Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

LGBTQ Histories at the British Museum


2017 is the 50th anniversary of the passing of the Sexual Offences Act in July 1967. This legislation partially decriminalised homosexuality in England and Wales and marks an important milestone in the campaign for equality. To celebrate this anniversary, the British Museum will host two displays and a public programme relating to LGBTQ (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer) histories. There will also be an accompanying trail through the permanent galleries.

David Hockney: Fourteen Poems from C P Cavafy

March - May 2017

Room 90a, free

In 1966 David Hockney produced a series of etchings inspired by the work of the Greek poet C. P. Cavafy (1863-1933). Cavafy's poetry reflects his personal experience as a Greek raised in Alexandria and his knowledge of the ancient Mediterranean world. Same-sex love and desire is a central theme in Cavafy's work.

In making the Cavafy etchings, Hockney drew upon his own experiences as an openly gay artist. The publication of Fourteen Poems from C.P. Cavafy reflects changing attitudes to same sex-relationships in England and Wales during the 1960s culminating in the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967.

Desire Love Identity: exploring LGBTQ histories

11 May- 15 October 2017

Room 69a, free

Supported by Stephen and Julie Fitzgerald

The display Desire Love Identity: exploring LGBTQ histories provides glimpses into LGBTQ experience across time and around the world through the British Museum's collection. The earliest object dates from around 9000BC. Some objects relate to named individuals; others offer glimpses into what the novelist EM Forster memorably described as a 'great unrecorded history.'

Ranging chronologically from ancient history to the present day, the objects often prompt questions, challenging the contemporary viewer to consider the assumptions that they may bring to objects from other cultures, traditions or the more distant past. The display draws on material from across the breadth of the Museum's collection including coins, medals, and prints. As well as highlighting famous figures such as the poetess Sappho, and the Roman emperor Hadrian and his lover Antinous, the display looks beyond Europe's classical past to explore less familiar themes and stories. This display will include modern and contemporary works (such as Otsuka Takashi's Drag Queen Deck) and a selection of LGBTQ campaign badges from the 1970s to the present day.

The British Museum has longstanding relationships with LGBTQ organisations, and many individuals shared their expertise and experiences to help shape the final display.


A significant number of objects related to LGBTQ histories are currently on display in the British Museum's permanent galleries. A trail will be developed to help visitors easily identify these objects and explore LGBQT histories in the Museum's collection in more depth.

The trail will be based around a core of 10-15 key objects in the permanent galleries, allowing the LGBTQ aspects of these artefacts to be explored in their particular historical and cultural context.

The trail will include collection highlights, objects such as the remarkable Warren Cup, a Roman silver drinking cup dating to the 1st century AD decorated with scenes showing two pairs of male lovers. The Warren Cup was acquired by the Museum in 1999; its history provides a powerful illustration of changing attitudes to homosexuality.

Additional interpretation will be added to key objects where this is needed to fully explore each artefacts individual story. When the exhibition ends, temporary trail interpretation will be removed, but new permanent labels will be installed to ensure that the LGBTQ significance of the object is captured, creating a lasting legacy.

Public programme: lectures and events

Hidden in plain sight: finding LGBTQ histories at the British Museum

14 February 2017, 13:15-14:00, Room 61

A gallery talk by Laura Phillips, co-curator of Desire Love Identity: exploring LGBTQ histories, on LGBTQ objects in the Permanent Collection.

Exploring LGBTQ histories at the British Museum

19 February 2017, 10.30 - 16.00

This all day event is part of the OUTing the Past National Festival of LGBT History in collaboration with LGBT History Month. The programme will include talks and creative family activities focused on objects with LGBTQ stories in the British Museum's collection.

Free talks will run in the BP Lecture Theatre from 10.30-14.40. These talks range from Philip Attwood, Keeper of Coins and Medals, discussing LGBTQ badges to Stuart Frost and Laura Phillips, from the British Museum, discussing the forthcoming display on LGBTQ histories.

LGBTQ: our family

11.00-16.00, Great Court

Free, just drop in

The British Museum will host a family craft activity inspired by LGBTQ History Month that explores how families are unique. Visitors can work with an artist to create a family portrait inspired by works in the collection and make a love token to take home.

LGBTQ: digital rethink

19 February 2017, 11.00-12.00, 13.00-14.00 & 15.00-16.00, Rooms 51, 69 and 70

Free, just drop in

Visitors can use digital tablets to make posters inspired by the relationships depicted on Museum objects. Visitors are encouraged to rethink who made the objects, who they were for and what their impact is.

Suitable for ages 7+

Activity supported by Samsung as part of the Samsung Digital Discovery Centre

LGBTQ Objects of desire tour with Babs Guthrie

Sat 11 Mar, 15.30-16.30

David Hockney's Fourteen Poems from C P Cavafy, Room 90a

Thu 6 Apr, 13.15-14.00, Room 90a

A gallery talk by Stuart Frost, co-curator of Desire Love Identity: exploring LGBTQ histories.

David Hockney: from poetry to print

Wed 3 May, 13.15-14.00, Room 90a

A gallery talk by Jennifer Ramkalawon, curator of Western Modern and Contemporary Graphic Works.

Desire Love Identity

Tuesday 16 May, 13.15-14.00, Room 69a

A gallery talk by Stuart Frost, co-curator of Desire Love Identity: exploring LGBTQ histories.

LGBTQ Objects of desire tour with Babs Guthrie

Fri 19 May, 19.00-20.00

Desire Love Identity

Thursday 27 July,13.15-14.00, Room 69a

A gallery talk by Laura Phillips, co-curator of Desire Love Identity: exploring LGBTQ histories.

Related Articles View More UK Regional Stories

Buy at the Theatre Shop

T-Shirts, Mugs, Phone Cases & More

More Hot Stories For You