Explore this world first dedicated to queer stories all over the globe

BY GEORGIA DIMDORE-MILES, IMAGE BY BFI FLARE

What are three adjectives that capture the spirit of the LGBTQ+ VR Museum?

Inclusive, emotive, and empowering

Could you tell us a bit more about yourself and your experience so far as an LGBTQIA+ creative?  

I am a Senior VR Specialist at Unity, a well-known software development company. Although I’m now a Senior Engineer, I don’t have a Computer Science degree – I’m totally self-taught. In fact, I ended up becoming a software engineer because of struggles that I was having as a queer person. I used to work as a public speaker and science communicator, and was invited to deliver a TEDx talk on LGBTQ+ in the Animal Kingdom, and how people incorrectly describe queerness as unnatural (which is ridiculous, because we see queerness in nature all the time). Preceding this talk, I came out of the closet to my family. I received threats, blackmail, and bribery, and ultimately had to cut contact with more than half of my family. Science communication is not a stable or lucrative field, so I ended up in financial difficulty. As a result, I decided to learn to become a software developer, and taught myself to code using YouTube. I had a strong interest in building inclusive virtual worlds, so I gravitated towards VR, and shortly became a professional VR developer. As a result, I’ve always been keen to use my skills to give back to my community. The museum is a result of this experience – I wanted to build a digital institution where everyday queer people could feel seen, celebrated and loved, and where non-queer people could be exposed to a huge diversity of LGBTQIA+ stories to help them understand and empathise with the experiences and feelings of people in our community.

What inspired you to submit your project to BFI Flare and what does it mean to you?  

I was inspired to submit my project to BFI Flare because it is a fantastic platform for LGBTQIA+ films and media. Being selected for the festival is an incredible opportunity to reach a wider audience and showcase the work of queer creators. It is an honour to be part of a programme that celebrates and supports LGBTQIA+ voices.

Antonia Forster

Why do you think onscreen representation at BFI Flare is valuable for LGBTQIA+ audiences and allies? 

Onscreen (or in our case, on-headset!) representation at BFI Flare is valuable for queer audiences and allies because it provides a space for our stories to be told and shared. It allows us to see ourselves and our experiences reflected back to us, which can be a powerful validation and affirmation of our identities. For allies, it is an opportunity to learn about the diversity and complexity of the LGBTQIA+ community and gain a deeper understanding and empathy for our struggles and triumphs.

Could you tell us a bit about your project and the themes it explores?

The LGBTQ+ VR Museum is the world’s first virtual reality museum dedicated to celebrating and amplifying the stories of everyday people in the LGBTQ+ community, and preserving queer personal histories. Visitors can freely explore the immersive virtual museum, and handle 3D scans of emotive real-life objects – from wedding shoes to a teddy bear – chosen by people in the LGBTQ+ community; and hear that person sharing their object’s story, and the personal experience attached to it. The gallery walls showcase 2D illustrations and artwork by queer creators all over the world. The museum is a space to preserve touching personal stories that would otherwise be surprised, erased, or simply lost over time. It’s a platform that showcases the rich history and diverse experiences of LGBTQ+ individuals, exploring themes such as identity, community, mental health, and love.

What do you hope LGBTQIA+ audiences take away from the project?

What I hope LGBTQIA+ audiences take away from the project is a sense of pride, validation, and connection. It’s important to me that LGBTQIA individuals see themselves represented in the media and that their stories are valued and preserved for future generations. I also hope that non-LGBTQIA individuals can gain a better understanding of the lived experiences of the queer community and become more empathetic and supportive allies.

If you had to choose one film/artwork/experience that inspired the LGBTQ+ VR Museum, what would it be?

Actually, it’s an artwork that we are lucky enough to have included inside our virtual museum! I grew up in a very homophobic household and couldn’t safely come out of the closet. I didn’t see any representation of LGBTQ+ adults around me – no out queer individuals, nor characters in books, TV, films or artwork. I used the internet (dial-up, in those days!) to search for any information on what it meant to be queer, and whether it was even possible as an adult, or whether it was a phase that everyone grows out of, like my I heard my family saying about my queer adolescent friends. I stumbled upon a statue called Memorial to a Marriage by the American artist Patricia Cronin, which depicts her and her female partner (now wife) Deborah Kass, lying together in an embrace. The statue struck me deeply, because it represented everything I understood queerness to be – it was tender, wholesome, romantic, elegant, dignified – not the seedy, perverse, deviant experience that my family and local community seemed to believe. The fact that it depicted two real-life adult women was so important to me, because it proved to me that I could, indeed, be a queer and happy adult one day. When I was creating the LGBTQ+ VR Museum, I reached out to Patricia Cronin, to ask if we could 3D-scan the marble statue to include it in our experience. She was delighted to participate – and it is now proudly included as the centrepiece of our experience (and I remain in touch with Patricia and her wife to this day).

What is your favourite LGBTQIA+ film of all time?

That’s a difficult question! There are so many amazing films out there that celebrate and explore the LGBTQIA+ experience. If I had to pick one, I’d choose Moonlight. It’s a beautifully shot and acted film that captures the complexity of intersectional identity and the power of love.

Finally, what do you think are the next steps for LGBTQIA+ representation in the industry?

Looking to the future, I believe that the next steps for LGBTQIA+ representation in the industry involve greater diversity and inclusion both in front of and behind the content. We need more queer voices telling their own stories, and we need to support and elevate those voices so that they can reach wider audiences. I would love to see more marginalised people learning to leverage immersive technologies to create the world they want to see. We need to create more opportunities for LGBTQIA+ creators to work in the industry and to tell a wider range of stories. Ultimately, we need to continue to push for greater representation and recognition of LGBTQIA+ people in all aspects of society, so that we can build a more just and equitable world for all.

The LGBTQ+ VR Museum is presented as part of BFI Flare Expanded, a free programme of cutting-edge immersive projects from four boundary-pushing LGBTQIA+ artists. BFI Flare Expanded takes place in a dedicated exhibition space at BFI Southbank over the first four full days of BFI Flare: London LGBTQIA+ Film Festival, from 16-19 March, open daily 14pm-21:00pm.

The exhibition is free entry, no booking required. Further details at can be found on the BFI Flare website.

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