Celebrate love, inclusivity and identity as a new LGBTQ+ exhibition comes to Dorchester’s Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum

Celebrate ‘A Little Gay History,’ and how far society has come since members of the LGBTQ+ community were brought through the courts at Shire Hall.

It’s easy to forget in modern times just how hard the LGBTQ+ community has had to fight for their rights and recognition. Too often LGBTQ+ voices have been overlooked by history; but not anymore. A new British Museum touring exhibition Desire, love, identity: exploring LGBTQ histories will open to the public at the Historic Courthouse Museum in Dorchester on Saturday 21st September

The exhibition has been travelling around the UK, following its first display at the British Museum in 2017, visiting the Ashmolean Museum and the National Justice Museum, followed by stops in Bolton and Norwich. The display looks at how same-sex love, desire and gender diversity are an integral part of the human experience and how this has been depicted differently through society throughout various times. Based upon Professor Richard Parkinson’s award-winning book, A Little Gay History, the exhibition offers glimpses into LGBTQ+ experiences throughout history using the British Museum’s collection.

Ranging from ancient history to the present day, the exhibition challenges visitors to question their assumptions about the past. The display looks at historical figures, as well as those people whose voices were lost, in what the novelist E.M. Forster memorably described as a ‘…great unrecorded history.’

Throughout history, the LGBTQ+ community has faced persecution. When Shire Hall opened in 1797, sexual relations between men could still be punished by death; at the end of the nineteenth century, they might face imprisonment, and even as late as the 1940s, the court sent men to the county psychiatrist for what was described as ‘treatment’. In 2014, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act came into law whilst 2017 saw the 50-year-anniversary of the de-criminalisation of homosexuality in the UK. For hundreds of years before this, members of the LGBTQ+ community were oppressed or even killed, simply for being who they were and loving who they loved. Notable Dorset gay residents include Alan Turing, who was educated in Dorset, and writer Sylvia Townsend Warner, who lived with her partner Valentine Ackland in Chaldon Herring.

Cllr David Taylor, Deputy Mayor of Dorchester talked of his pride in what the exhibition represents and what it means for Dorchester: “The lifestyle of same-sex couples and transgender individuals in the past has been one to fear and struggle to belong to. This is a hugely significant exhibition showing the history of the LGBTQ movement, which first started in the 1950s. I, as a gay married man to my husband of 21 years, have lived in this town and never, and I repeat never, have I had anything said to me, at all, about my way of life. The exhibition represents this fantastic development that the British people have at long last let happen.

“Looking back helps us remember the thousands of people that have been sadly affected whilst going through this growing phase. My true hero has always been Alan Turing. Without him this nation would have been lost during World War Two.”

A spokesman for Dorset’s LGBTQ+ Space Youth Project said: “It’s great to see Dorchester hosting an exhibition that celebrates diversity. It’s really important to show that LGBTQ+ people have been around for thousands of years.”

Joe Edwards, Dorset Foundation Head of National Programmes at the British Museum said: “I am delighted that due to the success of Desire, love, identity: exploring LGBTQ histories as a British Museum touring exhibition, the UK tour has been specially extended to include Shire Hall as the final venue. Desire, love, identity, part of our National Programme, gives the public in Dorchester the chance to view these fascinating and diverse objects, including the Ain Sakhri lovers – the earliest known sculpture of a couple making love – up close and outside of the British Museum. Dorset’s connections to LGBTQ history make Shire Hall a particularly apt venue for this timely and important exhibition.”

A British Museum touring exhibition Desire, love, identity: exploring LGBTQ histories will be on display at Shire Hall until 17 November 2019. More information can be found at www.shirehalldorset.org. If you would like to find out more about getting your community group involved with the project or volunteering during the exhibition, contact Harriet Still (Events and Exhibitions Manager) harriet.still@shirehalldorset.org