When same-sex marriage was legalised in England, Wales and Scotland between 2013 and 2014, it was tempting to view this as the logical endpoint of the movement for LGBTQ rights. What could signify the mainstream acceptance of queer people better than assimilation into its greatest, straightest matrimonial institution?
The recent homophobic assault of a lesbian couple on a London bus and the broader vilification of trans people in the British media points to a bitter truth – we haven't come as far as we'd like to think.
Throughout history, LGBTQ people have always found sanctuary from this discrimination and prejudice in chosen families; kinship groups and communities bound by shared identity and not blood. It's the subject of Chosen Family, a new photography exhibition from Queer Britain, featuring work from UK-based artists Alia Romagnoli, Bex Day, Kuba Ryniewicz and Robert Taylor.
"This seemed like a great opportunity to create something with a cacophony of voices and imagery in it, which celebrated our richness as a set of communities," Queer Britain co-founder and CEO Joseph Galliano says. "We wanted a theme which would lend itself to celebration and also was open to interpretation by the photographers and their subjects. It is a theme that allows us to explore how we live today, and this diversity shows in the final photographs."
Queer Britain is currently working on creating the first national LGBTQ national museum in the UK, with plans to open as early as 2021. Chosen Family – hosted with Levi's as part of Pride Month to mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots – will donate the photos to the museum archive for future generations to view as part of its record of queer narratives.
"Traditionally and even today, many LGBTQ+ people’s experiences with biological family is problematic," Galliano explains. "There has been a tendency to construct diverse families in our own images, our own networks of support, independent of biology. In the 80s the phobic phrase 'pretend families' was thrown at us, but we see power and love in a chosen family. Queer people have always invented and reinvented themselves, and so it’s natural we do this with family structures too. I hasten to add that 'chosen family' does not necessarily exclude biological family, it’s just broader – and queerer."
Chosen Family by Levi's x Queer Britain is on at 9 Mercer St, Covent Garden, London WC2H 9QJ from 25th June to 1st July.
Photo by Robert Taylor