As social history curator, one of my roles is make sure that the museum collections reflect North Lanarkshire’s cultural heritage. While our collections are rich and varied, telling countless stories about the area’s diverse people, communities and industries, there are also some notable gaps.
One group badly under-represented in the museum collections is North Lanarkshire’s LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgenger, queer, intersex, asexual) community. Not one museum object, document, photograph or oral history interview within our substantial museum collections had any clear associations with LGBT+ culture, communities or individuals. The story of North Lanarkshire’s LGBT+ heritage is all but invisible.
Historically, there have been few openly gay figureheads in the area, and LGBT+ social networks and sub-cultures are hard to find. Why is this? There are many factors that may have made it difficult for people who identify as being part of North Lanarkshire’s LGBT+ community to come out openly. These include discriminatory attitudes that may stem from religious beliefs and the masculinised society brought about in part by the heavy industrialisation of the area.
LGBT+ rights have slowly been improving across the UK over the past decades. In recent years, same-sex marriage in Scotland has been legalised and LGBT-inclusive education added to the Scottish school curriculum. As laws and attitudes change to reflect everyone’s right to equality, it seems vital that we make some long overdue changes to our museum collections.
Redressing the balance
To get the ball rolling I contacted the NLC Development Officer (Equalities) for Education and Families and posted a call-out on Twitter, tagging prominent LGBT groups. I also contacted openly gay staff within CultureNL and North Lanarkshire Council, and circulated a flyer asking for people to get in touch if they wanted to help create an LGBT+ collection that represented their experiences.
I was lucky enough to meet members of Airdrie Academy’s pupil equalities group, PNP (Pride Not Prejudice), pupil support teacher Stephanie Masterson, and Councillor Jordan Linden, all of whom kindly set aside time to share their experiences for our oral history archive. Excitingly, they also gifted us the first objects for our new LGBT+ collection – a Pride flag signed by staff and pupils, rainbow lanyard complete with LGBT ally badges, and a t-shirt worn at Pride Glasgow.
LGBT History Month takes place every February, aiming to promote tolerance and raise awareness of prejudices faced by LGBT+ people. Earlier this month, we created a small display in our community case at Summerlee Museum to celebrate LGBT History Month 2020, with Airdrie Academy’s signed rainbow flag taking pride of place. Last week, we added a new story to our website: Invisible Lives: LGBT in North Lanarkshire explores some of the “hidden” histories relating to the area’s LGBT+ community and showcases new additions to our museum collection.
We’d love to add some more LGBT+ material to our museum collection! If you’d like to donate badges, flyers, photos, articles of clothing or other items that represent any aspects of LGBT+ culture in the area, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or give me a call on 01236 856374.
- NLC Supporting LGBT Young People
- LGBT Youth Scotland
- Time for Inclusive Education (TIE)
- Equality Network
- Stonewall Scotland
- Scottish Trans Alliance
About the author
Jenny Noble has been the Social History Curator at CultureNL (formerly North Lanarkshire Council) since 2009. She also works part-time as Museum Curator at Glasgow Women’s Library, which holds an extensive LGBT+ collection.