A heritage project called West Yorkshire Queer Stories recently spent two years interviewing LGBT+ people across the region in order to find out more about local queer history. The result is a new website packed with information and anecdotes reaching back to the 1950s, at wyqs.co.uk. Project worker Ross Horsley has picked out some of the episodes that shed light on Leeds’ queer past, as remembered by those who lived though them, illustrated with photographs from the Leodis collection. The selection helps us pay tribute to the trailblazers who fought for the freedoms we experience in the present, and who inspired the LGBT+ innovators who continue to create and campaign today.
You can find further articles on LGBT+ history in Leeds elsewhere on the Secret Library Leeds.
Mitre Hotel, interior
Although pictured here circa 1900, the bar of the Mitre Hotel, Commercial Street, would have looked much the same in the 1950s, when its discreet, below-street location made it a popular meeting place for gay men in the evenings. Privacy was enhanced by its ornate booths (where lunches were sold to business clientele during the day), large pillars and, according to customers’ memories, a sympathetic attitude from the local police. Many of the men who socialised there would have worn suede shoes and a cravat, both signals of a gay aesthetic in an era when suits and ties were the norm. The Mitre closed in 1961.
Link to full story with transcript on WYQS: https://wyqs.co.uk/stories/cravats-and-suede-shoes/barry-full-interview
Solidarity March, The Headrow
A banner carried by the Leeds Gay Liberation Front can be seen in this photograph of a protest march on the Headrow in support of the people of Northern Ireland, following the Bloody Sunday killings of January 1972. The Leeds branch of the GLF was established in the early 1970s to promote equality and organise fundraising and social events for gay people. The group met at the University of Leeds student union on Friday nights, followed by drinks at the Fenton pub on Woodhouse Lane, just a few doors down from their campaign headquarters, which opened in December 1973. The GLF were active until 1974-75 when they merged with the university’s student-run Gay Society.
Link to full story with transcript on WYQS: https://wyqs.co.uk/stories/discovering-the-gay-liberation-front/full-interview
Swarthmore Education Centre
Located on Woodhouse Square and dating back to 1909, Swarthmore Education Centre has welcomed LGBT+ groups for decades. Between 1973 and 1994, it was the meeting place of the Leeds branch of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality, whose activities involved lobbying MPs and supporting protest work. A mixed group, with male and female members, they also held discos at Swarthmore. It’s this social side that has kept the group going to the present day, when they still meet, as of 2020, under the name Leeds Gay Community at the premises of Yorkshire MESMAC. Swarthmore is also the rehearsal space of Gay Abandon, one of the country’s longest-running LGBT choirs, founded in 1999.
Link to full story with transcript on WYQS: https://wyqs.co.uk/stories/friend-a-1970s-telephone-helpline-in-leeds/full-interview
Headrow, Guildford Hotel
The Guildford Hotel at 115 The Headrow was built in 1900, but the location itself has been the site of an inn since at least 1778. On 15th March 1974 it hosted a reception and coffee evening for attendees of the UK’s first national conference on trans issues, ‘Transvestism and Transsexualism in Modern Society’. Delegates and guests socialised at the hotel from 7.30 to 10.30 p.m. in a safe and friendly atmosphere, while some were also interviewed by the Yorkshire Post. The conference itself was held at the University of Leeds over the following two days, and included lectures, workshops, films and a disco, largely aimed at an audience of trans women.
Link to full story with transcript on WYQS: https://wyqs.co.uk/stories/the-uks-first-national-trans-conference
Dock Green Inn, Ashley Road
Women-only discos organised by local lesbians were held at the Dock Green Inn, Harehills, throughout the 1980s. At their peak, they took place every other Wednesday from 8.30 to 11.00 p.m., alternating with similar nights at the Woodpecker Inn in Burmantofts. At the Dock Green, amateur DJs brought their own records to play on the pub’s sound system in a hired room on the first floor, with customers using a side entrance to bypass the main bar and go straight upstairs, where the staff were all female. Despite the segregation, the events saw no trouble; neither were they attended exclusively by lesbians, being popular with feminist groups and members of organisations such as the Miners’ Wives, whom lesbians had publicly supported.
Link to full story with transcript on WYQS: https://wyqs.co.uk/stories/dungarees-and-docs/jo-full-interview
Woodhouse Lane, looking north
Confetti’s nightclub opened in 1988, located on the first floor of the Merrion Centre on the right of this picture, attached to the existing club, Ritzy. Its monthly gay night regularly attracted crowds of over a thousand, with coach parties coming from as far afield as Nottingham and Manchester. The original DJ was Terry George, a Leeds-born entrepreneur who went on to open other LGBT-friendly venues in the city, including Bar Fibre and the Viaduct Showbar on Lower Briggate. George and his partner were also among the first gay couples in the UK to enter into a civil partnership, with a ceremony in Leeds on the morning of 21st December 2005.
