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Rainbow Museum: celebrating our LGBTQ+ staff

The Museum employs hundreds of staff, from curators and scientists to graphic designers and project managers, all of whom contribute to the smooth running of the place.

Here, some of the Museum's LGBTQ+ staff share in their own words their stories of how they came to be at the Museum, as well as the importance of diversity in STEM and museums.

The language and terminology used in these profiles reflects how each individual self-identifies.

Nemo Martin, digitiser and archivist (they/them)

Coming from an arts background, I have degrees in literature and work freelance as a stage manager in a theatre. I think Queer people often fall into the arts because it's generally seen as more boundary-pushing, more inclusive and more accessible to people with alternate gender identities like myself.

I'm non-binary and I was always led to believe that I would have a hard time getting a 'proper job' outside of the arts as nobody would treat me seriously. Because of this, I leaned away from my interest in science and natural history, believing it was impossible to work at an institution like the Natural History Museum.

I've been working at the Museum for five years now, starting out as a volunteer within the fish department and eventually moving to digitising collections and photographing specimens for publication.

I find that working in science and the arts in tandem is fascinating. We're often told that there's a divide between the two and that you have to pick one side - that you go into either science or humanities. If being Queer has taught me anything, it is that the world is a spectrum and there's no such thing as a binary choice, that people are complex enough to juggle more than one passion or identity. I like doing my job - I like to learn, question and create.

I can proudly call myself a Queer artist-scientist.

(Image from left to right: James Maclaine, angler fish, Nemo Martin)

Alessandro Giusti, Senior Curator in Charge, Insects Division (he/him)

I have always been passionate about the natural world, particularly insects and plants.  I completed my studies in Italy, where after highschool I went to study at an agriculture college and afterwards I studied natural sciences at the university in Florence. Then, many moons ago, I started volunteering at the Museum and eventually, with some determination, patience and lots of luck, I became a permanent member of staff.

Now I work as a Senior Curator in charge of part of the lepidoptera collections of the Museum, which includes butterflies and moths. The job involves looking after, researching and providing access to around two million specimens of mainly large moths, such as emperor and hawk-moths.

I came out as gay more than 30 years ago to my mum and few friends who, to my amazement and somewhat disappointment, were not at all surprised. These days I am much more at ease with who I am, but it did not come free of charge. I had to struggle to overcome many dark periods where the fear of rejection and self-doubt seemed to prevail. I certainly didn't feel I would have achieved much during those dreary phases, let alone hoping to become a scientist.

I know that I am one of the lucky ones. My family and friends have always been very supportive and now I feel supported and valued in my place of work, because the Museum champions diversity and inclusion, and recognises that all employees have the right to work in an environment where they are shown respect and consideration.

However, I don't take this for granted. There are far too many places and countries around the world where people of the LGBTQ+ community still suffer discrimination, condemnation and even torture. Therefore, making our voices heard can help make a difference.

I feel privileged and lucky to be working for an institution that contributes to the education of entire generations of people, helping them gain a deeper understanding of the natural world and the importance of biodiversity and its preservation. The fact that, along with natural diversity, the Museum is also supporting and valuing the multifaceted and enriching aspects of human diversity is the cherry on the cake.   

Simon Dade, Registrar (he/him)

I never experienced that 'eureka!' moment as a child, where I realised my passion for museums or collections, and I'm not afraid to say I'm no scientist. But I've been interested in interesting 'things' for as long as I can remember. From decorative arts to taxidermy, if it has a story or a secret to tell I want to know about it.

I've been a Registrar for seven years, and three of them have been with the Museum, where I get involved in all things collections based. If you've got an exhibition idea, a new acquisition in mind, a disposal, loan, or major move project, you'll find me (or one of my awesome colleagues) on the project team.

I love the Museum and its dedication to diversity and inclusion. Change is often slow, but here it moves with pace. And with more voices and more perspectives at the table, the Museum stands to lose nothing. It will only get better, more well-rounded and stay relevant in a society that is slowly moving in the right direction.

Katie Collins, Curator of Benthic Molluscs (they/she)

I'm queer and agender, and I'm the Curator of Benthic Molluscs, where I look after the fossil clams, snails, tusk-shells, chitons, and their extinct relatives. Basically, all the molluscs that aren't ammonites, squid or octopus.

I started collecting shells and rocks as a very small child and effectively never stopped. This led to degrees in geology and biology, specialising in the Cenozoic molluscs of New Zealand. I then did postdoctoral research at the University of Chicago where I focused on the study of bivalve morphology. I have always had more of a curatorial than pure research interest though, so when the chance came to work at the Museum, I jumped at it.

