The Gay Trail

If you’re interested in the always semi-hidden layer of LGBT history beneath what we usually hear or read, there is currently an exceptional trail around the objects at Brighton Museum that joins the dots of those stories and paints a vivid bigger picture of queer life over the past couple of hundred years.

And if you’re wondering why you haven’t spotted it already, it’s because the leaflet is titled Object Stories, a somewhat misleading title for a gay and lesbian museum trail.


Initially I worried that this was prude hesitancy on the part of the museum – but nothing so exciting; it turns out Object Stories is the overall project name for a series of trails in various museums, under which banner Brighton Museum’s gay trail was funded and organised. In 2014 there will be another trail themed around charity, But whatever; I’m calling this one the gay trail.

Ahead of Brighton Pride 2013, I interviewed the trail’s two curators, Kelly Boddington and Robert White for my Royal Pavilion & Museums Podcast, which is HERE (or you can subscribe on iTunes). They took on the job of curating this project over and above their normal museum work and were able to devote a certain amount of time each week to it. I love this flexible approach to getting staff out from their normal roles and doing different stuff – and in this case it produced a totally fresh look at the objects.

Then at Out Late, the recent gay-themed Museum Late event, we got a one-off chance to have the trail as a live guided tour by Kelly and Rob. They were great; it was fascinating, funny, effortlessly subversive (especially regarding the Royals) and sometimes revelatory.

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So I’d highly recommend taking the trail yourself. You can follow the trail from the BrightonMuseums app, or just pick up the Object Stories leaflet in the entrance to Brighton Museum and follow it around.

I particularly liked the story of Glyn Philpot, the openly gay (as far as possible at the time) and devoutly Christian portrait and commission painter, who was a high profile, mainstream establishment figure until he moved to Paris and starting exploring his sexuality in his painting – there are pieces in different corners of the museum that – until you connect them – look like the work of entirely different artists.

Here’s one of the most recent exhibits, Grayson Perry’s extraordinary vase ‘Difficult Background’. As my Mum pointed out, they honestly ought to have this on a slowly rotating plinth (or in a central case) so you can see the detail all around, it’s an intense work.

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For me the Object Stories gay trail was also very useful to see how people approach the job of developing a new guided tour, since I’m planning one around the Royal Pavilion for Brighton Digital Festival in September. I’m deep in the research phase right now and increasingly convinced there’s enough content for a political tour of Brighton Museum as well. Anyway, we’ll see.

Chris T-T, Blogger in Residence

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