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Queering your museum: creating LGBTQIA+ inclusive events and exhibitions

Get inspired to develop LGBTQIA+ inclusive events, exhibitions, and engagement opportunities by reading about these projects from museums and galleries across Scotland.

An adult with light skin and medium-length hair holds a large inflatable unicorn. A light on a nearby wall bathes the room in pink light.

How can museums represent LGBTQIA+ experiences and engage with queer audiences through their programming? 

History detectives, folk music, and an enormous Trojan unicorn: this article highlights just some of the ways that museums and galleries have created queer-inclusive events and exhibitions. Whether you’re new to queer programming or regularly include LGBTQIA+ representation in your work, it’s full of helpful hints on how to engage with queer communities and their histories.


LGBTQIA+ is an acronym which refers to a range of sexual and gender identities. It stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual/Aromantic. The ‘+’ represents all other identities which are not encompassed by these terms.

Queer can describe a person whose sexual orientation is not heterosexual and/or whose gender identity is not cisgender. Once regarded as a slur, the word ‘queer’ has now been reclaimed by some people in the LGBTQIA+ community.

Joe and Robyn from our Marketing & Communications team reached out to five museum sector workers to find out about their experiences of working on LGBTQIA+ themed projects. Here are their responses:

Sharing LGBTQIA+ stories

Judith Hewitt, Curator at DG Culture

Since 2022, Dr Flora Murray has been the ‘face’ on the Bank of Scotland £100 note. Flora is notable for many reasons – as a Suffragette, a Surgeon, and an LGBTQ+ icon.

I first became aware of Dr Flora Murray in 2018 but it wasn’t until I connected with DJ McDowall, a Dumfries-born LGBTQ+ activist and the Trailmaker for the StoryTrails Queens of the South AR and VR app, that I fully realised the power and importance of Flora’s story and its ability to transform our approach in Dumfries Museum.  

DJ’s passion for sharing Flora’s remarkable life and story with the people of Dumfries was infectious and since the very first meeting, we knew we had to do something in Dumfries Museum to continue the work done by the StoryTrails project.   

The collective will to create an exhibition about this remarkable ‘Daughter of Dumfries’ took us to unexpected places and involved the support of so many people. Collaboration with The Crichton Trust led to an incredible celebration event within their church, DG Arts Festival organised a musical evening in her honour, and Flora’s image appeared on the front of Dumfries’ Pride’s event booklet.

A black and white photograph of an adult in military uniform seated at a desk. Three adults in large coats stand next to the desk and look in the direction of the seated adult.
Dr Flora Murray discharging patients at Endell Street, London, c.1915. Credit: London School of Economics

The most common question has been ‘Why didn’t we know about her before?’. The answer to this question is complex. We can’t change the approaches and wrongs of the past – but we can act to change the narrative into the future.   

So many more stories remain to be shared. My experience in museums has taught me that the best ideas come from other people and that good ideas develop really easily. When everything feels right, you really have to do very little to make them happen – just go with it!

Find out more:

Organising inclusive events

Molly Ashmeade, Visitor Services Assistant at St Cecilia’s Hall & Music Museum

Created by myself and a colleague, Through to the Meadow: Queer Voices in Folk was a series of concerts and socials held at St Cecilia’s in 2023 that aimed to create a safe, welcoming space for the LGBTQ+ community and to celebrate queer narratives in folk music.

The series showcased local musicians exploring queer experiences through their music, and included catered socials and tours that drew connections between the musicians’ instruments and those in our collection.

We employed diverse inclusive measures, including welcoming signage, pronoun badges for staff and guests, and gender-neutral bathrooms stocked with sanitary products, fostering a safe space for all identities.

An adult with light skin and long, light-brown hair stands in front of a small group of people and gestures at glasses cases filled with a wide range of musical instruments.
Curator Dr Sarah Deters giving a tour of the collections at St Cecilia's Hall & Music Museum. Credit: Rui Wang

For other sites looking to create queer-inclusive programming, my key advice is to be brave and creative.

First, don’t be deterred by not having specific collection items directly related to LGBTQ+ history. St. Cecilia’s limited direct ties to these histories prompted us to work creatively, prioritising highlighting queer narratives and using them as a gateway to our collections where possible. This approach placed people and their stories at the forefront of the series, with connections to our collections serving as supplementary elements.

Second, embrace the learning process, recognising that nobody can know everything and that although mistakes will occur any step towards better inclusion is valuable. Your best bet for learning what the LGBTQ+ community wants from your programming is to ask them. Get their guidance and support before and during your events and ask for feedback afterwards so you’re always improving.

Collecting queer stories

Naomi Lawson, Collections and Museum Development Lead at The Living Memory Association

Queer Edinburgh was a ‘Year of Stories’ project that ran in 2022. The project invited people of all ages and backgrounds to share how Edinburgh had shaped their LGBTQ+ identities, and celebrate the city’s significance within Scottish LGBTQ+ history and culture.

We collected stories which explored themes such as identity, community and belonging, and traced key moments in Edinburgh’s contemporary queer history, like the introduction of Section 28, the AIDS pandemic and, more recently, the fight against transphobia and gender critical movements.

