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Gay history guide launched at British Museum

26th June 2013

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The British Museum has launched a guide centred on elements of homosexuality to be found in its collection as part of LGBT History Month.

A Little Gay guide was written by curator Richard Parkinson, and explores artistic viewpoints of what it means to be gay and the cultural difficulties faced of same-sex desires.It has been published in order to coincide with the London Pride Festival.

Simon Russell Beale is the voice of the audio trial in which members of public can hear him talk about the different pieces and the purpose behind them.

Objects featured in the collection include an Egyptian papyri and the highly controversial erotic scenes displayed on the Roman Warren Cup, to images by David Hockney. Due to explicit imagery the Roman Warren Cup has repeatedly been rejected by museums - however Beale describes this Warren Cup as “sexy.”

A podcast also features artist Maggi Hambling and writer Kate Smith discussing a number of key objects in the Museum's collection from ancient to modern times.

"Museums have always been very important spaces for people to consider their own sexual identity," said Parkinson, curator of the ancient Egypt collection.

"Most museums have collections of Greek and Roman statues which show men looking very naked, so for men who desired other men it was one of the few spaces where they could look at naked male bodies in a culturally respectable sort of way."

LGBT History Month in 2010 was the inspiration behind this guide and Mr Parkinson felt so strongly about it that it has since been developed into a book. The book explores similar features to the museum collection and recognises the importance of gay role models throughout history.

In the British Museum's exhibition on the Roman Emperor Hadrian in 2008, surveys found that few people knew that Hadrian was gay.

Emperor Hadrian was said to have "wept like a woman" when his companion Antinous (depicted in the bust above) drowned in the Nile: “He commemorated Antinous in statues, religious cults and coins across the Empire and It is said to be the most passionate outpouring of grief for lost love that we know of before Queen Victoria and Prince Albert," said Parkinson.

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