I would say that diversity is vital to the Museum, to the practice of our science, the Museum as a community and as a place where people come for information and expertise.

We are a storehouse of knowledge, so it's important that we have as many different experiences and viewpoints contributing to building and sharing that knowledge as possible. Diversity gives us variety, resilience and robustness, making it easier to handle challenges and to come up with new and exciting ideas.

The diverse workforce within the Museum makes it easier for us to communicate with an audience that comes from all walks of life and from all over the world.

Dr Paul Barret, senior dinosaur researcher (he/him)

Since I was a child I have been fascinated by wildlife, and this quickly merged with an interest in dinosaurs. Growing up on the Kent-London border didn't provide too many opportunities to hunt dinosaurs for real, but I spent a lot of school holidays in the galleries of the Museum, where I'm now employed as its senior dinosaur researcher.

I did originally think about becoming a vet, but palaeontology attracted me much more as it combines thinking about living animals with the problem-solving skills needed to put flesh on bones with only a limited set of clues.

My path into palaeontology was through a degree in natural sciences from the University of Cambridge, followed by a PhD on how plant-eating dinosaurs fed and evolved. I joined the Museum in 2003 after completing research and teaching jobs at Cambridge and the University of Oxford.

My field isn't particularly diverse - in lots of respects - but it might surprise people to know that there are LGBTQ+ people in all walks of life, even dinosaur scientists.

My advice would be to set your goals and go for them, but always bear in mind that luck can play a large role in where you eventually end up.

Victor Heng, Outdoor Learning Programme Developer (he/him)

I work with the Urban Nature Project and the Learning and Audiences department to develop school sessions for the renovated Wildlife Garden and new Learning Activity Centre that are being built as part of the Urban Nature Project. Some of my days are spent planning lessons and developing learning aids, while others are spent outdoors testing a range of activities with the public to see what gets people to slow down and take notice of urban wildlife.

Diversity within the Museum is hugely important. There are an infinite number of ways to approach the Museum's collections, with many stories and lessons to be told.  Diverse backgrounds and experiences help to bring out a wider range of these lessons and stories, while diversity in perspectives make it more likely that we will be able to find solutions to the complex problems which are facing the natural world.

Being open about being queer is very important to me. When I was a kid, I had no media representation and no people in my life I could relate to in the non-visible parts of my identity. I felt isolated and I isolated myself because of this. In some ways this protected me from bullying, but it also prevented me from being happy and being able to express myself.

I hope that bringing my authentic self to my work helps create a safer place, where others can be themselves. And I hope it lets young queer people see that there are people like themselves working in amazing institutions like the Museum.

Karl Willes, HR Business Partner (he/him)

I joined the Museum in 2011 after a fairly long, and occasionally dull, career in the civil service. I was awestruck on my first day when I walked through the Museum before it opened to the public. I felt like I had the whole place to myself.

My background is in human resources, but I couldn't have imagined that one day I'd be working in such a world-renowned and important institution. 

In my role as HR Business Partner I'm fortunate enough to get a glimpse of some of the incredible work that we are involved in. The dedication and passion of our scientists never ceases to amaze me. Who knew I could be fascinated by the life cycle of a fly or that I'd get to see some of Charles Darwin's original bird collections, complete with handwritten labels, at Tring?

One of my most rewarding moments was supporting the Development & Communications Group at the gala opening of Hintze Hall in July 2017, when I mingled with the likes of Joanna Lumley and Mark Carney. Sir David Attenborough's opening address, his voice echoing around Hintze Hall, will always say with me.

I'm proud that the Museum is supporting LGBTQ+ Pride Month, which has become such an important event in the LGBTQ+ calendar. For me it is a positive and public commitment that the Museum has made to the diversity and inclusion agenda, in addition to recognising the diversity of our colleagues.   

I have always been supported at the Museum and I bring my authentic self to work. I encourage everyone to do the same, regardless of who you are and whatever your background, as your diversity will only make for a better and more inclusive workplace with a more varied, talented and creative skills set.

(Image from left to right: Karl and his husband)

Nuzhat Tabassum, The Explorers Programme Officer (she/her)

My curiosity and sense of adventure comes hand in hand with my identity as a scientist and as bi/pansexual (and it fits with my job title too, ha!).

