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Institut für deutsche Literatur | Forschung | Archive und Forschungsstellen | Forschungsstelle Kulturgeschichte der Sexualität | Taking Museum Engagement on Histories of Sexuality and Gender Online - Documentation of the Workshop

Taking Museum Engagement on Histories of Sexuality and Gender Online - Documentation of the Workshop

‘Taking Museum Engagement on Histories of Sexuality and Gender Online’ was an online knowledge exchange workshop organised by Hannes Hacke (Humboldt University Berlin) and Ina Linge (University of Exeter). The event took place in July 2021 and brought together curators, museum educators, creative practitioners and academics from the UK, Germany, and USA currently developing museum and public engagement work around histories of gender and sexuality.


The workshop included five talks as well as opportunities for discussion with around 25 participants. Each talk presented a different museum engagement project and the challenges and opportunities of moving engagement online. We learned about the ways in which digital engagement offered an opportunity to reach global audiences (Dan Vo) and how the ‘invisibility’ of the online space allowed people who were not previously part of LGBTQ+ networks to find connection while remaining anonymous (Jana Funke & Nat McGrath). The digital space provided a challenge for advertising events about gender and sexuality (Melissa Blundell Osorio, Florence Schechter), but a closer engagement with digital catalogues and digitized objects also opened opportunities for queering the museum (Sandra Ortmann & Carina Klugbauer, Jana Funke & Nat McGrath).

This was an interactive participatory event, which included plenty of opportunities for exchange, discussion and networking. Before the workshop we asked participants to add their profile and relevant links to a padlet. The workshop then started with an icebreaker exercise: each participant was asked to find a household object related to the workshop theme. In a series of small breakout rooms, they then presented their object to each other. We thereby built our own digital museum of queer objects. Throughout the workshop, we experimented with discussion groups in various formats, including small group discussions in breakout rooms, 1-to-1 chats, and a discussion padlet, in which participants posted questions about each presentation.


Below you can find recordings of all five talks, followed by a brief summary, and here you can see an overview of the participants. We hope that you find these resources helpful in planning your own digital engagement event.

hannes.hacke [a] | K.Ling [a]


Nat McGrath and Jana Funke

Out and About: Queering the Museum Online



In this talk Jana and Nat discuss their project Out and About: Queering the Museum, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF). The project is a collaboration between creative artist Natalie McGrath, researcher Professor Jana Funke from the University of Exeter, and the Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM) in Exeter.

Out and About consists of three strands: (1) a research strand engages LGBTQ+ research volunteers to explore queer histories and collections at the RAMM and to discover queer resonances beyond verifiably queer objects. (2) As part of the creative strand, the project commissions artists to queer the collection by adding digital works. (3) Finally, object-led LGBTQ+ life stories will become a permanent installation of the museum.

Jana and Nat discuss some of the difficulties that arose from moving strands 1 and 2 online: how do you move a project that examines the question of who owns public spaces online? How can you turn live events into slower online events? How can you experience solidarity, visibility and celebration about taking ownership of queering the museum in a digital environment? How can you lead a big team without all being in the same place at once?

Despite these difficulties, Nat and Jana also outline ways of coping and positive aspects. The invisibility of online engagement was positive for participants who were not out or not already part of queer groups. Digital engagement reached a local as well as international audience. Research on objects led to a closer engagement with the digital catalogue and suggestions for including LGBTQ+ search terms. Online engagement created a sense of community during lockdown when most queer venues were closed.

Here’s the link to Rowan Frewin’s zine on trans’ histories that is mentioned in the talk.



Sandra Ortmann and Carina Klugbauer

“I Think You’re On Mute” Queer Curating and Outreach Activities in the Digital Space at SMU



Panda/Sandra Ortmann and Carina Klugbauer talk about the online activities of the Schwules Museum (Gay Museum) Berlin during the pandemic in 2020/21. Carina talks about the transformation of the exhibition ”Queer as German folk” into an online exhibition and the project Unknown objects. For the latter the museum invited ten different authors from diverse backgrounds to write new creative texts about a selection of objects from the collection of the Schwules Museum. The objects were 3D-digitized and made accessible online together with the texts, which were read by the authors. The aim was ”to undermine the hierarchically structured creation of meanings and to set in motion participatory processes of renegotiating interpretation, contextualization and presentation.” Carina underlines the necessity of providing data security for website users (e.g. by avoiding google analytics and the use of cookies) and talks about the difficulties of access requirements while creating online resources.

