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Ottawa advocacy group plans to create Canada’s first LGBTQ museum

An Ottawa-based advocacy group is launching plans to create what would be Canada’s first museum dedicated to the history of gender and sexual minorities and telling the stories of people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans or two-spirited.

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An Ottawa-based advocacy group is launching plans to create what would be Canada’s first museum dedicated to the history of gender and sexual minorities and telling the stories of people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans or two-spirited.

The Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity is announcing Thursday a fundraising campaign to cover some of the construction costs and a year-long consultation process to decide what should be displayed within its walls.

The charity has the backing of the Canadian Museums Association and the leadership of the Crown corporation that runs the national museums for history and war.

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It would be one of the few museums in the world dedicated to LGBTQ2+ history, after the Schwules Museum in Berlin and the GLBT History Museum in San Francisco. Other similar institutions are in the works in London and New York.

“We really want it to be a space that says: ‘This is our history. This is the reality of the LGBTQ2SIA people in this country. And these are our stories in terms of our rights, in terms of our continued fights for rights, in terms of inclusion across ... the different stripes of our community,’” said Calla Barnett, president of the centre’s board.

Elena Abel, the group’s adviser on two-spirit issues, says Indigenous representation will be an important part of the project. Ms. Abel, who identifies as two-spirit, says people like her who do not fit neatly into male or female gender roles were publicly accepted in their communities before European settlers colonized North America.

She says she hopes the museum can be a place that both teaches the public, and provides a sense of community among queer and Indigenous groups.

“A lot of us have struggled with identity, and, for some of us, it’s not so much coming out any more as it is coming back into our communities and our cultures. And that’s very healing and special,” Ms. Abel said.

The museum is slated to be part of a new housing development from Claridge Homes in the LeBreton Flats neighbourhood just west of the city’s downtown, near the War Museum and the National Holocaust Monument. The Ottawa developer is donating space and the centre is seeking about $10-million more to aid in construction and other setup costs, before it opens in 2020 or 2021. They say they have also applied for federal and provincial grants.

Canadian Museum of History president Mark O’Neill says he first worked with the group when his staff were designing the LGBTQ section of the new Canadian History Hall. That exhibit contains the “Gay Sweater,” an article of clothing created by the centre from the real human hair of people who are LGBTQ.

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The museum is now offering the centre its expertise in setting up exhibits, and says it is still talking about any monetary contributions it might provide.

“It’s an incredibly important development for Canadians and for the city of Ottawa to have this project getting off the ground,” Mr. O’Neill said.

Jeremy Dias, founder and executive director of the centre, says they want to engage with LGBTQ2+ groups around the country to decide what stories the museum will tell.

“We want to say to everyone, ’You know what, we’re officially launching, we have a plan now, we have an idea. Now tell us what you like about the idea, what you don’t like about the idea. Tell us how you want to be involved,’ ” he said.

“I think that’s a really good place to start.”

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story stated the centre said the space donation was worth $7-million. That number was based on a document shared by the centre, which now says the donation’s value is not finalized.
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