LGBTQ+ History with the Queer Heritage and Collections Network

In reflection of LGBTQ+ History Month, Explore Your Archive reached out to the Queer Heritage and Collections Network to gain an insight into the work they do for the advocacy and representation of LGBTQ+ histories in museums and archives around the UK.

Post by Cesare Cuzzola, a member of the Queer Heritage and Collections Network


The Queer Heritage and Collections Network was founded in 2020 with the aim of better understanding the need and potential for queer heritage interpretation and research and offering peer support to practitioners interested in LGBTQ+ programming. The Network collaborates with several partners across the UK and actively funds a selection of projects that increase the understanding of, access to and engagement with LGBTQ+ heritage. 

Uncovering and Exploring LGBTQ+ Histories

Archives are a fascinating resource for uncovering and exploring LGBTQ+ histories. Among the projects that the Network funds, a number of them have used archives as a lens and a tool to explore queer heritage. 

Queer Kernow is a community project working in partnership with museums and communities to celebrate queer Cornish history and connect the local LGBTQ+ community with their past. OurStory Scotland is a community-led collection and archive of and for the Scottish queer community which includes stories, images, artefacts and oral histories of LGBTQ+ lives, past and present. 

The Network also organises annual symposia to showcase innovative queer programming being developed in the heritage sector, as well as the projects funded directly by the Network. 

In 2022, symposium attendees had the chance to tour the collection of Leicester Museum & Art Gallery to explore stories of LGBTQ+ people and objects. 

While stories of queer narratives might not always have a prominent place in the museum space, delving deeper into the museum archives can help us better understand (often hidden) LGBTQ+ histories. 

QHCN Symposium attendees on a tour of the Leicester Museum & Art Gallery collections. Photo: Cesare Cuzzola.

The Story of Trevor Thomas

Among the many objects selected for our queer exploration of the collections was the story of a painting acquired by Trevor Thomas (1907-1993), who had a key role in the founding of the German Expressionist Collection at Leicester Museums as Curator-Director between 1940 and 1946. 

Despite the lack of internal support, Thomas was able to acquire artwork – including Red Woman by Franz Marc – that went on to constitute an internationally significant collection. 

Plaque dedicated to Trevor Thomas in the German Expressionist Gallery of Leicester Museum and Art Gallery. Photo: Cesare Cuzzola.

In 1946, Thomas was charged with a public indecency offence and – despite the lack of criminal conviction – he was dismissed from his job as Director, as a court appearance alone for this type of ‘offence’ was bound to significantly impact most people’s career prospects at the time. 

The museum archives give us even more of an insight into Thomas’ time at the museum and the acquisition of the Red Woman. The painting’s accession record includes a comment from the museum councillors, noting their amusement that Trevor Thomas was so interested in acquiring a painting of a naked woman. 

“We have spent over two hours arguing about £350! The Director is convinced that the Gallery should buy the picture. Surely we can afford £350 to buy a scarlet woman for our bachelor Director?!” 

Leicester’s German Expressionist Collection website, 2014 

Not only does this reveal the prejudiced attitudes of the museum councillors at the time but it also offers an opportunity to reflect on the role of archives in recording and potentially uncovering narratives that have been historically omitted or actively erased from heritage institutions. 

With more than 70 institutional members across all nations and regions of the UK, from national institutions to regional museums, our hope is to continue to provide resources and peer support for the sector and be at the leading-edge of queer heritage and interpretation practices. 

Further information 

You can find more information about the QHNC, how to join and the projects we currently fund on our website. Resources as well as all presentations from our past symposia are freely available to view and download. 

The Network is supported financially by Art Fund and National Lottery Heritage Fund.