People can see precious artefacts from the British Museum as part of a powerful new exhibition in Dorchester with a strong message. Joanna Davis finds out more.

"IT'S a huge moment."

That's how Chloe Taylor describes the unveiling of a ground-breaking exhibition giving voice to people who have been largely absent from history's archives.

The exhibition - Desire, Love, Identity - Exploring LGBTQ Histories - is at the Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum in Dorchester until November 17.

Chloe, 25, of Portland, helped research the story of Dorset rule-breaking lesbian poet Valentine Ackland for a guide accompanying the display, which contains items from the British Museum's prestigious collections.

Chloe, herself a member of Dorset's LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) community, said she was 'blown away' by the exhibition.

She added: "I’m so pleased and happy and I feel like this is something the LGBTQ community needs in Dorset. I was on the radio this morning talking about it and trying not to cry, I’m not scared to say it. It’s a huge moment. I felt like I needed to be involved in this.”

Researching Valentine Ackland, who lived with her partner, writer Sylvia Townsend Warner in Chaldon Herring

in Purbeck, inspired Chloe.

She said: “It’s made me feel a lot more confident in my ability. Learning about Valentine - she owned her mistakes. It makes you realise we are all just human."

The display celebrates gay history and how far society has come since members of the LGBTQ community were brought before the old Dorchester courts, which are best known as being the place where the Tolpuddle Martyrs were tried for forming a trade union movement.

When Shire Hall opened in 1917, sexual relations between men could still be punished by death; at the end of the 19th century, they might face imprisonment, and even as late as the 1940s, the court sent men to the county psychiatrist for what was described as 'treatment'.

Containing around 130 items, the exhibition has been travelling around the UK following its first display at the British Museum in 2017. It looks at how same-sex love, desire and gender diversity are an integral part of the human experience and how this has been depicted differently through society throughout various times.

It is based upon Professor Richard Parkinson's award-winning book A Little Gay History.

The oldest item in the exhibition is 11,000 years old - the Ain Sakhri Lovers figurine was found in caves near Bethlehem and is believed to be the oldest known representation of two people of unknown gender engaged in sexual intercourse.

Visitors will also be able to see a vase from Athens dating back to 540BC celebrating sexual relationships between men. When it arrived at the British Museum in 1865 it was confined to a restricted collection, the Secret Museum.

Also on display are more recent items - a colourful and cheery deck of drag queen cards by Japan's Onskar Takashi from 1997, David Hockney line drawings and colourful rainbow pithy sayings by Australia's David McDiarmid (1952-95) such as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Die Alone. David raised awareness of HIV and empowered those who live with it.

You'll also be able to see phallic pendants from the 19th and 20th centuries, which were most often associated with fertility and persecution against the evil eye. And in a nod to Dorchester, exhibition visitors can see a photo of David Taylor, Dorchester's first openly gay mayor.

Anna Bright, director of Shire Hall, said the county town attraction became involved in hosting the British Museum exhibition because she used to work there.

She said: “We think of ourselves as a place that looks both forward and back.

“It think it’s already generating a lot of excitement around people who wouldn’t normally come to a museum like this and we’ve had a real groundswell of support from the LGBTQ arm of the police, the NHS, students from Thomas Hardye School in Dorchester - we’ve had a real range of people interested."

James Canning, 22, of Dorchester, said the exhibition is important for LGBTQ youngsters in Dorset.

“For young LGBT people it’s hard growing up and what makes this so special is providing positive representation for them and it’s right here in Dorchester. It shows that for thousands of years there have been LGBTQ people and it’s extremely powerful to see LGBTQ representation throughout history."

James and his mother Mel Lane volunteer for Space Youth, a Dorset charity for LGBT youngsters which was set up by Helen Walsh. They go and talk to youngsters in Dorset schools.

“There is still bullying and stigma in schools for LGBT students, James said. "It’s important that people have positive role models around them to look up to. Something like this exhibition helps."

Some of the artefacts in Desire, Love, Identity - Exploring LGBTQ Histories are in such high demand that they'll be put back on display at the British Museum as soon as the exhibition is over.

And members of the LGBTQ community are urging everyone to come and see the exhibition , which challenges visitors to question their assumptions about the past.

Chloe Taylor said: “This display is nothing to shy away from. It’s nothing taboo, it’s people living their lives and loving each other, being humans. There’s nothing to be scared of. We want nothing more than people to come along and take a look.”

*Desire, Love, Identity: Exploring LBTQ Histories, Shire Hall Historic Courthouse and Museum, High West Street, Dorchester, DT1 1UY, until November 17. Open daily from 10am to 5pm. It is free with a museum annual pass (which gives return visits to the museum for a year). See for more information.