The Un-Straight Conference – Day 2

Day 2 in Liverpool was a bit of an anti-climax because the schedule was constructed around April Ashley’s keynote speech. As she was too ill to attend, there was a big gap in the day. The organizers filled it with what I gather is a very rare film about early trans women, including April. I’d love to see that one day, but I chose not to do so this weekend as I wanted to have a look around the rest of the museum, and grab some vox pops for Shout Out and podcasting.

Before that, however, we had some excellent presentations from museum professionals. The first session featured Zorian Clayton from the V&A and Marcus Dickey Horley from the Tate. Both talked about how staff networks within the London museums had worked to put on special events interpreting museum exhibits through a queer gaze. These have been very successful, and I have some hope that similar things can be done in other museums around the world.

Marcus was responsible for the wonderful Transpose event at which a number of trans artists presented their work at Tate Modern. That included CN Lester, Juliet Jacques and Raphael Fox, all of whom I have the honor to have met. He also came out with the best Twitter fodder of the weekend. The Tate now asks visitors whether they identify as LGBT as part of the demographic survey on their feedback forms. He said that 20% of respondents under the age of 20 tick that box. And that, of course, is only the proportion that are prepared to self-identify for a survey. That’s hugely valuable data when making a case to cater for LGBT visitors to a museum or gallery.

The other session featured international visitors: Hunter O’Hanian from the Leslie Lohman Museum in New York, and Michael Fürst from the Schwules Museum in Berlin. This got me questioning the statement yesterday that there are only 2 LGBT museums in the world. Strictly speaking, the Unstraight Museum is more of a virtual installation, and the Leslie Lohman is an art gallery. However, I see I have a comment on Friday’s blog post listing a whole bunch more. We are still well short of the 312 Elvis museums, but I’m delighted to see that these places are out there.

A common feature of both Hunter and Michael’s talks was how an establishment that was originally set up as exclusively about gay men has shifted its focus to cater to the whole QUILTBAG spectrum. The Leslie Lohman was founded in the wake of the AIDS epidemic, so it inevitably had a male focus. For the Schwules it was more a case of lesbian separatists refusing to have anything to do with it at first.

Which reminds me, one of the more delightful aspects of the weekend has been the complete absence of TERFS.

There were two more breakout sessions to attend. The first was from Kati Mustola, a Finnish academic who talked about how an LGBT presence in Finland came about via an interest in social and community issues. The other was a presentation by the amazing artist, Andrew Logan. His glass portrait of April is one my favorite things in the exhibition.

I have a huge number of photos, and quite a bit of audio, to process. That will take time, and this coming week is ferociously busy. Please bear with me. I would, however, like to thank Sarah Blackstock from Birmingham LGBT and Surat Knan from Rainbow Jews for enabling me to bring some diversity to an otherwise fairly white event. There was a strong feeling amongst the attendees that we wanted to do more events like this, and hopefully future conferences will be larger and more diverse in many ways.

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