How can your museum engage children, young people and families with LGBTQ+ heritage?
This guide by Kids in Museums is designed to support the work of museums to represent and include queer communities and engage children, young people and families with LGBTQ+ heritage.
At Kids in Museums, we stand in solidarity with LGBTQ+ communities. Museums have a responsibility to welcome and represent everyone in society, including those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer. They must be safe places free from harassment and discrimination for LGBTQ+ people. Museums also have an important role in advancing the rights of LGBTQ+ communities and tackling the prejudice that they face.
According to the Office for National Statistics in 2019, the number of same-sex couple families has grown by more than 50% since 2015, making it one of the fastest growing family types in the UK. Although progress has been made in advancing equality, Stonewall statistics show LGBTQ+ communities still face disproportionate discrimination and hate crime in their daily lives. By including perspectives and histories from queer communities, museums can challenge stereotypes and prejudice, and assert that these stories belong in our cultural institutions.
Stories about same-sex attraction and gender non-conformity have been historically excluded from or hidden in museums. In recent years there has been a shift towards exploring the experiences of LGBTQ+ communities in museum collections, exhibitions, and events, as this article written by Margaret Middleton explores. The fact that we are now seeing more queer representation in museums is progress, but we need to make sure this is accessible to all audiences, and not just those with a special interest in queer culture.
This resource is intended as a starting point to help museums engage children, young people and families with LGBTQ+ heritage. We have also included some guidance for LGBTQ+ inclusion in museums. In the following sections, we will share some tips and examples from other museums that are leading on this work in the sector.
1. Make your site welcoming for members of LGBTQ+ communities
Barriers still exist that may make people feel uncomfortable or unsafe in museums. There are some steps you can take to make your site welcoming for members of LGBTQ+ communities.
When thinking about LGBTQ+ visitors, it can be useful to have a framework of language that is most appropriate and respectful to use in your communications with staff and visitors. This can help everyone to feel welcome and seen. This family inclusive language chart created by Margaret Middleton is useful in signposting some inclusive words and phrases to use when referring to families and children. This is also helpful to bear in mind when collecting data or asking people to fill in forms; it doesn’t need to be compulsory for visitors to state their gender on feedback forms.
The charity Stonewall has a useful glossary for common terms relating to LGBTQ+ identity, which can help when writing interpretation for an exhibition or programme on LGBTQ+ communities.
Facilities and signage
To make sure everyone in your museum is catered for and feels comfortable using your facilities, it is advisable to have both all-gender toilets and baby changing areas available. The best all-gender toilets signage puts focus on the facility, not the user. Read more about gender inclusive signage on Margaret Middleton’s blog.
The Museums Association has an article outlining best practice for safe and accessible museum toilets, whether they are gendered or not (please note that this article is behind a paywall, so you may need an MA membership to view it).
It is important for your staff and volunteers to be aware of your museum’s equality, diversity, and inclusion policies and to have regular diversity training. Here are some examples of museum equality protocols:
The Museum of London have uploaded their six-part inclusion training to YouTube so it is free to access. LGBT+ support organisation The Proud Trust offer bespoke training and online resources for organisations that work with children and young people. Curious Arts also offer LGBTQ+ awareness training for arts organisations.
It is also important to create an inclusive and supportive environment for LGBTQ+ staff members. Some museums have supported staff in creating LGBTQ+ working groups to share resources and create a safe space for networking and promoting inclusion.
Make your support clear
Make it visible that your museum stands with LGBTQ+ communities all year round. LGBT History Month and Pride are great times to connect with LGBTQ+ history and culture, but these should be used as starting points to embed further work into your permanent programming and exhibitions. Asserting your support for LGBTQ+ people and having a public no tolerance policy for homophobia and transphobia is another fundamental action you can take.
Think about the promotional material you use and whether you could include any images of non-heteronormative families. If you have children’s books in your museum, you could include some that celebrate LGBTQ+ families; the Book Trust have a useful list of picture books.
Remember that LGBTQ+ communities are diverse
People who identify as LGBTQ+ can come from all different cultures, religions, and economic backgrounds. When programming exhibitions or events, make sure you are aware of the range of voices that deserve to be represented.
