Queer Memorials: International Comparative Perspectives on Sexual Diversity and Social Inclusivity (QMem)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Sch of Geography

Abstract

This project aims to provide significant new insights into the nature of social engagement with public material monuments that are dedicated to the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. The research is crucial at a moment when debates are intensifying about how to commemorate LGBT history, memorialise victims of anti-LGBT violence, and promote social inclusivity through public art.

This is the first major international research project to focus on memorials with sexuality content in international perspective. It critically engages with interdisciplinary scholarship to provide comparative knowledge of how queer memorials' key characteristics - location, material design, theme and symbolism - operate as sources of heated debates while reinforcing, subverting and creating inclusions/exclusions. This is done along three key dimensions:
(1) Historical context: Social engagement with queer memorials from the moment of initiation to the present day;
(2) Cultural politics: How politicians, policymakers, activists and diverse publics are involved in forms of co-production, appropriation and contestation related to queer memorials.
(3) Everyday engagement: What queer memorials mean and 'do' to people within and beyond LGBT communities as expressed onsite and offsite on an everyday basis.

The research will internationalise the debate and provide novel conceptual, methodological and practical insights by drawing on case studies in three contrasting contexts: Homo Monument (1987) in Amsterdam, Gay Liberation Monument (1992) in New York City and Tecza (Polish for 'Rainbow') (2012-5) in Warsaw. These cases have been chosen because they are embedded in different trajectories of sexual citizenship rights (e.g. secular recognition of same-sex unions vs. religious-conservative sexual legislation), dynamics of cultural values (e.g. freedoms of gender/sexuality expression vs. patriarchal and heterosexual dominance); social organising (e.g. LGBT advocacy/associations vs. anti-LGBT alliances); and cultural economy (e.g. tourist districts fostering or suppressing LGBT lifestyles).

QMem is important to developing cross-national and interdisciplinary understandings in research, policy and practice of the significance of queer memorials to social change. Struggles can become acute when a lasting structure such as a queer memorial - contrary to a more ephemeral event such as a Pride march memorial - is established in public space. Responses to public memorials can be antisocial, particularly when marginalised people are commemorated, and this tendency has been particularly evident regarding the queer memorials in question, including the Polish memorial that was burnt to the ground by anti-gay activists in Poland. The Homo Monument, although widely celebrated, has been has been critiqued for perceived gay male bias in LGBT memorials and hence the 'unremembering' of sexual and gender 'others'. Gay Liberation Monument has recently received substantial opposition considering this memorial's apparent 'whiteness', resonating with wider national antiracism protests such as Black Lives Matter.

QMem will bring together interdisciplinary expertise from academic advisory board members and involve active collaboration with local agencies who are directly involved in the management of the memorials, the key UK public-art sector beneficiary IXIA Public Art Think Tank, and local, national and international LGBT-sector beneficiaries. By disseminating output (incl. summaries, photo exhibition and teaching booklet) for non-specialised audiences through the beneficiaries' links with city, national and international governments and media, QMem will aim to impact thinking, practices and policies that influence the cultivation and implementation of queer memorials and LGBT-inclusive public environments more widely - in line with UN's strategy to promote LGBT equality and diversity worldwide.

Planned Impact

QMem will engage beneficiaries directly involved in the management of LGBT memorials in public space and more broadly in the public-art and LGBT sectors. Through links with city, regional and (inter)national institutions and media, QMem will impact thinking, policies and practices that influence the cultivation and implementation of queer memorials and LGBT-inclusive environments more widely. Beneficiaries will advise on making research output relevant to wider users through their global networks to maximise public awareness of the relevance of LGBT-dedicated monuments to enhancing social diversity and inclusion in public life.

WHO WILL BENEFIT AND HOW?

UK public-art sector beneficiary
(i) IXIA Public Art Think Tank: By consultation and knowledge dissemination, QMem will contribute to IXIA's mission to increase public understanding of public art's role in producing social change (thus ensuring UK benefit beyond this partner). Case-study findings will be rendered into agendas for IXIA's core activities of research, event organising, commissioning and delivering training. IXIA will be introduced to the larger project network of monument-related parties (above) and LGBT-sector beneficiaries (below) to bridge public-art and LGBT organising and promote a larger supportive environment for queer memorials amongst policymakers, artists and professionals.

LGBT-sector beneficiaries
Below beneficiaries will help shaping the research by providing advice about conducting research in the local and national LGBT contexts. Specific benefits differ over their objectives:
(ii) COC Netherlands advocates LGBT/non-LGBT coalitions. To contribute to this goal, COC will provide IP with a platform to deliver a public speech about findings at two major COC-supported events to maximise impact on a wide audience: National Remembrance Day/Liberation on Day 4-5 May 2018 and the Amsterdam Pride in Aug 2018.
(iii) Rainbow Heritage Network advocates for sites, archives and preservation initiatives associated with sexual and gender minorities throughout the US. QMem's case study findings, along with the digital link to the project's photo exhibition, will be included in the Network's public archive as comparative test cases that appeal to public research-user audiences worldwide that want to learn (or are concerned) about LGBT heritage preservation.
(iv) Lambda Warszawa aims to build public support for LGBT communities. The teaching booklet (in Polish) with illustrations from the photo exhibition will be promoted in line with Lambda Warszawa's "School without Homophobia" programme for strengthening LGBT inclusive environments among young and future generations.
(v) Int. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) has a key strategy to enhance engagement with LGBT communities through social media communications. QMem will actively provide regular updates to ILGA for dissemination over social media, used by ILGA as prompt channel to inform agendas of its networks (including the UN) about the power of memorials to promote LGBT citizenship and inclusion. ILGA is invited to provide a keynote at the project's international colloquium in Leeds on the Int. Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia on 17 May 2018.

Monument-related beneficiaries
(vi) Homo Monument Foundation;
(vii) Christopher Park Alliance for Gay Liberation Monument;
These beneficiaries will shape the research by advising on fieldwork, and benefit from team consultations and public reports for integration into their offline and online communications and for (re)designing uses of the queer memorials. QMem will also develop a project-dedicated website (with freely available reports, digital photo exhibition with teaching booklet, open-access publications, news coverage, and integrated project-dedicated Twitter feed) to widen global accessibility to findings among non-specialised research-user audiences.

Publications

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