OUTing the Past London: The National Maritime Museum Greenwich
– Andrew Dobbin, Promotions Officer, Schools OUT (UK)
Arriving at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich at dusk on Friday 9th February was deceptive when walking from the tube; I really didn’t get a proper sense of how impressive it is as I came at it sideways so to speak. A couple of narrow twisty roads and suddenly Greenwich Park was on my left with its slightly frazzled statue of William IV facing out. Behind him I could see the plate glass walls of what turned out to be the Museum gift shop and back doors, which being just after 5pm were already locked. A couple of minutes of waving and jumping up and down attracted the attention of a polite security guard who led me round to where the event was taking place.
I noted with amusement the little piece of LGBT history facing the former monarch’s statue – the Greenwich Arms, previously known as The Gloucester Arms. Back in 1995, the last time I was in Greenwich, the pub was just becoming famous to queers beyond London as the gay pub in the iconic film ‘Beautiful Thing’.
Beth Vaughan, another SOUK committee member, had already arrived and was in the process of putting up our banners and scattering our leaflets decoratively on the table provided. Our host and museum representative Sacha Howard greeted me warmly before going off to meet the four presenters who were by now also managing to gain entrance to what he described as ‘the fortress’.
Coffee and biscuits were laid on by staff for the thirty or so visitors who had braved the cold after work on a bitter night in February to hear the presentations. The atmosphere was warm and jovial, with all of our badges and leaflets being taken enthusiastically.
After Curator Claire Warrior’s and Sacha’s introductions (which unfortunately I missed as I was packing our flags and banners back up again ready to be couriered on to the next venue), we were definitely treated to some gems. Caroline Paige, one of the first trans women in the RAF delivered a comprehensive recollection of her sixteen years in the military and the changes she has seen in its attitudes – from open hostility to being a top 10 employees on Stonewall’s inclusivity list. The second talk was the highlight of the evening for me personally – Chery Morgan’s fantastic and witty presentation on the ancient Scythian tribe, better known to most of us as the Amazons. Cheryl presented many pieces of compelling evidence to convince us they were more than myth – but their use of hormones on eunuchs would really have been seen as witchcraft in the ancient world. Thirdly, came Max Carocci with a slightly controversial section on Trans people and objects in native American culture. I learned the new and beautiful word ‘win’kte’, which literally means ‘want to be woman’. The final presenter, Paul Dillane of the charity Kaleidoscope, spoke passionately about the treatment of LGBTQ+ refugees and the impact our foreign and social policies have on asylum seekers. Recent events in Bermuda have reminded us of the fragility of LGBT rights and the toxic legacy of the British Empire around the Commonwealth.
Judging by the comprehensive nature of the questions that followed the presentations and the heated conversations I heard on the tube home afterwards, many audience members will have returned to their places of study enthused about the revelation, study and celebration of LGBT histories in the UK. And I think the idea of a proper LGBT museum gained even more support.
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