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Celebrating Queer Britain with Joe Galliano and Mark Gatiss 

1 June 2021

The LGBTQ+ community in the UK is a rich tapestry of individuals who defy stereotypes and help to create the wonderfully diverse country we call home. But what of their history? Where is their contribution to society celebrated and understood? Queer Britain looks set to answer these questions by establishing the country’s first national LGBTQ+ museum. 

Change Makers caught up with founder and curator, Joe Galliano and actor Mark Gatiss, to understand how we can start to paint a picture of Queer Britain and understand its place in the history books. Here are eight big take-aways from those conversations. 

  • The LGBTQ+ story is currently missing from our history 

“We’re working to make sure that LGBTQ+ people’s place in the culture is restored to where it should be,” explains Joe. “We’ve got this missing tooth in the British cultural landscape, which is very patchily filled in, and we want to make sure that we’re uplifting LGBTQ+ people’s stories, because these aren’t just about LGBTQ people. They are for everybody. We’re all part of that same family.”

  • These stories should be available to all, not lost 

“So much of gay history is by its very nature ephemeral,” says Mark. “Before the 60s it tends to be only observed through the prism of police records. That is in itself extraordinary. But, weirdly, thank God these things did happen! Because otherwise there would have been nothing at all.”

  • We need to evolve the language

“As language evolves, especially words like ‘queer’, we want to be part of that conversation, to take that last bit of sting out – which is particularly held by some older people who really were kicked around with that word – and actually say it’s a word that can be celebrated,” says Joe. “It’s also the most inclusive word under the LGBTQ+ moniker because we couldn’t call ourselves Lesbian Britain, we couldn’t call ourselves, Transgender Britain, but there’s a place for everybody under the plasticity of ‘queer’.”

  • It’s time to recognise LGBTQ+ impact

“The contribution to society [of the LGBTQ+ community] hasn’t been recognised widely enough,” says Joe. “The oversized impact that LGBTQ+ people have had on society, in relation to the size of the population, is quite extraordinary. We’ve shortened wars, we’ve launched world-class companies, we’ve probably had more impact on arts and culture than almost any other community, and yet it’s not really been celebrated in this broad way, at the heart of the mainstream.”

  • History is important for the next generation of LGBTQ+ people 

“Like with many aspects of history, the crucial thing is not to lecture and wag your finger at the new generation. But I saw a debate where two gay guys admitted they didn’t know that homosexuality used to be illegal,” says Mark. “It was quite an upsetting moment because you really don’t have to go far to find these things out. On the one hand – how amazing that they had grown up in a world so untroubled by such a notion. But on the other, as it is still illegal in dozens of countries, and punishable by death, there’s an extent to which these freedoms can disappear in a second.” 

  • We must not take freedoms for granted 

“There is a sense that these freedoms that have been so hard fought for have to be defended and have to be looked after – because of the risk that you might lose them again,” says Joe. “The way I’ve always thought about this is that when change comes quickly, it can also vanish very, very quickly. It’s very easy to find ourselves in hot water again, particularly with global rising populism. It’s a very dangerous moment to find ourselves thinking the job has been done.”

  • Coming out is still something you do every day 

“Like most gay men, my coming out wasn’t one thing or another,” explains Joe. “It was about a rupture with family, coming out and then going back into the closet in terror, coming out again when I left for university. It was a slow and nervous process. 

“But actually, it still happens every day. If I’m in a shop and somebody says, ‘your wife will love that,’ I have to make a decision about whether to tell them. Do I have a responsibility? Do I feel comfortable? It can often feel like, if I don’t make a quiet, good-humoured stand, I’m letting down the kids that come after me.”

  • This history is one of love

“There are very few museums that really cut so directly to the heart of what it means to be human,” says Joe. “What does it really mean to be human? It’s the relationships that we hold close. It’s who do we love, who do we bring into our lives? Who do we hold dear? That’s really the essence of it.”

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