“Get your acorns out!” – the National Trust at Pride

I’ve finally handed a full version of my thesis to my supervisors, so hopefully will have more time to blog, and I’m also planning on making the blog a bit nicer too, and adding more info about the exhibitions we’ve had at Sutton House this year.

This week has been a pretty unusual week for me at work. On Wednesday we hosted a member’s event at Sutton House hosted by National Trust Director Helen Ghosh. I was delighted to be asked to chair the panel event, and the discussion was around making the Trust more diverse and inclusive. On Saturday, the Sutton House team led the National Trust’s presence at Pride in London. If you’d have told me when I started researching and volunteering for the Trust in 2013 that either of these things were happening I’d have guffawed. It seems a very appropriate way to bookend the uphill struggle that has been my relationship with the Trust (and frustrations with the heritage world more broadly), and my PhD.

I’ve ranted on here before about how problematic I find Pride, and haven’t attended for the past few years, opting instead for Queer Picnic, Black Pride or Trans Pride in Brighton, all of which embody what Pride events should feel like for me much more than London Pride.

I hate that Pride now presents an opportunity for institutions to stick a rainbow flag on themselves and be seen to be visibly supportive of a community they do shit all to support all year round. I hate that the organisers so consistently get everything wrong (as an aside I attended a winter club night they did at Scala and they had a men’s queue and a woman’s queue… yet they claim to be for the whole LGBTQ community…). I hated that a police man came up to me this year to ask for a selfie, I said no, and that he could have a selfie for every time the police have appropriately dealt with a hate crime I’ve reported… Pride is too corporate, too white, too cis, too homonormative, pats people and institutions on the back too much for being “allies” but for not actually doing anything, is hypocritical and blind to the genuine pressing issues that queer communities face around the country and the world.

 

So it was with a lot of anxieties and doubt that I agreed to march in Pride for the first time, and especially to march as part of a huge organisation. But I’m actually pleased I did. The Trust haven’t always got it right this year when dealing with LGBTQ histories as part of the Prejudice and Pride programme, but I know that those who worked on it, and helped put together the Pride march are all coming from the same place as me. When we were first talking about Pride, I said I wouldn’t be involved if we were selling memberships on the day- as I think it would be desperately inappropriate to do so. Instead, our presence should be to show support, to celebrate the work we have done over the last few years (especially at Sutton House!) and to celebrate our LGBTQ staff and volunteers.

This year at Sutton House, all of our programming has been related to LGBTQ themes. We have worked with (and paid!) exclusively LGBTQ artists, have given platforms to people that otherwise wouldn’t have had them from the Sutton House community (such as Victor Zagon, who I will blog about more fully at some point!), we’ve worked with a young LGBTQ support group, we have explored queer themes with school groups and in our family offers. My exhibition Master-Mistress in 2014 was the first ever LGBT History Month exhibition in a National Trust property, we were the first to launch gender neutral toilets, we’ve been hosting queer club nights with Amy Grimehouse and Late Night Library Club for years, and I know that we won’t stop just because the Prejudice and Pride programme ends. I’m very concerned about legacy, but for now, I was very proud to march as part of Sutton House in Pride, I have worked very hard to help educate a large organisation about LGBTQ heritage, I have called out staff in the Trust when they have got things wrong, and just because the Trust are now on the cusp of progress, I won’t stop doing either of those things.

I love the National Trust, that’s why I’ve spent over four years researching and writing about it, that’s why I volunteered with them, and why I’m so pleased to have a job at my favourite National Trust house. Marching in Pride also made me realise how much affection my community has for the Trust too, even if sometimes it seems very conservative, or inaccessible, people appreciate the aims of Europe’s largest conservation charity, and recognise our attempts to get better. Fear not- I will continue to hold the Trust to account and work with my equally passionate colleagues to ensure that this is just the beginning of making the Trust a better place for EVERYONE.

We met a lovely man called Martin from the London Gay Men’s Chorus, who had been part of the Save Sutton House Campaign back in the late 1980s- I’m looking forward to getting in touch with him to start recording his memories, some of which we were lucky enough to hear over a pint after the march.

Also: huge shoutout to the man in the crowd that shouted “Get your acorns out!” as we marched past.

“It had to be both” Twilight People at Islington Museum

Twilight People: stories of gender and faith beyond the binary is now up and running at Islington Museum.