2. Consult and collaborate
Work with members of the public when planning content with LGBTQ+ themes. Consult with the communities you are aiming to represent to make sure your work is sensitive and accurate. In the ‘Beyond the Binary’ exhibition, the Pitt Rivers Museum worked directly with LGBTQ+ communities to give them control of their own representations. Hastings Museum and Art Gallery have a Queer History Collective made up of local LGBTQ+ people who meet and contribute objects and stories to the museum.
If you have a Youth Group at your museum, they may want to work on a project about queer history. At Ancient House Museum of Thetford Life, the Teenage History Club have worked on a project exploring local LGBTQ+ history, which they then shared with the public through exhibitions, conferences and more.
It is also helpful to consult with your own staff who are LGBTQ+. The V&A have an LGBTQ+ working group who look into themes of gender and sexuality in the museum’s collections.
3. Reinterpret your collections
Many museum collections already contain objects that have stories relating to gender and sexuality. A good way to draw attention to these stories is through creating a trail or tour. The National Museum of Scotland worked with young people on their LGBTQIA+ trail. It highlights objects that have a previously unexplored connection to LGBTQ+ history. Similarly, the British Museum run a museum tour that explores the LGBTQ+ connections in their collection.
You can also reinterpret your collections through a digital medium, like the Queer as Folklore video series at the Museum of London.
If you have undertaken work to reinterpret objects in your collections, why not add this interpretation to the permanent displays in your museum? This way all your visitors can benefit from learning about the queer history your collections have to offer. Following their Beyond the Binary exhibition, Pitt Rivers Museum added labels to their permanent collections to reflect the new perspectives from the exhibition.
4. Host events and workshops
Utilising your public programming is a great way to engage children, young people and families with LGBTQ+ heritage. Many museums already offer family craft activities, and these can tie in with Pride and LGBTQ+ Heritage Month. National Museums Liverpool and Royal Museums Greenwich have planned activities for younger audiences which make use of the rainbow symbol for LGBTQ+ inclusion and pride. Drag Queen Storytime is a very popular event for children; Birmingham Museums, among others, have hosted their own versions.
You can also host a welcoming space for LGBTQ+ families in your museum like the Royal Museums Greenwich LGBTQ+ Family Network. This bi-monthly network provides a space for LGBTQ+ families to meet and participate in activities together. You can read more about their work in our blog from the National Maritime Museum.
There are some existing annual events that your museum can get involved with. The OUTing the Past Festival celebrates LGBTQ+ history and activism and runs every year. Museums frequently join as festival hubs and host their own activities and presentations. Many LGBTQ+ awareness days are also marked across the year – this can be a good starting point for your queer heritage programming. Remember to embed this into your permanent programming too, so that your engagement with LGBTQ+ stories is not temporary. Here are some examples from different museums:
- February: LGBTQ+ History Month – Royal Museums Greenwich
- 31 March: Trans Day of Visibility – National Museums Liverpool
- 23 September: Bi Visibility Day – Cynon Valley Museum
5. Engage digitally
Many museums have used digital media to engage children and young people with LGBTQ+ themes. Tate created a short video for children to explore LGBTQ+ artists. The People’s History Museum in Manchester have some online drawing activities to use at home which link to social themes, including LGBTQ+ Pride.
If you have created any digital resources relating to LGBTQ+ themes, you could highlight these with their own landing page on your website. Both the Museum of London and National Museums Liverpool have dedicated pages on their websites for all their work around LGBTQ+ history.
6. Useful links / Further reading
- Museum of Transology
The UK’s most significant collection of objects representing trans, non-binary and intersex people’s lives.
- Queer Britain
A charity working to establish the UK’s first national LGBTQ+ museum.
- LGBT Hero
A national health and wellbeing charity supporting over 100,000 LGBTQ+ people a month by providing trusted information, advice and various types of support including one-to-one, group and peer-support.
The largest LGBT rights organisation in Europe.
LGBTQ+ information and support helpline.
- The Proud Trust
An LGBT+ organisation that supports LGBT+ young people through youth groups, peer support, mentoring programs and the Proud Connections chat service.
- Just Like Us
LGBT+ young people’s charity with a mission is to empower young people to champion LGBT+ equality.
- The AAM’s LGBTQ+ Welcoming Guidelines for Museums
American Alliance of Museums guidance for best practice in welcoming LGBTQ+ professionals and communities.
With thanks to Margaret Middleton for their support in writing this resource.