New exhibit highlights hidden roles of LGBTQ people working on the water in B.C.

·2 min read
The Queer at Sea exhibit opened Tuesday at the Maritime Museum of B.C. (Maritime Museum of B.C. - image credit)
The Queer at Sea exhibit opened Tuesday at the Maritime Museum of B.C. (Maritime Museum of B.C. - image credit)

A new exhibit at the Maritime Museum of B.C. in Victoria is highlighting an often ignored piece of the province's nautical history.

Queer at Sea explores the history and contributions of queer, transgender and two-spirit people in B.C.'s maritime industries.

The exhibit features a mix of stories from the museum's archives, as well as from community members who contributed their own experiences of working on the water in all sectors, from the Canadian Coast Guard, to shipping, to lighthouse keeping.

It follows 15 first-hand accounts from the careers of LGTBQ folks working on the sea.

"It's very much a collaboration. It's people telling their own stories," said Heather Feeney, collections and exhibits manager at the museum.

Executive director Brittany Vis sais her team has been sitting on this idea for years, ever since the Maritime Museum of Atlantic Canada presented an exhibit about gay sailors on Atlantic liners.

"We had always thought it would be really great to do something here on this coast," she said.

But it was important, she said, for the queer and trans communities to speak for themselves.

The Maritime Museum of B.C.
The Maritime Museum of B.C.

Back in January, the museum put out a call to the community, asking maritime workers to share their stories.

Vis says the museum received responses from about 35 people.

"There was definitely a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of people reaching out, very excited to finally have an opportunity to tell their story," she said.

Also featured in the exhibit are the experiences of those who served in the Canadian Navy, stretching from the 1920s until the present.

"These stories are ones that traditionally had to stay hidden, and to be able to bring them to light is just such an honour for us," said Feeney.

Up until 1992, a Canadian Forces administrative order prohibited the queer community from serving, including in the Navy, forcing many people to keep their sexual identities a secret.

"There is still a long way to go but there has been an enormous amount of progress," Feeney said.

"Especially with the younger contributors, there is a lot more hope and there's a lot more love and acceptance [in their accounts]. They haven't necessarily had to face some of the horrible treatment that some of our older contributors did have to face."

She said it's been an honour to help bring these stories to light.

Queer at Sea: Tales from the 2SLGBTQ+ Community will run until Nov. 5.

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