Curating narratives of people with marginalised identities presents a series of challenges, especially when those people have intersecting marginalised identities. Alongside those challenges come great opportunities for transformative and radical curating; for subliminal activism that can educate, enlighten and wave the flag for pride, and for social justice. In Twilight People two worlds meet in a peaceful and powerful crescendo, that challenges and undoes the notion that trans and gender nonconforming identities are inherently at odds with faith, and that indeed gender identities can be affirmed, discovered and renewed through religion, and that religious identities too can be reinvented, strengthened and celebrated through gender diversity. Twilight seemingly represents an in-between place, but this exhibition aims to show that a trans journey is not necessarily about a start point and a finish point, a before and after, but rather that the transformative moment of Twilight can indeed be the destination itself.

Curators have a great responsibility. In highlighting the fluid and non-binary natures of faith and gender identities, it is essential to allow the subjects of the exhibition to have their voices at the forefront of the exhibition. Oral history allows this, and museums and archives are increasingly realising that aside from being interesting and engaging sources of his-and-herstory, that oral histories serve a political purpose in filling in the gaps in historical records that so often exclude diverse voices. The theme of Twilight People is Body and Ritual. My own expectations of the stories we collected, and the beautiful portraits, were that they would highlight the trans body, and the ritual of faith, but they also uncover bodies of faith and rituals of gender. The subjects of the exhibition are not merely subjects, through their generous participation and sharing, they are stakeholders of an important landmark in queer exhibitions, co-curators, activists and educators.

Here are some photographs from the exhibition:

And here are some from the installation:

Marie and James from Roundhouse Radio worked in collaboration with young volunteers and SOAS radio to create a beautiful sound piece from the oral histories which will hopefully be available online soon. Here is James modelling the headgear from the public launch:

A huge thanks to everyone who worked on the project, but especially to the pioneering Surat-Shaan Knan, who is breaking ground with every project he embarks upon (also, highly recommend Through a Queer Lens at the Jewish Museum which he and Ajamu collaborated on). I had the pleasure of listening to Surat-Shaan’s oral history in full and feel privileged to have heard it, one of my favourite moments is when he is discussing the intersection between his Jewishness and his gender identity, and he says “it couldn’t be one or the other, it had to be both”, which I thought beautifully captured the exhibition for me (and inspired the title to this blog post!). Massive thanks also to Charlotte Kingston, the lead curator, from whom I’ve learnt so much, both about curating, and about how to be an amazing ally. Huge love to both!

The exhibition runs until the 5th of March, I hope you are as moved, enlightened and excited by these stories and images as I have been.

‘Without Borders’ LGBTQ Archives, Libraries, Museums and Special Collections conference

Hello all, just a reminder that the deadline for proposals for the LGBTQ Archives, Libraries, Museums and Special Collections conference 2016 is looming ever closer, they are due by Friday 8th January 2016, details below, including how to submit. I’m also delighted to share the official logo for the conference, designed by the fabulously talented Alex Creep, who you might remember designed the beautiful poster for my ‘126’ exhibition!

WITHOUT BORDERS…

Archives, Libraries, Museums and Special Collections (ALMS) 2016, an International LGBTQ+ Conference hosted by the City of London through London Metropolitan Archives in partnership with Bishopsgate Institute and University of Westminster. 

Dates: 22 – 24 June 2016 Location: London

Background 

ALMS is an international conference focussed on the work by public, private, academic, and grassroots organisations which are collecting, capture and preserving archives of LGBTQ+ experiences, to ensure our histories continue to be documented and shared. The conference began in Minnesota in 2006 when the Tretter Collection and Quatrefoil Library co-hosted the first LGBT ALMS Conference. The last conference took place in Amsterdam in 2012 and saw archivists, activists, librarians, museums professionals and academics from around the world coming together to share success stories and discuss challenges involved in recording LGBTQ+ lives.

CALL FOR PAPERS 2016 

To reflect our emerging global community, the 2016 conference is titled ‘Without Borders’. Papers are invited from across the heritage, cultural, academic and grassroots communities. Our aim is to generate a dialogue within the co-dependent fields of LGBTQ+ historical research and collecting, and share experiences, ideas and best practice through a programme of presentations and short talks that explore margins, borders, barriers and intersections, past and present. Topics may include, but are not limited to:

Barriers –in accessing LGBTQ+ content within existing collections, and in collecting material from LGBTQ+ communities
Intersections – collecting, cataloguing or researching subjects which share multiple / contrasting identities
Margins – researching elusive or liminal subjects; learning, research or projects taking place outside formal institutions
Connections – uniting individuals or communities across boundaries through heritage or research
Border police – navigating the formal standards of the heritage sector, including official terms and language or constructions of identity

We invite 200 word abstracts offering informal 10-minute presentations that share work-in-progress or provide an introduction to new projects or research that address these themes.

