Author ‘beyond angry’ as London children’s museum removes trans and queer books

An author has hit out after a children’s museum removed her trans-inclusive book from sale without telling her, as well as other LGBTQ+ content. 

Rowan Ellis, the author of Here and Queer: A Queer Girl’s Guide to Life, took to TikTok on Monday (4 July) to reveal that her book had been removed from the Young V&A – formerly the V&A Museum of Childhood – without her knowledge.

Ellis said she believed her book was set to be used by the London museum as part of a display on graphic design as a medium for social justice, upon the venue reopening on 1 July after an extensive £13 million revamp

However, Arts Professional magazine reported that Ellis’ book, along with Iris Gottlieb’s Seeing Gender: An Illustrated Guide to Identity and Expression and Stonewall’s famous “Some people are trans, get over it” poster were removed. 

Speaking with PinkNews, Ellis clarified the specific situation turns out that her’s and Gottlieb’s books had been removed from retail sale in the Young V&A shop, whilst the Stonewall poster was taken down from display.

The decision was reportedly made by V&A director Tristram Hunt, according to an email sent to members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union at the museum, which was shown to Arts Professional. 

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The email stated that PCS members had been working with the V&A staff LGBTQ working group and fellow trade union Prospect to explore ways to get the items back into the museum.

PCS and Prospect members met with the Hunt but their request to have the objects returned to the museum, including public display, was denied.

The Young V&A reopened after a £13 million revamp. (David Parry/ V&A)

“The unified message from all attendees was that we do not support the decision to remove the object, that this decision undermines the V&A’s ability to expand our audiences, that the decision is not in line with the V&A’s values, it is not in the public interest, the decision undermines the editorial independence of curators, which may very well lead to self-censorship, is of a disservice to the visitors we serve, and a direct affront to trans visitors and staff,” Arts Professional reported the letter as saying. 

The PCS added that the issue was still being pursued and members will be kept up to date on any developments. 

In her TikTok video, Ellis said she had not been informed about the removal and only found out about it when someone tagged her in the Arts Professional article on Twitter. 

Speaking with PinkNews on Tuesday (5 July), Ellis said she has still had no communication from the museum “about the book’s initial inclusion, the removal, the reasoning, or the future of the book itself within the context of the museum, or that of the other book removed from the shop, or the poster that was removed from an exhibit”.

In her video, the writer noted the removal “seems to do with queerness, but even more specifically to do with trans affirmation”.

She went on to say that one of the “most frustrating and worrying things” was the response given to Arts Professional by a V&A spokesperson, which was what she called “red-flag central”. 

The statement reads that the museum “made the complex decision to remove several objects from this gallery – not just the Stonewall poster – having reflected on the interpretation”. 

It continued: “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. 

“Young V&A’s mission is to foster children’s creativity, and our new galleries include displays that illustrate how design is used as a creative tool to campaign for social issues.” 

The spokesperson added: “We are fully committed to supporting and representing LGBTQIA+ across the V&A, from collecting new works by trans and non-binary artists, to our events programme, LGBTQIA+ tours and exhibitions, such as Fashioning Masculinities and Diva, to create an inclusive programme that reflects the diversity of society today.”


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 response, Ellis said: “The idea that this stuff is still not on display, this has been actively removed, because they want a consultation with young people’s teachers on ‘on how to present these topics, to ensure their perspectives were more fulsomely represented’: whose perspectives?

“Whose perspectives involve you removing trans affirming artefacts from a display? Transphobes, plain and simple.” 

The author also criticised the spokesperson’s phrasing of “representing LGBTQIA+ across the V&A”. 

She explained: “Not even going to put a noun in there, ‘people’ would be nice to add in. 

“[The V&A] are trying to mask the fact this was removed specifically from the youth museum, by saying it is still in these other V&A collections. 

“Right now, in the UK, we are having conversations around the demonising, the sexualising, the adultifying – for lack of a better word – of transness in the same way we had for queerness, for being gay some decades ago.”

She concluded by saying she is “so beyond angry” that her book has become part of the narrative that trans content is “inappropriate” around children. 

Following a request by PinkNews, the V&A issued an updated response on the situation.

A spokesperson for the museum said: “The V&A is fully committed to presenting an inclusive programme and visitor experience across all our museums, from South Kensington to Young V&A.

“This includes trans representation as well as voices and perspectives from across the queer community, collecting works by trans and non-binary artists, with our events programme, LGBTQ tours, and exhibitions such as Fashioning Masculinities and DIVA that celebrate the diversity of our audiences and society.”

They continued: “Before Young V&A – our new museum for children – opened to the public, we made the complex decision to remove several objects, covering a range of contemporary topics, from a display about how design is used as a creative tool to campaign for different causes, and our retail range in the shop.”

The spokesperson explained the decision was “not intended to be exclusionary” and the books were removed from sale because they have a recommended reading age of 14+, with content in the Young V&A shop intended for those age 0-14.

However, museum staff do “recognise the concerns that this has caused”.

“We know that these are important topics, and our decision was taken as part of a wider programme that we are developing on how we present gallery content in a more considered and inclusive way for 0–14-year-olds at Young V&A,” the spokesperson said.

“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.”

This article was updated on 6 July based on new information obtained from Rowan Ellis and the Young V&A.

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