We spoke to queer business owners, artists, and activists, and conducted oral history interviews. We completed 25 interviews and used them to develop a podcast, a digital map of queer landmarks around Edinburgh, and a temporary exhibition at the Wee Museum of Memory.

An adult with light skin, long brown hair, and a dark blue coat views posters, t-shirts, and photos relating to LGBTQIA+ life in Scotland on display at the Living Memory Association in Leith.
A visitor listens to oral history recordings at the Queer Edinburgh exhibition.

My advice to those collecting queer stories would be to not underestimate the value of networking. We found that once we had initially marketed the project, participants would point us to others with equally interesting, personal, and valuable stories to share. Within months, we had built up a patchwork of queer stories that weaved together nicely.

I would also advise others to embrace oral history as a storytelling medium. Oral history offers people the power to record their own experiences in rich detail, with testimonies full of personal anecdotes and tangents worth exploring. It’s especially good for looking at queer history as it allows space for the storyteller to reflect, process emotions, and express sentiments that may otherwise remain undocumented in archives.

Find out more:

Collaborating with queer creators

Jennifer Grady, Community Co-Production Officer at Perth Museum

As the Community Co-Production Officer for the debut exhibition UNICORN at Perth Museum, I had the privilege of collaborating with queer creators and communities to explore the unicorn as a queer symbol. These collaborations culminated in impactful displays now featured in the museum. Highlights include:

  • Trojan Unicorn: Creating an enormous wooden Trojan Unicorn housing objects from the LGBTQIA+ community of Perthshire and beyond. The Trojan Unicorn was designed by Becky Minto (designer), Scott Bisset (build and design) and Kate Bonney (Lighting designer). The inside of the Trojan Unicorn featured recorded testimonies from local young queer people and interactive screens designed by Lucas LaRochelle, creator of Queering the Map.
  • “Hunting The Unicorn” Art Pieces: Commissioning five new art pieces by leading Scottish queer artists, each transforming a life-sized horse head sculpture into a faux taxidermy unicorn head. Themes include the damage caused by conversion therapy, institutionalized homophobia and transphobia, media weaponization of trans identities, celebration of trans youth, and challenges of growing up queer in rural areas.
  • International Collaboration: Facilitating an art and activism collaboration between young queer people from Average Gallery in Perth, UK, and The Freedom Project in Perth, Australia, resulting in denim jackets adorned with activism patches and badges celebrating queer youth’s courage and resilience.
A group of people stand around a large sculpture of a unicorn. The sculpture is made of wooden boards and has a long, flowing tail made of rope.
Visitors interacting with the Trojan Unicorn at Perth Museum. Credit: Sally Jubb

The key takeaway is that the queer community knows their lived experiences best. Consult with and truly listen to them without preconceptions. Encourage input and provide freedom for marginalised and silenced artists to express themselves without fear of repercussions. Avoid imposing limitations and allow them to highlight what is critical to them. The queer community brings curiosity, fun, empathy, courage, and a unique perspective to their work, and it is our role to let this flourish.

As a queer creator, this approach empowered me to pursue my ideas, no matter how controversial. Such freedom results in amazing, moving, and empowering work.

Find out more:

Researching LGBTQIA+ history

Sue John, Director of Operations, Resources and Enterprise at Glasgow Women’s Library

Glasgow Women’s Library (GWL) has been home to one of the UK’s largest and most significant collections of LGBTQ+ materials since 1995, when the amazing Lesbian Archive and Information Centre collection relocated from London to GWL. While LGBTQ+ collecting and programming is now more common among museums and libraries, GWL was ahead of the curve in bravely and publicly advocating for such collecting, and has been proactively programming LGBTQ+ events since its inception in 1991.

in 2019 GWL launched ‘Stride with Pride, a heritage trail that that highlights some of the people, places and spaces that are part of Glasgow’s LGBTQ+ heritage. It was researched and created by a team of GWL History Detectives, supported by Project Co-ordinator Mel Reeve, and funded by Tesco ‘Bags of Help’ Community Grant Scheme.

An adult with light skin and medium-length black hair sits at a table and browses a collection of magazines and documents.
A Stride With Pride workshop at Glasgow Women's Library. Credit: Glasgow Women's Library

The History Detectives met every Saturday during February, March and April 2019 to research many aspects of Glasgow’s LGBTQ+ history, and to shape this into a coherent mapping of the city. They then trialled the route and recorded an audio tour version to accompany the map. The Detectives spent time researching in the GWL archives as well as on line and within other collections – a true team effort, and an iterative process as the trail evolved. The launch in August 2019 was a truly joyous occasion as we celebrated our all too often hidden histories.

Find out more:

We hope you’re feeling inspired to develop queer-inclusive events and exhibitions at your own venues after reading about these creative examples.

Remember: you can engage with this topic even if your collections don’t have direct links to LGBTQIA+ history: all it takes is for your museum or gallery to involve people from the LGBTQIA+ community in your projects, and to listen to their experiences. If you make mistakes along the way, these can be used as learning opportunities: what matters most is the progress you’ve made towards creating a more inclusive environment at your museum or gallery.

If you have any questions about creating queer-inclusive events and exhibitions, please get in touch with us at