We also invite 300 word abstracts for 20-minute papers or presentations exploring the themes in more detail.

We particularly welcome contributions from BME / QPOC (Black Minority Ethnic / Queer People of Colour) and Transgender communities, as well as from those living outside the UK and USA.

The ALMS conference 2016 is being delivered on a not-for-profit basis by London Metropolitan Archives and Bishopsgate Institute in order to encourage dialogue and share knowledge in LGBTQ+ histories and cultures. The conference is not being funded as part of a wider project and the organisers are unable to cover speakers’ costs except in cases where keynote or invited speakers are prevented from attendance for financial reasons. A limited number of bursaries for attendees will be made available at the beginning of 2016. 

Abstract deadline: Friday 8 January 2016
Abstracts to: jan.pimblett@cityoflondon.gov.uk
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LGBTQALMS Twitter: @LGBTQALMS #alms2016

Speak up! Speak out!

I’m very pleased to share the programme for the 13th Annual LGBTQ History and Archives conference at the London Metropolitan Archives. This year we’ll be hearing about the Speak Out! oral history project (about which I may have some very exciting news soon) and the Pride of Place project. There will also be an excerpt from All the nice girls.

The conference is a steal at just £10, and promises to be even better than last year’s! Hope to see many of you there. You can book here.

LGBTQ Archives, Libraries, Museums and Special Collections 2016: Without Borders

Sorry for the long gap in blog posts, I’ve been very busy working on my thesis, and much more exciting things, including this!

You might remember a much earlier post on this blog from just before I started my PhD, when I mentioned the LGBTI ALMS (Archives, Libraries, Museums and Special Collections) conference in Amsterdam. It was an incredible conference, and I’m so pleased to be a small part of its follow up in summer 2016. I am part of the steering committee, and the conference is hosted by London Metropolitan Archives and the Bishopsgate Institute, and a third institution which is to be announced shortly!

The call for papers is as follows:

Deadline for proposals is 8 January 2016:

WITHOUT BORDERS…
Archives, Libraries, Museums and Special Collections (ALMS) 2016
an International LGBTQ+ Conference hosted by the City of London through London Metropolitan Archives in partnership with Bishopsgate Institute.

Dates: 22 – 24 June 2016
Location: London

Background

ALMS is an international conference focussed on the work by public, private, academic, and grassroots organisations which are collecting, capture and preserving archives of LGBTQ+ experiences, to ensure our histories continue to be documented and shared. The conference began in Minnesota in 2006 when the Tretter Collection and Quatrefoil Library co-hosted the first LGBT ALMS Conference. The last conference took place in Amsterdam in 2012 and saw archivists, activists, librarians, museums professionals and academics from around the world coming together to share success stories and discuss challenges involved in recording LGBTQ+ lives.

CALL FOR PAPERS 2016

To reflect our emerging global community, the 2016 conference is titled ‘Without Borders’. Papers are invited from across the heritage, cultural, academic and grassroots communities. Our aim is to generate a dialogue within the co-dependent fields of LGBTQ+ historical research and collecting, and share experiences, ideas and best practice through a programme of presentations and short talks that explore margins, borders, barriers and intersections, past and present. Topics may include, but are not limited to:

• Barriers –in accessing LGBTQ+ content within existing collections, and in collecting material from LGBTQ+ communities
• Intersections – collecting, cataloguing or researching subjects which share multiple / contrasting identities
• Margins – researching elusive or liminal subjects; learning, research or projects taking place outside formal institutions
• Connections – uniting individuals or communities across boundaries through heritage or research
• Border police – navigating the formal standards of the heritage sector, including official terms and language or constructions of identity

We invite 200 word abstracts offering informal 10-minute presentations that share work-in-progress or provide an introduction to new projects or research that address these themes.

We also invite 300 word abstracts for 20-minute papers or presentations exploring the themes in more detail.

We particularly welcome contributions from BME / QPOC (Black Minority Ethnic / Queer People of Colour) and Transgender communities, as well as from those living outside the UK and USA.

The ALMS conference 2016 is being delivered on a not-for-profit basis by London Metropolitan Archives and Bishopsgate Institute in order to encourage dialogue and share knowledge in LGBTQ+ histories and cultures. The conference is not being funded as part of a wider project and the organisers are unable to cover speakers’ costs except in cases where keynote or invited speakers are prevented from attendance for financial reasons. A limited number of bursaries for attendees will be made available at the beginning of 2016.