Growing up as a first-generation immigrant from a religious, Bengali background in a council estate in inner-city London sometimes feels like I'm navigating a battlefield, especially with my sexuality, whether it's within myself or out in the world. But other times I appreciate that it drives me to see unique perspectives, make genuine connections and push boundaries.

The first time I stepped foot in the Museum was when I was around 19. I wasn't convinced at first, but in the end I loved it. I loved how it showcased my academic passion in such a vibrant and engaging way. I loved running around trying to take everything in. I loved bringing my siblings here. Yet there was a pang in my heart that despite growing up in London, it took me this long to visit the Museum.

I can talk endlessly as to why so many folks do not feel the sense to visit or become part of the Museum. This extends to the frustration I and many others feel about the STEM and museum sectors in general.

So, it's fitting that ten years later I'd start running the Explorers Programme, which introduces, encourages and supports people of colour to pursue careers in the natural history sector. This is done by creating events and resources that are tailored to what people need at different points in their education and career. I experiment and consult with ways that the museum and the research sector can become more engaging, accessible and inclusive for people who have been systemically excluded.

Nature is for everyone, and everyone has a right to enjoy it.

Martin French, Collections Librarian (he/him)

My job at the Museum is Collections Librarian, and it involves many aspects.

I help acquire books for the Earth Sciences collections, liaise with curators and researchers to help them get the most out of the Library and Archives. I'm also involved with developing the Discovery Layer on our web page to help people find materials quickly and efficiently, looking after our electronic serials to ensure Museum staff can access them, helping man the enquiry desk in the main reading room, as well as much more.

I like the variety and flexibility of my role: no one day is quite the same as the other.

My route into the Museum and natural history was also quite eclectic. I started as a linguist, trained as a librarian and then worked in a polar research library. The great thing about library work is that you can pick up a lot of knowledge about subject areas as you go - at the moment I'm really enjoying learning about the rocks and gems in the collections.

I think diversity in the Museum is very important. Everyone's story and view of the world is different and should be recorded for generations to come. Diversity in the workplace is also vitally important as it brings us into contact with other viewpoints and allows us to grow and develop as a community.

Scott Wilson, grants coordinator (he/him)

I've worked at the Museum for three years. I love working in museum collections and I was initially drawn to the Museum because it holds a collection almost as diverse as life itself. The roles I've held here have similarly been varied, having worked across Life and Earth Sciences on curatorial projects ranging from British roses to British Romans.

I coordinate a portfolio of research grants. The research we do at the Museum results in new discoveries and ways of doing science. The project I spend most of my time on is called SYNTHESYS+, which is all about making European collections (and collections data) more accessible and impactful, both physically and virtually. My other grants range from studies of extinctions across deep time to studies of deep-sea sponges today. It's a wide bunch.

The Museum is dedicated to understanding and exploring the diversity of life. I'm bisexual and I've had experiences where I've felt like I don't fit in or that I'm hard to 'categorise' socially. That means it makes a huge difference to work in a place that values diversity and difference whilst giving you interesting Monday problems - like how to respond to a sperm whale stranding 300 miles away.

I'm proud to work in a place that admires all aspects of nature, supporting difference rather than finding issue with it.

Liz Brindley, Science Educator (she/they)

As a science educator I spend most of my time interacting with visitors and sharing the wonder of the natural world. I'm very proud to visibly represent the queer community while I teach, and I’d like to think that that representation, alongside other colleagues, shows our visitors that the Museum can be a safe and welcoming place for all people under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella.

I chose to teach in museums instead of in schools as I believe we're able to work more collaboratively here to continue progress in diversity, equity and accessibility. As the Museum is such an influential institution, it's possible for us to lead by example in showcasing this inclusivity, working together to reshape the mould of who is welcome in museums.

That said, there's always more work to be done. I hope that as a representative for the Museum's LGBTQ+ network I can serve to support fellow LGBTQIA+ staff in building a supportive queer community within the Museum through which we can strive to further our progress.

Clarke Joseph-Edwards and Reiss Flament, Front of House and Retail Supervisor (he/him)

We are Clarke and Reiss and we've been together for nearly two years now. Reiss is a supervisor in the Retail department and has been working at the Museum for three years. Clarke works in the Front of House/Sales department and has been working at the Museum for nearly ten years!

We are lucky to work in an environment that is so diverse and open to all the forms of love that are out there. I think it's easy to forget that many people in this country still don't have a safe working environment that allows them to be their most authentic selves.

We are so grateful to have found each other and to be able to openly share our love.