Guest blog for Manchester Histories by Never Going Underground Community
Curator, Jenny White.
Photo (above) Never Going Underground Community Curators with Ian McKellen. Photo courtesy: People’s History Museum
I’m one of nine volunteer Community
Curators who put together the landmark Never Going Underground exhibition on
show at People’s History Museum to September 3rd 2017. It’s been an amazing
experience, not least getting to meet gay rights icon Ian McKellen at the
Until fairly recently exhibitions and
events billed as exploring LGBT history have tended to focus on the
criminalisation of male same sex acts, gay male sub cultures, and the fight to
reduce the age of consent. There might be a token reference to lesbians thrown
in, with trans and bisexual histories pretty much ignored.
As Community Curators we aimed to showcase
diverse queer histories, so that any LGBT+ young person on a school trip to the
museum could find something to identify with. We wanted to inspire visitors to
come away and act for change in some way, and to highlight the importance of
Aged from twentysomething to seventysomething
- and representing the full spectrum of LGBT+ plus a straight ally - we each
brought our own passions, experiences and voices to create a unique exhibition.
Supported by staff from the museum, from May 2016 we met fortnightly for progress
meetings and training sessions, and were ultimately responsible for all aspects
of planning, from object selection, to choosing the designer and writing labels.
We explored archives and art collections around
country, approached activists for memorabilia, and hosted community
consultation workshops for input on what to include. We chose items representing
a wide range of activism formats including social media, craftivism, direct
action, and political lobbying.
Photo (left) Hayley Cropper’s anorak
By September 2016 we’d bagged some ace items
for display including Hayley from Corrie’s iconic red anorak; a video equipment
case used by Fox Fisher to make the My Genderation film
series; and an original 1928 banned copy of Radclyffe Hall’s Well of Loneliness
novel. We’d interviewed a number of activists including the lesbians who
abseiled into the House of Lords in 1988 to protest the anti gay law Section
28; and a founder of Movement for Justice group which campaigns for migrant
We were a bit worried that with such a
random assortment of items the exhibition could end up looking like a jumble
sale. But designers Made by Memo transformed
our ideas into a vibrant, bold display, with lots of fabulous interactive and
family friendly elements.
Photo (right) African Rainbow Family deliver a petition to the Nigerian
High Commission calling for the repeal of Nigeria’s anti-LGBT laws, 2015. Photo courtesy: African Rainbow Family
The exhibition covers the UK wide fight for
LGBT+ rights, but includes plenty of Manchester specific content, including items
from the huge Never Going Underground demo and concert held in 1988. We’ve spotlighted the work of a number of local
LGBT+ support and activism organisations including Rainbow Noir, Action for
Trans Health, Biphoria
and African Rainbow Family.
Manchester was a centre of suffragist and
suffragette activism and we’ve featured a number of queer votes for women campaigners
including Esther Roper and Eva Gore-Booth; music hall star Vera ‘Jack’ Holme
who worked as Emmeline Pankhurst’s chauffeur; and composer Ethyl Smyth who put
her musical career on hold to devote energy to the cause.
The Never Going
Underground exhibition is on until 3 September 2017, and is part of a
year- long programme of exhibitions, events and learning programmes at People’s
History Museum exploring the past, present and future of LGBT+ activism.