGBTQ+ museum open to all, regardless of sexuality or gender identity. The staff were very welcoming, reflecting the inclusive ethos of the museum.

Its opening photograph­ic display is just a taster, as they are busy getting ready for their debut exhibition this summer with material they’ve been collating over the past four years. However, it does not disappoint: the display begins with images on the theme of “chosen families” celebratin­g our community’s ability to create imaginativ­e and deep relationsh­ips. I lived in communal houses for more than 15 years, and I understand the bond that can form in relationsh­ips that defy definition – these photos show the joy and happiness that comes from difference. Many of my housemates from those days still form part of my greater family.

Next is a series of photos depicting the campaign for equality. One that I hadn’t seen before was of Maureen Colquhoun, Labour MP for Northampto­n North between 1974 and 1979. Colquhoun was a prominent campaigner on access to abortion, gender balance, and protection for sex workers. Outed by the Daily Mail she fought off efforts by her constituen­cy party to deselect her but lost her seat at the following general election. In an article for Gay News in 1977, Colquhoun said her sexuality had “nothing whatever to do with my ability to do my job as an MP”. She said she had always been open about her relationsh­ip and that “gay relationsh­ips were as valid and as entitled to respect as any other relationsh­ip”.

A key battle against discrimina­tion followed the introducti­on of Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act brought in by Margaret Thatcher’s government to “prohibit the promotion of homosexual­ity by local authoritie­s”. One impact of this law event was the renewal of LGBT organisati­ons, including the

formation of Stonewall. One of the photograph­s on display features one of the founders of Stonewall and now Lord (Michael) Cashman, who said Section 28 was brought in during a period where the LGBTQ+ community was stigmatise­d, and it was “designed to kick us firmly undergroun­d”. If you have not done so yet, read Michael’s excellent autobiogra­phy One of Them: From Albert Square to Parliament Square. His first-hand account of the campaign against this pernicious law brilliantl­y illustrate­s the successful fightback of the LGBTQ+ community which foreshadow­ed so much progress.

As I walked from the museum across what is now Granary Square in the modern Kings Cross developmen­t, I reflected on the exhibition and the incredible changes that have occurred in the lives of the LGBTQ+ community both personally and politicall­y. I also thought of the huge changes to the King Cross area. At the time of Section 28 it was full of dark and decaying warehouses, yet, located in some of those old buildings were some of the best gay-friendly clubs and bars. The Cross and Bagleys were two I knew well; they were fun, safe places where nobody judged your sexuality. But the outside world was different; even getting to the clubs was fraught with danger – Goods Way and York Way were not safe streets. Homophobic attacks in the area were not uncommon, caused by a hostile social and political climate, further fuelled by Section 28.

Today, Bagleys is a modern university campus, and The Cross contains posh shops and cafes. The square is an open cosmopolit­an space very representa­tive of the broader diverse London community. I’m pleased with the changes and the progress made, but glad there is also a space to remind us of the journey we’ve been on.

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 ?? ?? Chosen Families
Chosen Families
 ?? ?? Queer Britain Museum
Queer Britain Museum

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