Abstract deadline: Friday 8 January 2016
Abstracts to: jan.pimblett@cityoflondon.gov.uk

A website will shortly be launched, but in the mean time you can keep an eye out for announcements at the Facebook page and on twitter @LGBTQALMS

‘Making things’ exhibition

Just a quickie, to share the poster (click on it for a larger version) for an upcoming exhibition that I am part of, based at the Institute of Education, showcasing work-in-progress from doctoral students in the Art, Design and Museology department whose research includes an element of practice. My work is a piece called ‘The village folk had a lot to say about it’, and it is in response to the neglectful interpretation of Mary Lobb at Kelmscott Manor.

There will also be a seminar, as you can see from the poster, in which there will be a respondent to each of the student’s work and a discussion about how research and practice intersect. I’m delighted to say that Emily F. Henderson, a PhD candidate at the IOE researching feminism, gender and queer theory in connection with international Higher Education, has kindly agreed to respond to my work. You can check out her new book here.

The exhibition opens the week before 126 does- eeeshk, it will be an exciting few weeks!

Lines of Dissent – 12th Annual LGBTQ History & Archives Conference

I’m really pleased to share the flyer for the London Metropolitan Archives’ 12 Annual LGBTQ History and Archives conference, run in partnership with the Raphael Samuel History Centre this year. I’ve been part of the conference steering committee for the last two years along with a great team, and this year I’ve been asked to host a practical workshop about queer homes. The focus this year is on LGBTQ genealogy and family history.

The conference takes place at the London Metropolitan Archives on December 6th, tickets are just £10, or £7.50 for concessions. You can book tickets here.

I hope to see many of you there!

The National Trust at the Balfron Tower

In September last year I was involved as a tour guide in the National Trust London Project’s Big Brother takeover. It was such an interesting experience that when I heard about their pop-up opening of Flat 130 in Balfron Tower I was eager to be involved.

I had, unknowingly, known about Balfron Tower from 28 Days Later, being a huge zombie film enthusiast (arguably it’s not a zombie film, as the ‘infected’ aren’t dead, but yadda yadda), as Cillian Murphy’s character takes refuge there with other survivors. Interesting that I knew a building originally envisioned as a socialist utopia as the refuge from complete nightmarish dystopia. It also turns out that my good friend currently lives in the tower as a property guardian, albeit 21 floors below the flat that the National Trust temporally opened.

The experience was quite different to the Big Brother opening, partially because of the considerable amount of research that was required before the tours (the Big Brother tours were quite small in comparison, and as a fan of the programme I didn’t really need to learn much), as well as the anxieties that many, including me, had about the project. I was uncomfortable in the direction that the building was going, as it is being developed and sold as luxury apartments, the original social housing residents having, mostly, been “decanted” (i.e.: booted out) since 2010. I was also uncomfortable at how the tours could be read as voyeurism- touring largely white, middle class people around an area that is mostly social housing, not to mention the potential for disturbances that could be caused to the current residents (a few remaining social housing tenants, property guardians and artists from Bow Arts Trust), however, my initial concerns quickly vanished once the project got underway, as the Trust had taken great steps to ensure limited disturbance to the residents and local communities, they offered free community group tours to ensure that those who lived and went to school locally had the opportunity to see the flat and experience the tour, and part of the income from the tickets will be donated to the Residents Association.

The enthusiastic visitors on the tours, and the other volunteers I worked with shared my discomfort with the direction the building was being taken in, and by being reflective about that in our conversations, it became clear that everyone was there out of an interest in modernist architecture and the socialist values imbued in it by Ernő Goldfinger. The conversations we had on the tours about our own experiences of social housing, high rise living and East London meant that the tours were more self aware and critical than perhaps your average National Trust tour. I tried to make sure that the tone of the tours was not one of fetishising the building as an icon, but instead getting to the core of the social values that Goldfinger intended to be enacted by such a building, and how it has been, and is being, undone.

Flat 130 is the one in which Goldfinger and his wife Ursula briefly lived in in 1968. Part publicity stunt, part “empirical” research, the Goldfinger’s used their time there to inform the future Trellick Tower, by finding out what residents thought about living there. They only occupied the flat for two months, so the Trust decided to go down a more fantastical route rather than trying to recreate what would have been a very sparse flat. Instead, Wayne and Tilly Hemingway were invited to create a 1968 flat for the imagined family that moved in after the Goldfingers. The idea was that all furniture was from 1968 or earlier, assuming that families would have inherited furniture from earlier to bring with them. There were, however, a few anachronisms, and perhaps the furniture would not have been reflective of a family in social housing, but my questions about the logic of presenting well researched fiction rather than, say, the empty flat, were soon challenged when I saw how much visitors enjoyed the flat, mostly because of the nostalgia it triggered. One woman said it was strange seeing somewhere that looked so much like an old flat of hers being presented as a museum piece.

