Daily Mail vs National Trust (AGAIN)

These are obviously my own views about the recent Felbrigg debacle, NOT those of the National Trust.

As everyone knows, the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales is being marked by many huge heritage institutions, including the British Museum, Tate Modern/Britain, Historic Royal Palaces, V&A etc. It seems though that the only institution to be consistently ruffling the feathers of homophobic right wing rag commentariat is the National Trust.

When the 2017 Prejudice and Pride programme was announced at the end of last year, Breitbart fascist Delingpole claimed the ‘once great’ institution had been sullied by the inclusion of LGBTQ histories, and name dropped my beloved Sutton House as being his former favourite property, now hosting the ‘nonsensical’ Sutton House Queered programme.

I’m currently at my family home, and I’m ashamed to say my dad buys and reads the Daily Mail. Today, amidst the political chaos in our country, the Daily Mail deemed the National Trust front page material. He made a joke about hiding it from me. He mistakenly thinks that my distaste for the Daily Mail in contrast to his reverence for it is amusing.

I know very well that the Daily Mail is reactionary, and barely based on truth. We all do. But earlier in the year when the rag bemoaned with outrage that the National Trust had CANCELLED EASTER, I could only roll my eyes, as the day before I had helped to hang a huge canvas banner emblazoned with the word Easter in front of a National Trust property. It was amusing because it was laughably reactionary, and also, very easily demonstrably not true. It also created the largest number of visits for the Easter weekend that Sutton House had ever seen.

Today’s headline reads MUTINY IN THE NATIONAL TRUST, and is in response to volunteers from Felbrigg in Norfolk who refused to wear Prejudice and Pride badges. In response to their refusal, the Trust asked them to move away from public-facing duties for the duration of the programme. Firstly, let’s just unpick the headline. 10 ‘furious’ volunteers out of a body of over 70,000 volunteers across the National Trust (ie 0.01%) is emphatically not a mutiny. It’s a mere drop in the ocean.

When the Prejudice and Pride programme began, the Trust approached it very carefully, working with and consulting many experts (including myself), such as Stonewall, curator of Queering the Museum and Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery Matt Smith and Leader of the Leicester University School of Museum Studies, Richard Sandell. We worked together on a series of training days to discuss how various inevitable challenges could be met. Volunteers were always a great consideration. The Trust is so privileged that so many people devote their time, skills and energy to volunteering there, but sometimes volunteers can be difficult- anyone working in museums and heritage can tell you that much. I visited Seaton Deleval in Northumberland once and I had to walk away from an elderly volunteer who was using sexist language to refer to a Mary Eleanor Bowes portrait, when he noticed her portrait had caught my eye. Not everyone thinks LGBTQ history should be uncovered, they prefer that it should continue to be hidden, like a shameful dirty secret, and unfortunately, out of 70,000 volunteers, it’s inevitable that some of those would share that view.

The news that the National Trust had stood firm on this ruling that volunteers must wear lanyards or badges reflecting the programme at the house was like music to my ears. Like a lot of large charities and organisations, the Trust has a set of values and behaviours that all staff and volunteers must abide by. These range from being respectful to people, to being willing to try new things, but also that we be advocates and ambassadors for the National Trust.

So often, as with many of my own visits to National Trust properties, the only people you will encounter as a visitor is a volunteer. It makes perfect sense then, that they be ‘on message’, for whatever is going on in the property at that time.

Pam Meecham, my PhD supervisor, has written about the Hello Sailor exhibition at the Merseyside Maritime Museum, and noted how some of the museum staff wanted nothing to do with the exhibition, and were vocal in their disapproval of it. It shouldn’t be behaviour that is tolerated from staff, and therefore should not be tolerated by volunteers. The difference is, volunteers are not contractually bound to sharing the values of the Trust, so the alternative, if they are not prepared to do so, is to take their skills elsewhere, and use their time where their values are in line with the organisation (the daily mail perhaps?). I think it’s very generous for the Trust’s stance to be to allow them to move their duties away from front of house rather than just showing them the door.

I obviously feel very strongly about criticisms about the Trust’s LGBTQ engagement, and take a lot of it very personally given my role in laying the foundations for it, and in building the programme this year (especially since I know that people like my parents are consuming the sort venom that is being written about it). It hasn’t always been easy, both from inside and outside the Trust, but reading that they were taking such a bold stance made me feel really valued, and genuinely moved by the Trust’s devotion to these important histories, and to making their properties more inviting and welcoming to LGBTQ communities.

I’m disheartened to see they have reneged this bold stance in the face of criticism from the Daily Mail and the Telegraph. They haven’t yielded to the ‘fury’ of volunteers, they’ve yielded to homophobia/transphobia. And if you change your course in response to hatred and ignorance, you give weight and merit to that hatred and ignorance, and say that those who voiced it are in the right. This is really disappointing, it feels like one step forward and too steps back and it’s exhausting.

The Daily Mail is the enemy of many people and many things and carries a lot of power given its colossal readership. But if you continue to worry about what the Daily Mail is going to say about every thing you do, and if you cave in to bullying from thick right wingers, you’ll never get anything done. The future members and visitors of the National Trust are not old white Daily Mail readers, so we really, really need to stop bending to the every wishes of old, white Daily Mail readers.

