Museum Of Science and LGBT Industry

BCN 117 cover

This originally appeared in BCN issue 117, Feb 2013

Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry – The MOSI to locals – attracted a few visitors from BiPhoria for their LGBT History exhibition this February.  

It’s not the most intuitive link, LGBT to Science and Industry.  The museum spreads across the borders of Manchester and Salford with exhibits of preserved heavy machinery of the historic mills, steam trains and early planes.  What’s LGBT doing in there?  I emailed Josie, the Community Development Officer at MOSI, who said

“MOSI is also the only place in Manchester where visitors can come and learn more about the social history of the city, in our Making of Manchester gallery. MOSI has worked with various community groups, organisations and partners since 2003 to create a number of community exhibitions. These exhibitions explored modern Manchester as well as complemented MOSI’s main storylines. They provided an opportunity for communities to share their personal stories and experiences of an evolving city.

The museum were aware that within MOSI’s permanent galleries there was little reflecting LGBT life. This despite the city’s strong reputation earned off the back of things like Queer As Folk, the 1988 Section 28 demonstrations, and being home to Alan Turing’s post-war work. Josie says: “The exhibition seeks to explore the impact of the community on Manchester, covering political activism, support groups, socializing and the changing face of The Village.”

Photo from MOSI exhibitionTrue enough, industry only makes sense with some context of the people around it.  Moreso as Manchester’s history of textiles and warehouses and factories has been succeeded by a growth in creative and “service” industries, which depend more on the character of the people doing them.

So what do they have?  A room that takes perhaps 15 or 20 minutes of browsing includes a collection of photos mapping the city in memories from a lesbian & gay youth project, teeshirts worn at Prides by the big health charity LGF, and the winning frock from the first Sparkle trans festival.  There are printed quotes from people’s experiences and a series of audio recordings where people have shared their memories of queer life in the city. And – in pride of place – a big (to modern eyes) mechanical calculator that Alan Turing used to use.

It’s noticeable that the larger organisations which tend to have funding and staff are, by and large, those whose stories are reflected here.  This is one of the ways bis are often squeezed out of LGBT history tales; there’s not been the historic infrastructure or ‘purple pound’ visibility that other strands, especially the “G” in LGBT, have had.

The timeline display particularly caught my eye as the first time I’ve seen a large panelled LGBT history timeline display to properly include some dates of bi history: two moments in the city’s bi life are captured in the display alongside trans, lesbian and gay developments both local and national.

It’s not perfect: it talks about for instance “lesbians and gay men” being allowed to serve in the armed forces when the law changed, but it’s the best such display I’ve yet seen.  A similar exhibit produced by NHS North West recently only mentioned bisexuals in the context of HIV.

As History Month comes to a close the exhibition ends and contributions are returned to the groups and individuals they came from.  At the moment it seems MOSI won’t be returning to this topic, but they hope those who contributed items will where suitable give them to the local central library’s archives.  These hold annual viewings each February of LGBT related material, so there may be a chance to catch some of it again.