LGBT History Month
Ben Paites, Collections and Learning Curator
* Click on the photos below to visit our Collections Online database and discover more about that object. *
Sexuality and gender identity have not always been the same as we understand them in the modern day. Throughout history, we know that people existed who did not conform to gender binaries and were not heterosexual. Although words such as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender wouldn’t have been used at that time, it’s important to highlight stories from history that are not exclusively of heterosexual cis gendered people.
Colchester + Ipswich Museums have been working on pulling out these stories in our collections. Some of the objects we have found are linked to specific individuals in the past that had same sex relationships or did not confirm to gender standards at the time. Other objects relate to our modern understanding of sexuality and gender, allowing us to talk about a wider range of topics.
The oldest object in this group is a coin of the Roman Emperor Hadrian dating to AD 125-128 (shown at the top of this post). Many Roman emperors had romantic and sexual relationships with men, but none expressed those feelings as much as Hadrian. He had a lover called Antinous, who travelled everywhere with him. Unfortunately, Antinous met an untimely end in Egypt (possibly under suspicious circumstances) and Hadrian was distraught. He ended up deifying Antinous (turning him into a god) and set up shrines and temples across the Empire in his name.
Some of the objects we have might not be explicitly linked to the LGBT+ community but can be used to tell their stories. One example of this is the black ring. Although it is 2000 years old and we have no idea who would have worn it, we do know the significance of black rings today. Some asexuals (people who are not sexually attracted to anyone) wear black rings to show that they are asexual.
A more recent figure in the collection is the pioneering archaeologist Nina Layard. Nina lived with her partner Mary Frances Outman near Ipswich, and excavated sites across the East of England and beyond. She was well respected by her contemporaries and became one of the first women accepted as a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and the Linnean Society. She was also an early curator of Ipswich Museum.