Link to full story with transcript on WYQS: https://wyqs.co.uk/stories/how-the-viaduct-became-a-gay-venue/terry-george-full-interview
From 1989 to 1993, the Adelphi Hotel at Bridge End was the meeting place of the Leeds Bisexual Group, founded by four friends who met at 1988’s BiCon (Bisexual Convention/Conference) in London. Discussions, parties, walks and travel to other events were all organised by its members, who felt misunderstood by the gay community and even faced hostility from some straight people who erroneously blamed bisexual behaviour for the spread of AIDS. The group eventually disbanded in the mid-nineties but, since 2014, there has been another active Leeds Bi Group, who meet at Yorkshire MESMAC, organise events and march in Leeds Pride.
Link to full story with transcript on WYQS: https://wyqs.co.uk/stories/setting-up-a-yorkshire-bi-group/full-interview
City Square, looking east
The early 1990s were the most active years of the AIDS awareness pressure group, Act Up Leeds, who mounted often elaborate demonstrations to highlight inequalities in scientific and health funding, as well as discriminatory treatment towards gay men resulting from fears around HIV. In 1990, the same year that this photo was taken, Act Up Leeds marked World AIDS Day with a protest based around the Black Prince statue, seen behind the trees to the left of the image. While they didn’t meet their aim of wrapping it entirely in clingfilm (the monument was much larger than the group anticipated!) they still managed to ensure coverage for their cause in the local press.
Link to full story with transcript on WYQS: https://wyqs.co.uk/stories/world-aids-day-1990/full-interview
The precursor to today’s Leeds Pride celebrations was Hyde Out, a yearly summertime festival on Woodhouse Moor dating back to 1997 and featuring stalls by local LGB businesses, information points, music and dancing. Victor Victoria, the group behind a series of lesbian-and-gay ballroom dancing events at Leeds Town Hall, held tea dances in a tent, with music provided by the Lavender Cafe Orchestra. Hyde Out built on the success of a more low-key gathering in 1996 called ‘Out with a Bang’, which had attracted several hundred people on a rather chilly day in September. It ran for several years before the launch of Leeds Pride in 2006, which moved to the city centre.
Link to full story with transcript on WYQS: https://wyqs.co.uk/stories/we-even-made-the-rings/full-interview
By 2005, the hosiery business pictured here in 1999 had closed and 23-25 Wharf Street stood empty. A grassroots political group, Leeds Action for Radical Change, received funding to turn it into The Common Place, a venue for meetings, workshops and entertainment events, many of which attracted a queer following. After refurbishment in 2011, the venue became Wharf Chambers, a cooperatively owned members’ club with an LGBT-friendly bar that offered an alternative to the more commercial, gay male-dominated venues of Lower Briggate. It has since become particularly popular with young trans and non-binary people. On 31st March 2018, Leeds’ Trans Pride, the first of its kind in the North of England, set off from Victoria Gardens, marched along the Headrow, and led to an after-party here.
Link to full story with transcript on WYQS: https://wyqs.co.uk/stories/a-tour-of-cruising-sites-in-leeds/pat-mccusker-full-interview
Dee Adams paints a pillar box in honour of her daughter’s Olympic Gold
This photograph, taken on Cookridge Street on 10th August 2012, shows Dee Adams unveiling a postbox painted gold in honour of her daughter, Nicola Adams. At the London Olympics of 2012, Adams became the winner of the first ever gold medal for women’s boxing. Born in Burmantofts, Leeds, in 1982, she came out to her family as bisexual as a teenager and went on to top the Independent on Sunday’s ‘Pink List’ in 2012. From 2016 to 2018 she was engaged to fellow female boxer Marlen Esparza, but the couple eventually split up. (Photograph by Ian Nipper.)
Park Square looking north-east
Since 2017, Park Square has been the location of an annual candlelit vigil on 20th November to mark the international Transgender Day of Remembrance, commemorating the lives of people killed as a result of transphobia. Members of the trans community join together to grieve, speak out, and share solidarity, while singers from the Yorkshire Trans Choir have also performed songs of sorrow and protest. The choir was founded by Claye Bowler, a member of Non-Binary Leeds, in 2018 to provide a space for trans voices, which do not always easily fit the ‘soprano, alto, tenor and bass’ model of existing choirs. They meet and practise weekly at the University of Leeds.
Link to full story with transcript on WYQS: https://wyqs.co.uk/stories/a-song-for-tdor/full-interview-copy
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