Panda/Sandra Ortmann speaks about the transformation of the SMU’s education programme to the digital sphere. They decided to not focus on streaming tours but to provide more intimate and interactive formats such as empowerment and awareness workshops on trans* and inter* activism. This was connected to an inreach process to dismantle racism and trans* and inter* discrimination within in the Schwules Museum, which they were able to initiate because the lockdown gave time and resources to conduct this work. They carried out an assessment of offline and online barriers, created sign language videos, worked on establishing a culture of accountability and organized awareness workshops for the museum staff, and together with the artist Sanni Est produced the podcast The Tea Talk.



Dan Vo

Tours Into The Void



In his talk Dan discusses the digital delivery of the award-winning V&A LGBTQ+ Tours. The digital delivery led to the tours being delivered online to an audience five times the number of visitors who had ever gone in person. Beyond that, it led to the creation of a self-led online trail, the V&A’s first course in LGBTQ+ history with around 100 students from all around the world, as well as a BBC Arts collaboration. He outlines how a focus on object research and their digital competence before the pandemic helped their transition online during it.

Dan also outlines the aims of the Queer Heritage and Collection Network, which was founded during first UK lockdown. The network brings together museums and galleries across the UK and beyond to share ideas about LGBTQ+ programming and remove barriers in engagement and programming, collections and processes, and regional and national boundaries.

The discussion that evolved from this talk included questions like: when communicating “into the void”, who do you imagine your audience to be? How much explanation or framing do you offer? How do you know whether people are engaging, and how do you get feedback for evaluation?



Melissa Blundell-Osorio:

"Ad Can't Run”: The Challenges of Promoting Programs on Sexuality on Social Media, and What May Work Instead



In her talk Melissa Blundell-Osorio outlines the online program on topics of sexuality and gender, which she developed for the Wilzig Erotic Art Museum (WEAM) in Miami during the pandemic, and the obstacles that come with trying to advertise these programs on social media due to the platforms' community guidelines around sex and sexuality.

She pointed out that although not being able to meet in person did restrict the type of events that were possible, a positive side effect had been that the online events made it possible to include various presenters from around the globe and grow WEAM’s audience. For their online speaker series Tea and Sex she invited a diverse range of speakers and presenters from different sexual communities, sex educators, researchers, curators, and authors, partnering with organisations that give free HIV testing, safer sex supplies, and resources for queer youth. But soon after starting ‘Tea and Sex”, it was banned from being advertised on Facebook and Instagram because it was supposedly ‘promoting adult products and services’.

Melissa described how Facebook has made it much harder to appeal against such a ban and the double standard at work on this platform: while Facebook is full of lingerie advertisements that apparently do not violate Facebook’s terms, adverts for e.g. a talk with a historian on queer history in Miami was banned. She suggested using alternative local resources and the local community networks instead.



Florence Schechter

Vulvas Go Online



Florence talks about the digital work of the Vagina Museum (London) since the COVID-19 pandemic, including their podcast, online events, online exhibition and social media work. The Vagina Museum was only 6 months old before the pandemic hit and had hosted a podcast even before they had a physical space for the museum confirmed. Combined with the fact that they often use illustrations and other easily scannable material, being more theme-orientated than object-orientated in general, they managed to transfer the contents of their exhibition online with more ease than other museums, for example the exhibition ”Muff Busters. Challenging Myths about Vaginas and How to Fight Them.” They also transformed their museum tours into an online audio-guide. However, the move online did not come without its difficulties as the spontaneous, easy and intimate conversations that take place in the museum space were not easily translatable onto an online platform.

Similarly to WEAM, the Vagina Museum had troubles with social media censorship, with posts being taken down because they ‘promoted adult services’. Despite being fully within their terms and conditions, illustrations of vaginas would be removed from their Instagram page. Florence also notes how the hashtag ‘vagina’ was banned, but ‘vagina cleanser’ was not, meaning that harmful but not informational and empowering content is promoted on the site. The discussion stressed the importance of having someone who moderates online spaces and reacts quickly to discriminatory comments or when an event gets ”Zoom bombed”.


The event was supported by the University of Exeter Humanities Research Centre Development Fund and the Wellcome Trust-funded Rethinking Sexology project.


We wish to thank Joan Ellingsgaards Kindberg and Megan Brailey for assisting with putting together this documentation.