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

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.