UK's first LGBTQ+ museum, Queer Britain, goes Virtually Queer

DIVA chats to Dr Molly Merryman of Queer Britain's first project, Virtually Queer, to find out more about the innovative digital archive 🌐


Dr Molly Merryman


Set to open in 2021, Queer Britain – The UK's first LGBTQ+ museum – will play host to a collection of both permanent and temporary exhibits, the first of which has already begun...


"It's really exciting! I think Joe, founder of Queer Britain, is doing amazing work," Dr Molly Merryman told DIVA when we met (virtually, of course) earlier this month.


Dr Merryman, otherwise known as founder of Kent State University's Centre for the Study of Gender and Sexuality in Ohio, was recently appointed as Queer Britain's research director, and will be leading on the creation of Queer Britain's oral history work – of which there will be lots more to come.


Fancy finding out a little more? We thought you might...



DIVA: You're based in Ohio in the US, how did you get involved with the British-based project?

MOLLY MERRYMAN: Oh, it's a really funny story. Queer Britain's founder and CEO Joe Galliano and I actually met at an Outing The Past conference. There was just this ridiculous amount of people at dinner one evening, and he and I ended up being sat across from one another. Once we started talking, the rest of the room just melted away...


He was telling me all about his vision for Queer Britain and the Virtually Queer project, and he was like, "I want to use video and collect stories and catalogue them but I'm not sure how to do it..." And I said, "Well, this is what I do. Here are some ideas!"


I didn't know very much about where Queer Britain was at that point, and so I was just being "the academic", throwing out some ideas, and then he was like, "Can we talk later?" We Skyped, threw some more ideas around and – by the time I started to think, "Oh my God, I'd love to have a bigger role in this..." – Joe asked me, "Would you like to head up this project?" and I was like, "Yes please!" [laughs].


What's you're role in the project at the moment?

We're looking at getting a network of queer scholars from all around the UK together, and also looking at different technologies so that people can, in the not-too-distant future, submit their own histories to the project. We're really trying to create an accessible interface with Virtually Queer.


You're holding your first event, Our Naked Skin, throughout October at Salisbury Arts Centre – why Salisbury?

Joe approached me and said, "Hey, there's this great play happening," and so he already had the relationship. My role was to basically say, was it feasible or not. And so I met with the artist heading up the project and saw that, yes, it did fit in well with what we're doing and what we want to do moving forward and so that was that.


We reached out to the Heritage Lottery Fund and applied for a grant so that we could collect oral histories from women at the Salisbury event to mark the 100 year anniversary of women's suffrage! It's also being held alongside the play, Her Naked Skin.



You also interviewed women yourself following the #100years theme, how did you collect those stories?

I had a conference in Paris, France for the International Visual Sociology Association this summer, and so I added on time before and after that to speak to people in the UK for Virtually Queer.


Joe is so well connected in the UK that he was able to set me up with some really great people to speak to and then I already knew Sue Sanders from Outing The Past, so I interviewed her. On top of that, we all did a day at the Salisbury Arts Centre for Her Naked Skin too – we wanted to make sure to get a good geographical selection.


How will you choose who you speak to for the Virtually Queer project moving forward?

It was really important to both Joe and I that we start off not interviewing white, gay men because... they're a group within the community who already get so much attention.


Instead, we really wanted to start off Queer Britain by acknowledging people who haven't gotten as much attention. A lot of these people are not prominent activists (though I believe every queer person is an activist). Some of the more amazing stories are those LGBTQ+ people that are just slogging it out in their daily lives – that's the hardest kind of activism.


How are you involving your university, Kent State, back in the US?

We've set up a collaborative agreement between Kent State University and Queer Britain and we're figuring that in 2020, we're going to bring a class of our students from the US to the UK to collect more interviews. In short, we're just really looking at the different ways we can make this bigger and better.


We also want to set up an app so that people can sit down and go through guided questions in their own time at home. We want Virtually Queer to be truly comprehensive – like, thousands of interviews  – and there's no way I, even with a team of me, could do that. Now we have technology, Skype, other things, there's ways that this can happen that don't require people to be sitting face-to-face with us. It also makes the project a lot more accessible, and hopefully diverse.


There's no end to Virtually Queer, but by 2019 you're hoping to present it in a more "solid" form, is that right?

Yes! But until then, we're looking for every possible kind of story – we want to hear from everyone! And not just people who are LGBTQ+, we're interested in every story that relates to the history of queer Britain as a concept. Virtually Queer will soon be an online platform so that we can reach people no matter where they are in the world.


We also heard whispers of "augmented reality"..?

Yep, another aspect is to actually use augmented reality within the project. Along with some people here at Kent State, we want to create a virtual platform of queer stories accessible to all. Why? Because we want to reach that 14-year-old trans kid who's living in the middle of nowhere and thinks that they're all alone.


It's so important to have role models, and a big part of what's driving Virtually Queer and Queer Britain as a whole is that we want this to help those kids – or adults – who need to see themselves represented.


Our Naked Skin, a collab between Wiltshire Creative & Queer Britain, explores the tension inherent between the domestic urge and love that is not sanctioned – a theme which cuts across the boundaries of sexuality, gender identity and historical context. ​The collab runs 4 October – 10 November 2018. Click here for more.



Only reading DIVA online? You're missing out. For more news, reviews and commentary, check out the latest issue. It's pretty badass, if we do say so ourselves. // //


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