LGBTQ Alliance’s Welcoming Guidelines for Museums

Most of us agree that inclusion is important. However, we might be unsure how to activate this positive ideal in our daily professional practices. Where to begin when so much change and transformation seems needed? This week, we are excited to feature the Welcoming Guidelines that the LGBTQ Alliance, a professional network of the American Alliance of Museum (AAM), has been developing over the last couple years. These guidelines can certainly inform and help facilitate action. Thank you to Renae Youngs for introducing Incluseum readers to these guidelines that have been gathered in this document.

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Over the past two years, an AAM professional network has been developing a broad set of Welcoming Guidelines to help museums be more inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer staff and visitors. The Guidelines touch on all areas of museum work, are available for free online, and launched at AAM last week!

A team from AAM’s LGBTQ Alliance have worked to compile and synthesize existing resources from the museum field and from related or inspirational fields, such as the business sector, libraries and formal education. Another key inspiration was the Corporate Equality Index published annually by the Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBTQ advocacy organization.

While cultural and social attitudes about LGBTQ people are shifting every day, the LGBTQ Alliance believes that simply reflecting or reacting to the status quo is not enough. Museums serve as trusted, safe spaces for us to encounter and make meaning out of cultures, art, and ideas that may be very different from our own. And as long as museums hold that role, they should be trusted and safe spaces for all of us, including LGBTQ communities. The Welcoming Guidelines are intended to help museums ensure they are as welcoming as possible.

The document is organized according to AAM’s Characteristics of Excellence for U.S. Museums and includes a number of sections tailored to specific museum functions or roles, such as communications, curatorial, and human resources work. It’s meant to be scalable, and useful for museums of all sizes: part reference resource, part self-assessment tool.

The Welcoming Guidelines stress three main points for museums:

  •  LGBTQ inclusion is purposeful and strategic

A diverse organization both reflects the community it serves and strengthens its own culture and operations. Museums can and should make inclusion a strategic priority, designing policies and practices that facilitate diverse recruitment and hiring. For instance, the Guidelines encourage museums to adopt non-discrimination policies that apply to sexual orientation and gender expression or identity – and to actively recruit LGBTQ prospects for board, staff and volunteer positions.

  • Your museum can encourage LGBTQ inclusion

A combination of both outreach and in-reach can make a powerful difference for museum stakeholders. Connecting with LGBTQ community organizations and individuals using things like media visibility, program partnerships, and advisory opportunities can help ensure that LGBTQ communities realize a museum wants to serve them in respectful and inclusive ways. And internal training and support for staff and volunteers (for everyone, from the front line to the executive office) can help a museum “walk the talk” of being welcoming through both words and actions.

  • Your museum can stop discouraging LGBTQ inclusion

Actively and passively, a culture of exclusion can develop at a museum unless steps are taken to prevent it. What happens if LGBTQ and allied visitors arrive at an institution and face restrooms they don’t feel comfortable using, wayfinding or interpretive materials that render them invisible, or membership and program registration forms where they cannot accurately describe their own identities and the composition of their families? Those visitors feel unwelcome and poorly served – and a handful of design and procedural choices by that museum could dramatically alter their experiences for the better.

We hope that museum professionals everywhere will review, critique, and apply the guidelines in this resource.

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