Pride and prejudice: museums celebrate the decriminalisation of homosexuality

Museums across the UK are preparing exhibitions to mark the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act, the legislation that partially decriminalised male homosexuality in England and Wales in 1967.

In London, the National Portrait Gallery will present a special display on the citys gay scene in the 1980s (David Gwinnutt: Before We Were Men, due to open 9 March) while the first major exhibition dedicated to queer British art is to open at Tate Britain (Queer British Art 1861-1967, 5 April-1 October). With sections focusing on Oscar Wildes trial for gross indecency in 1895 and the tangled love lives of the Bloomsbury group, the show spans more than a century, from the abolition of the death penalty for sodomy to the passing of the Sexual Offences Act. The cell door behind which Wilde was famously imprisoned at Reading Gaol is to go on show beside his portrait, which was sold off after the legal fees for his trial left him bankrupt.

The British Museum will take the long view in Desire Love Identity: exploring LGBTQ histories (11 May-15 October). The show of objects drawn from the collectionfrom a Roman coin with the head of Antinous, the emperor Hadrians male lover, to a 1990s deck of cards decorated with Japanese drag queenswill have a lasting legacy through updated labels in the permanent galleries, a spokeswoman says.

In Manchester, the Peoples History Museum is working with nine community curators to document 200 years of British activism (Never Going Underground: the Fight for LGBT+ Rights, 25 February-3 September). This is not an easy story to tell because so little of the materials and narrative is formally catalogued, says Catherine ODonnell, the museums engagement and events officer. To source material, we had to reach out to an unprecedented number of museums and galleries, but also directly to individuals, she says.

Meanwhile, Liverpools Walker Art Gallery will examine how artists responded to decriminalisation in an exhibition co-organised with the Arts Council Collection (Coming Out: Art and Culture 1967-2017, 28 July-5 November). The gallerys curator of British art, Charlotte Keenan, says the institution is also working on a two-year research project called Pride and Prejudice that will make queer British art and its importance to art history permanently visible in the gallerys displays.

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