I feature on episode three of the National Trust’s Prejudice and Pride podcast, speaking with Dr Gus Casely-Hayford and Clare Balding about hidden queer histories. The whole series is great, written by Museum of Transology’s E-J Scott, check them out here.

all 126 LGBTQ sonnet videos now online

I have finally put all of the contributions to the 126 LGBTQ sonnet project online. You can view them all in this album here. I’m looking into potential ways of displaying them, perhaps with a dedicated website, but for now they are all there for your viewing pleasure.

The exhibition at Sutton House has finished and it was a great success. I was sad to see it go, but looking forward to writing about it for my thesis, and I don’t think this is the end of the project, I am hoping to edit them in to a second version of the film and to continue to look for opportunities to screen it to make sure it can be seen by as many people as possible.

I want to extend my thanks again to the staff at Sutton House, but especially to the 125 (I was the 126th!) volunteers who gave up their time to contribute so creatively and generously to this project. I am overwhelmed and moved by the contributions, which range from funny to really moving. All of them are brilliant. Visibility is still really political for queer people, so we have all done something towards ensuring that we are seen and heard, and I think that’s a beautiful thing. I’m also delighted to have met so many of the contributors since, at Sutton House, the V&A and various other queer events. I never imagined this project would help me feel so much more a part of the queer community, and that I would make so many friends through it.

I’m really excited that the exhibition had a brief mention in an article in the Independent. Unfortunately it was only two days before the exhibition ended, meaning that it wasn’t an effective marketing device, but still great to have been noticed, and I hope the higher ups in the National Trust are paying attention to our success.

Special thanks to Alex Creep, who has put up with me being quite insufferably stressy during the build up to the exhibition! and who also made the beautiful poster for the exhibition.

LGBTQ sonnets exhibition

When I first suggested collecting all 126 sonnets read by LGBTQ people to the staff at Sutton House I was half hoping for them to suggest it was a bit too ambitious. However, with almost all of the sonnets now assigned to willing volunteers (there are still a handful left!), and the contributions coming in thick and fast, I’m delighted that they had faith in me!

Here are two little teaser videos of two of the contributions, I’ll be posting more in the build up to the – as yet unnamed (I have a few ideas) – exhibition, which will take place in February 2015. As well as the recordings of the sonnets, I am also asking contributors to record a ten second video portrait, or a moving “selfie”. In the exhibition, I don’t think the sonnets will be matched with the videos, but rather will all run into each other, but I will have to wait until I have received them all before I experiment with the best ways to exhibit them all.


126 sonnets – teaser video [one] from Sean Curran on Vimeo.


126 sonnets – teaser video [two] from Sean Curran on Vimeo.

I can’t tell you how overwhelming I am finding the generosity and creativity of the contributors so far, and it’s a real treat every time I receive a new submission, it really strengthens the love I have for a community I’m so proud to be a part of, and it feels like we’re all part of something really big and meaningful!

I’ll continue to document the progress of the exhibition, and in the next few days I’ll blog about my experience of volunteering at the Balfron Tower with the National Trust.

call for volunteers for LGBTQ exhibition

Following this year’s Master-Mistress exhibition, the staff at Sutton House have invited me to curate a follow up exhibition in February 2015.

In Master-Mistress, four brilliant volunteers contributed their voices by reading from Shakespeare’s Fair Youth sonnets. For Master-Mistress Take 2, we’re going to have all 126 of them read and recorded, and exhibited at Sutton House. This might sound very ambitious, but this is where you can help!

I’m looking for 126 people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, queer or intersex (or any combination of) who would like to take part in this.

What I will need from you:

  • a self recorded reading of a sonnet (I will assign the sonnets to make sure we have no duplicates), if you have a smart phone you will be able to do it on that, if you are unable to, or don’t have a phone that can record sound, then I can help you record it. The sonnets all take approximately 1 minute to read.
  • a 10 second ‘moving selfie’, a video (again, just use your phone, and again if you don’t have the technology, we can help you out) that serves as a portrait of you, of your face or your full body, or if you’re not comfortable showing yourself, you can send a clip of something personal that captures an element of you, an object, an item of clothing, a place, or whatever you want (get in touch if you’re short of ideas and I can help).
  • Your permission to use both the sound recording, and your videos in an exhibition, promotional material for the exhibition and online.

The sounds and clips will help to create an immersive audio-visual experience at Sutton House in LGBT History Month in 2015. Once the exhibition is over, there will be an online space to bring all of the material together, so that together we create a legacy that lasts beyond LGBT History Month.

Please email SuttonHouseLGBTQ@gmail.com If you want to contribute- get in touch and I can assign you with a sonnet to read, or if you want any more information, or have any questions, get in touch too.

We’re aiming to have collected all 126 sonnets by November, so get in touch as soon as you can!

Also, please share this post widely with your networks, it’s a really exciting opportunity to be involved in a ground breaking community sourced project and exhibition in a National Trust property!

Here is an example of one of the readings from last year:


Sonnet 93 from Sean Curran on Vimeo.

You can hear the other three here.

I visited the house today, and was shown around the new breakers yard, which is gorgeous, do go and visit, here are a few pictures from it: