Pride Month and the Museum Field: Museums Interpret and Share LGBTIQ+ History

June 17, 2021

We should remember why we celebrate Pride Month and museums especially have the responsibility for educating the public about LGBTIQ+ history that has long been neglected to be told. June is LGBTIQ+ Pride Month which honors the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan as it was the tipping point for the Gay Liberation Movement in the United States. Stonewall Inn was one of the most popular gay bars in New York City back in 1969, and until 1966 it was illegal to serve alcohol to a gay person in New York State. Throughout the United States, police raids on gay bars and spaces during this time. The purpose of Pride Month as a commemorative month is to recognize the impact that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals have had on history locally, nationally, and internationally.

        In more recent years we celebrate by having pride parades, picnics, parties, workshops, symposia and concerts, and LGBTIQ+ Pride Month events attract millions of participants around the world. Pride Month last year and this year has been different due to the pandemic. Last year, the museum field honored Pride Month on the virtual platform.  Hilary-Morgan Watt (the Digital Engagement Manager for the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden) and Emily Haight (the Social Media Manager at the New-York Historical Society) wrote a short post for the American Alliance of Museums’ blog to advertise the #MuseumPrideParade on Twitter encouraging museums and museum professionals to share items in their museums’ collections relevant to LGBTIQ+ history. According to the authors, the campaign they created at the time of their post was the third global campaign organized by the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and the New-York Historical Society during the pandemic, following #MuseumBouquet and #MuseumSunshine. Watt and Haight pointed out that:

We decided Pride was the right opportunity for a third campaign, to help museums   celebrate in place of the exhibits, film screenings, programs, and parade-marching many would normally be participating in. How do you participate? It’s simple—showcase images from Pride marches and other LGBTQIA+ protests throughout history, or other objects and stories from LGBTQ history, using the #MuseumPrideParade hashtag, and choose another institution to tag as your virtual marching partner.

For example: We’re sharing [object] for the #MuseumPrideParade and marching with [@institution].

The Museum Pride Parade took place last year on June 10th at 11am on Twitter.

        While we are still going through this pandemic, we still honor Pride Month and each museum does so in varying ways depending on if they are planning to have events and programs in person, virtually, or hybrid. I included links to various events and programs museums are doing for Pride Month in the list below to show what is happening. Also, I included a couple of links from last year’s Pride Month in the list.

        A lot of the programs and events especially in museums aim to educate participants in LGBTIQ+ history. It is important for museum professionals to remember that LGBTIQ+ history is not just in one month. There are museums that not only incorporate LGBTIQ+ history into their programs but also do outreach in the LGBTIQ+ community, and I saw some examples of this in the December 2020 edition of the Journal of Museum Education called Queering the Museum. One of the articles was Benjamin Rowles’ “LGBTIQ+-Themed Education at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna-Guided Tours with a Drag Queen” in which he pointed out the museum he began working for in 2016 holds countless European Old Master paintings and some of them can be interpreted to reference queer themes, yet there was a lack of LGBTIQ+ outreach. Rowles decided that since in addition to working in a museum he also works as a drag queen, he will combine both to provide guided tours as a drag queen; his article shared the experience of the offered guided tours that lasted for a few years.

        Another example of an article in this edition of the Journal of Museum Education was “Intuition and Vulnerability: A Queer Approach to Museum Education” written by Eli Burke, the Education Director at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tucson. Burke’s article explored intuition and vulnerability through an intergenerational arts program called Stay Gold that is specifically for the LGBTIQA+ community and its relationship to museum education. The main point of the article is that it seeks to examine how queerness is connected to both intuition and vulnerability, and how the Stay Gold program impacts the lives of LGBTIQA+ participants through that lens.

       Danielle Bennett, who has previously worked on LGBTQIA+-related projects at Amy Kaufman Cultural Planning and the New York Historical Society, also contributed an article for the Journal of Museum Education called “Lessons from Glen Burnie: Queering a Historic House Museum”. She made a case in the article for including queer narratives in historic house museums since including queer history in public history settings is important in its own right and as a way to invigorate museum interpretations and appeal to wider audiences.

Also, in the same article Bennett dispels concerns about “outing” historical actors and describe some language and ways of thinking about historical sexuality to assist educators in their interpretation. Then it shifts into the case study of Glen Burnie, a historic house museum that completely revised its interpretation to center the house’s last residents and its preservationists, a gay male couple; Glen Burnie’s interpretive shift leverages the efforts of both men to create public and private domestic experiences that create an immersive new house tour experience and can be used to create a critique of the portrayal of gender roles and heteronormativity at many historic house museums. More articles can be found in the fourth edition of the 45th volume in the Journal of Museum Education, and I included a link to current and past editions.

How are you honoring Pride Month this year?

I’m on Buy Me a Coffee. If you like my work, you can buy me a coffee and share your thoughts.  More information about additional benefits for supporting my work can be found here: https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/buy-me-a-coffee-page/

Links:

Library of Congress: Pride Month

Library of Congress: Stonewall Uprising

Journal of Museum Education

AAM Pride goes Virtual

Pride at the Smithsonian

World Pride at The Met

Western Museums Association Pride Month Sources

Celebrate Pride

New York City Pride

Pride Month 2021

Events in 2020

8 LGBTQ Objects to Celebrate Pride 2020

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