‘Pride of the People’ Museum Exhibition Brings Local LGBTQ+ History Out of the Closet

A new exhibition is due to open that will unearth the stories of some of the most prominent LGBTQ+ people to have lived in and around Thetford, Norfolk.

The ‘Pride of the People: Helping History Out of the Closet’ exhibition at the Ancient House Museum in Thetford is set to explore many queer tales and themes when it opens on September 15th. The exhibition delves deep into Princess lives, openly gay footballers and mayors, and much more.

The exhibition has been curated by the Ancient House Museum’s very own Teenage History Club, a group of 12 teenagers aged between 12 and 19 who meet up each week in term time to work on heritage projects. The decision to create an exhibition focusing on LGBTQ+ rights came after the group were shocked to discover that homosexuality was illegal in the UK until 1967.

The Teenage History Club group (Photo credit: Ancient House Museum)

The project has particular resonance with the group as some of its members themselves identify as queer. Teenage History Club member, Moo said:

I think this exhibition is important, especially for Thetford, because there has been very little of this kind of thing in this area. I have experienced homophobia in both my home town and the schools I went to, I think, because there is no exposure or education about these subjects. Positive things like this make others feel accepted, as it’s made me feel, so I am so happy and proud to be a part of this.

‘Pride of the People’ will showcase the journey the group have been on in learning about LGBTQ+ history and discovering what life was like for non-heterosexual people in the local area over the past few centuries. One of the most notable people to be featured in the exhibition is Justin Fashanu, who grew up near Thetford. Fashanu played for Norwich City Football Club and became the first openly gay professional footballer.

Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, alongside Princess Catherine Duleep Singh and Prince Frederick Duleep Singh, grew up at Elveden Hall, just four miles away from the museum, and is noted for being a prominent suffragette who actively challenged traditional thinking around gender stereotypes. Prince Singh, who is also the museum’s founder, was known to have had queer experiences as evidenced in several of his personal letters.

Princess Catherine Duleep Singh and her partner, Lina Schafer (Photo credit: Ancient House Museum)

Ethan, a member of the Teenage History Club said:

This exhibition is important to me because it is recognising the achievements and struggles of the LGBTQ+ community … It is a space in which we can celebrate the progression in society while also acknowledging the people we have lost and the sacrifices that were made in order for the LGBTQ+ community to be as accepted as it is today.

Other aspects of the exhibition will include an interactive explanation of queer terminology, a film of Teenage History Club members speaking about the project, a timeline charting the changes in the legal framework of the country around queer issues from the 1500s to the present day, and a series of translations from Polari – the secretive slang language used primarily by gay men in the early to mid-20th century to communicate amongst themselves, especially when in the presence of heterosexual people.

The exhibition will also be displaying an eye-catching rainbow duo-shirt made by local artist David Shenton. The shirt, made from six separate shirts, is designed to be worn by two men holding hands through a shared sleeve – as David and his partner did when they wore the shirt at London Pride in 2013.

David Shenton’s rainbow duo-shirt (Photo credit: Ancient House Musuem)

Cllr. John Ward, Chairman of Norfolk County Councillor and Chair of the Norfolk Joint Museums Committee said:

This excellent exhibition continues to prove what can be achieved when Norfolk County Council and Norfolk Museums Service work alongside young people in our county. It’s inspiring to see the hard-work and dedication that this group have shown in researching and curating such an insightful show – bringing to light both historical and contemporary issues around the nature of gender and sexuality through local stories, objects and people.

‘Pride of the People: Helping History Out of the Closet’ at the Ancient House Museum opens on September 15th and runs until December 1st. The museum is open Tuesdays to Saturdays from 10am until 5pm (until 4pm from October 1st onwards). For more information, please visit the Norfolk Museums website.

You can follow the Ancient House Museum on Facebook and Twitter.

Ancient House Museum’s Teenage History Club can also be followed on Twitter here.

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