The Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) in London has come under fire after removing trans-affirming material from the gift shop of its new Young V&A center.
Under a mandate from V&A director Tristram Hunt, the books Here and Queer: A Queer Girl’s Guide to Life (2022) by Rowan Ellis and Seeing Gender: An Illustrated Guide to Identity and Expression (2022) by Iris Gottlieb were both pulled from the new youth-focused museum outpost days before its official opening last month.
A poster designed by the U.K.-based charity Stonewall that reads “Some people are Trans. Get over it!” was also taken down from display.
“Seeking to hide the existence of trans people contributes to the idea that being trans is somehow unacceptable and adds to the current climate of transphobia and trans-erasure, putting trans people, particularly young trans people, at risk,” said Steven Warwick, secretary for the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, in a statement decrying the museum’s move. “It is particularly galling that this decision was made during LGBTQ+ History month.”
On June 26, representatives of Warwick’s group, as well as members of the V&A’s LGBTQ working group and the Prospect trade union, met with Hunt to ask that the materials be returned to the Young V&A gift shop. “This request was denied,” according to PCS.
Young V&A, which is branded as “the U.K.’s first museum of art, design and performance created with and for young people,” is the product of a three-year, £13 million ($16.6 million) redevelopment project. It officially opened on June 28 with a ceremony attended by the Princess of Wales, Kate Middleton.
@heyrowanellis UPDATE: the poster was removed from display – the two books were removed from the shop – waiting to hear back from the Young V&A with any more info #hereandqueer #youngvanda #vandamuseum #queermuseum #booktok #queerbooktok ♬ original sound – Rowan Ellis
In a TikTok post, Ellis said she found out that her book had been removed through social media and was “lividly angry” at the museum’s decision. She referred to her title a “growing-up guide for queer girls” that is “explicitly trans-inclusive.”
A spokesperson from the V&A told Arts Professional, which first reported the news, that the museum had “made the complex decision to remove several objects” because the “senior team felt more consultation was necessary with young people and teachers on how to present these topics, to ensure their perspectives were more fulsomely represented.”
In her post, Ellis called this quote “red flag central.”
“Whose perspectives?” she said. “Whose perspectives involve you removing trans-affirming artifacts from a display? Transphobes, plain and simple.”
When reached for comment by Artnet News, a V&A representative pointed out that Ellis and Gottlieb’s books have a recommended reading age of 14+, which is above the 0-14 “target age range” of the Young V&A audience. The spokesperson said that the decision to remove material “was not intended to be exclusionary, and we do recognize the concerns that this has caused.”
“We know that these are important topics, and our decision was taken as part of a wider program that we are developing on how we present gallery content in a more considered and inclusive way for 0- to 14-year-olds at Young V&A,” the representative continued. “In the weeks ahead, we will be partnering with young people, educators and academics, as well as V&A colleagues including our LGBTQIA+ network to help shape this work.”
My book “Here and Queer” is one of two books which affirm trans identities that have been reportedly removed from @young_vam by its Director
I am devastated and furious in equal measure
Thank you to the staff and union members fighting this decision!
— Rowan Ellis (is probably away) (@HeyRowanEllis) July 3, 2023
Still, others see the removal as a direct contradiction of the museum’s stated goals and a symptom of the broader cultural debate about trans rights and representation.
“Being a public space that is designed to engage kids in learning and growing, there is an opportunity for the Young V&A to give kids access to resources they might not otherwise see that are created in an effort to support that learning and growth,” Gottlieb, who is trans, told Hyperallergic in an interview. “I had years and years of pain and discomfort because I didn’t see people like me or have the language tools to understand or express what was going on with my own gender identity.”
“Regardless of the museum director’s personal belief about hosting trans-friendly books in their shop, there are trans kids visiting the museum and parents or friends of trans people — providing those resources align with their mission of encouraging creativity and learning,” the author continued. “It would be a shame to allow the person in power to make a decision that takes away a valuable resource to its visitors.”