I gave tours on three days, and was asked to Duty Manage the volunteers on three more. The tours were such a success that the initial run was extended. The tour guides were all volunteers, and the turnover of recruitment and training was a lot quicker than usual National Trust endeavours- and definitely the better for it. The dynamic and diverse range of guides and styles of tours made the project feel fresh and exciting, and it proved, to me at least, that being a Tour Guide is not necessarily something you get better at with experience…

A huge thank you to Roshan and Katherine, and many others, for making the project such a great pleasure to be a part of it, and I really wish it was a happier story for what happens to the tower next.

I made a little video of the flat:


Flat 130, Balfron Tower from Sean Curran on Vimeo.

Queerly Theorising Higher Education & Academia: Interdisciplinary Conversations

Queerly Theorising Higher Education & Academia: Interdisciplinary Conversations 
Half-day International Symposium 

Monday 8th December 2014, 12 noon – 7:30pm, followed by a drinks reception

Room 802, Institute of Education (IOE), 20 Bedford Way, London WC1H 0AL 

This half-day international symposium brings together queer theorisations of higher education and academia that are currently developing within discipline-specific contexts. At this symposium, we will explore the ways that academia and higher education are being queerly theorised, and discuss how these theorisations are situated within and yet pushing against disciplinary settings. With an emphasis on conversation and discussion, the event will provide a platform for the collaborative development of ideas over the course of the day. Contributors to the round table and discussion-presentations range from established scholars to doctoral students, and are from a variety of disciplinary locations and institutional settings.

Round table participants: 
Oliver Davis – University of Warwick
Michael O’Rourke – ISSH, Macedonia & Global Center for Advanced Studies
Nick Rumens – Middlesex University
Yvette Taylor – Weeks Centre, London South Bank University
Kathryn Medien – University of Warwick (Chair)

Presenters:
James Burford – University of Auckland, New Zealand/Aotearoa
Jennifer Fraser – Birkbeck
Vicky Gunn – University of Glasgow
Emily F. Henderson – Institute of Education
Genine Hook – Monash University, Australia
Z Nicolazzo – Miami University, Ohio, US
Sean Curran – Institute of Education (Chair)
Emma Jones – Institute of Education (Chair)

Discussants: 
Elliot Evans – King’s College London
TBC

The event will be hosted by CHES (Centre for Higher Education Studies) and is funded by the Bloomsbury ESRC Doctoral Training Centre.

Registration is free, but places are limited so booking is essential.

To book, or for further information, contact Emily Henderson:ehenderson01@ioe.ac.uk

RSVP by 14th November 2014.

Balfron Tower

I’m so excited to be part of the upcoming National Trust tours of the Balfron Tower, which is becoming a ‘pop up’ property much like the Big Brother house did this time last year. I will be one of many volunteers guiding the tours, which run for two weeks from 1st October.

While I did not expect the project to attract the sort of vitriol in the media as the Big Brother takeover did, I’ve been surprised at the largely positive response so far, though perhaps more scathing comment pieces are being saved for while the tours are running. This is a controversial project, in many ways much more so than the Big Brother tours, as aside from continuing debates about what heritage is, there are issues around gentrification, and the “decanting” of those who lived there in the manner it was originally conceived by architect Ernő Goldfinger, as social housing. I’m hoping the tours will be a part of this debate, though no matter how much I might roll my eyes at the gentrification of a tower block that will soon be luxury apartments and that is currently occupied by artists, I have to accept that as a National Trust tour guide, I am part of that gentrification.

That aside, I visited the tower on Friday for training and I can promise a really fascinating visit for those with tickets, the tower is filled with great stories and the view from Flat 130, which has been recreated in 1968 style by Wayne and Tilly Hemingway, is phenomenal. I hope this venture generates a healthy discussion about heritage and about what happens when a once reviled building used as social housing becomes a revered icon, at the expense of its residents, it’s a very timely discussion too, and I’m really pleased to have the opportunity, and the privilege to see this beautiful building up close, and to share its stories with others.

I’ll blog more thoroughly about this once I’ve done the tours!

You can get tickets here (looks like they’re almost gone).