Daily Mail urges National Trust members to ‘resign in disgust’ over gay history celebration

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A columnist for the Daily Mail has urged people to “resign in disgust” from the National Trust because it’s celebrating the UK’s hidden gay history.

PinkNews reported yesterday that the historical conservation charity will mark 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales next year, with a range of events exploring Britain’s queer history.

A new guidebook exploring LGBTQ heritage in National Trust places will be published, alongside a podcast series and a string of online resources dedicated to LGBTQ stories from history.

The news has not gone down well with the Daily Mail, with right-wing columnist James Delingpole lamenting that he had already cancelled his National Trust membership so can’t cancel it again.

He wrote: “You can only resign in disgust once — or I’d definitely be doing it again over the announcement that the NT plans to stage a special season of LGBT (that’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) events.

“Older readers may remember when the National Trust used to concern itself with such fuddy-duddy stuff as preserving Britain’s architectural heritage. But apparently the LGBT audience is a vital one that it has hitherto neglected.”

The columnist claimed there was a “degree of irony about the Trust’s latest plan”,  because one of the leaders of the organisation in the 1930s was “waspish about homosexual behaviour”.

The claim is slightly strange, given what the Daily Mail was busy doing in the 1930s.

Many of the Trust’s properties were influenced by little-known elements of LGBTQ history. Dorset’s Kingston Lacy was profoundly impacted by owner William Bankes, who fled England in 1841 to avoid prosecution for “homosexual indiscretions”.

He had no choice but to flee England and the home he loved, but continued to send back works of art and treasures, many of which are still on display to visitors today.

Meanwhile, Knole was home to Vita Sackville-West, lover of renowned writer Virginia Woolf.  A signed copy of Woolf’s iconic novel ‘Orlando’, inspired by Sackville-West family history, has been acquired for the exhibit.

But the columnist is, predictably, unimpressed.

He wrote: “Look, I don’t want to be too po-faced about all this. England’s grand houses have been the backdrop for every kind of seduction and debauchery. That’s one of the reasons why they continue to fascinate us.

“But I don’t think it’s prudish to object to the Trust’s desire to make amusing background detail the main event.”

The article continued to quote 1930s National Trust secretary James Lees-Milne, himself rumoured to have had affairs with men, writing of gay people: “Their mannerisms, their social contacts, their sharp little jokes are the same the world over. How is it they do not recognise that they are artificial, shallow, slick, sophisticated and absurd?”

The National Trust explained: “We look after special places, for ever, for everyone. LGBTQ heritage plays an important part in the history of the nation and a vital role in unlocking the histories of some of our places.

“You’ll be able to discover hidden histories of love and relationships at our places, explore stories of persecution and learn about the expressions of personal identity that shocked and challenged societal norms.

“We’ll be working with artists to create new exhibitions and installations to bring these stories to life and uncovering previously untold stories with help from academic experts.

“We’ll also be taking part in community celebrations including Pride festivals around the country and Heritage Open Days to build an understanding of LGBTQ histories in local communities.

“Over 2017 you’ll be able to explore these stories further with a podcast series and a new guidebook exploring LGBTQ heritage at National Trust places.”

“Our places span grand historic houses to small workers’ cottages and we have a unique opportunity to bring these places together to share a wide and deep LGBTQ heritage. By sharing the LGBTQ stories in our histories and collections we hope to add a new layer of understanding for all.”