Ryan Case: Full Interview
Interviewed by Ross Horsley
9 July 2018
RH: This is Ross Horsley, recording for the West Yorkshire Queer Stories project. I’m here today with Ryan Case. Hiya Ryan, would you like to just introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about yourself?
RC: Yes, so, Ryan Case. I’m thirty-five. I live in Leeds City centre, where I’ve lived for a year - two years now - but I’m originally from South Yorkshire though, so I’m Yorkshire born and bred.
RH: So what’s your current job at the moment?
RC: I work for Unite - a trade union. Well, I’ve just changed my job title. I’m a regional engagement and something - digital commons - that sort of thing - websites.
RH: And before this you were working as a councillor in Wakefield?
RC: Well, at the same time, yeah, yeah.
RH: Can you tell us a little bit about that then?
RC: Yes. In 2015 I got elected as a councillor on Wakefield council, which is- I lived in Wakefield at the time with my now ex-fiancé, and sort of just before that I’d worked for the Labour Party, so I’d always wanted to do that, and get into that but I did it for a couple of years and actually I realised I wanted to live in Leeds so I stepped down from that, but yeah- two and a half years I were doing that.
RH: What was your LGBT focus in that role?
RC: So, just after the Orlando attack, I got appointed as – er – erm - Wakefield council’s first LGBT champion – erm – mainly – well - because I asked for that role to be created, because I think Wakefield’s quite forgotten in terms of its…. Wakefield’s got a really strong LGBT history. It used to be one of the main LGBT places to go out clubbing in West Yorkshire, and now there’s just two pubs which I wouldn’t go to, but I think they know that! [laughs]
RH: So what was the response from the council from your request and your idea?
RC: Er - it was interesting I think. I was classed as a young... I was classed as one of the youngest councillors even though I was thirty-two at the time – erm - most of the councillors were in the seventies-sixties to seventies and they’d come from old pit villages-not that I think that’s an issue, ‘cos that’s where I were born, but they just didn’t see it was an issue; that this is to fight, well, you know the council’s “We’re making cuts, we’ve not got the money, so why should we spend money on that sort of thing?”, and they just didn’t see…they didn’t see that it were part o’ cohesion and they just thought that it were, y’know, a bit of a fluffy thing on the side. Some of ‘em bought into it eventually when they started seeing that actually it, the council, started getting good press about it, and the BBC got in touch wi’ us at one point to do a documentary about what Wakefield had done, because, you know, a traditional working class sort of old pit town and they’ve got a councillor and-one-two - three-they’ve four councillors that were LBGT, which as a proportion was more than Leeds. I was very proud of that.
RH: What did you want to achieve in the role?
RC: I think it was just-it was to get the council to focus more on the services that they provided, so at first it went-at first it all went a bit crazy and I started having meetings with the Pride people and that sort of stuff and then realised that actually that’s not what- my view is that is not what the council should be doing and, y’know, we’ll get to that bit when we talk about Leeds in a minute, maybe. But, so, we incidentally, we looked at the services that we offered, and to make sure or try to start the process of making sure that services the council offered were accessible for an LGBT person, so, er - One of the motions that I put into council was about LGBT people in care homes - er, so I’d got to mention that sort of stuff. We did work with the Alzheimer’s society about making sure that council staff were trained in how to support LGBT people. Then, also, we had - I put in another motion, which was about schools that were run by the council, so it were about making sure that teachers had the correct training to be able to support kids that were coming out, or transitioning, and that sort of stuff. So that was my aim; to change how the council sort of applied its policies when it came to LBGT people.
RH: Did you feel that any of the projects you worked on didn’t work out that well?
RC: [pause] It’s difficult - I think - I think - I think they all did something. It were - sometimes it were a case o’ the council didn’t pass the – this - you know - vote on the motion, and then it’d just get forgotten about for a while because-this-they’d have really good newspaper headlines and that were it, and then they’d be happy about that, so it took a lot of like sittin’ down with the HR directors an’ just nagging ‘em constantly, erm - but, you know, it were result o’t day.. I think you said you came to the – erm - Rainbow Trail at the – the – erm - museum at Wakefield One which had, you know... I think stuff like just having an LGB – er - LGBT champion empowered people in the council to do some stuff. I don’t think they would have done the Rainbow Trail had they not have known that there was someone in the council that were promoting it, and I’m pleased they’ve stood…they’ve now got another LGBT champion, who seems to be doing quite well as well, so..
RH: And what was the Rainbow Trail?
RC: Er, well, that was part of…the… fiftieth’s celebrations last year of the anniversary – er - so Wakefield’s tenuous link to history of Lord Wolfenden going to school in Wakefield, which makes him a Wakefield lad. But yeah, it was just - it was sort of a bit like this project, I guess - that Wakefield Council and the museum, and they’re still running it I understand, is they were asking people just to take in things from their-from their past and it might even down to, y’know,-even down to like-er- vinyl records that your first ever one that, y’know, people, would say, “Ooh that’s a bit of a LGBT theme tune” or something – erm - and you could take anything in. People would take in wristbands in from a pride event an’ it - it were all just getting put into archive ‘n’ the council to celebrate Wakefield’s LGBT past, which I think, brilliant. But again, they came up with the idea, but they didn’t really promote it.
RH: Were there any events tied in to the trail?
RC: There were, but I’d - it were difficult because the trail happened-so the trail happened the day after I’d handed in my notice. So - so that thing that you came to when I was being “all-out” wi’ Wakefield; “I’m really proud of it”. I’d already handed in my notice – er - and triggered elections-ha ha-so it was a bit awkward. But there were stuff down at the Red Shed - erm - which is the Labour Club in Wakefield, and things like that - erm -it’s not one Wakefield. Have you ever been to Wakefield Pride?
RH: No, but I’m going to go to it this year.
RC: Well, yeah, it’s interesting. It’s not like Leeds, at all.
RH: In what way is it different?
RC: Probably about three thousand people. It’s down a back street. There’s two properties in Wakefield that don’t like each other so they have their own separate pride events, and there’s just - there’s just no sense of community at all. And it’s - so when I were the councillor, I asked - I suggested that we move to the park and turn it into a community event and, you know, it has to be outside pubs. It has to be. But then so it does in Leeds as well. It’s the same anywhere. And then I did see just yesterday, when another councillor in Wakefield has seen a rainbow zebra crossing thing, which does my head in, because that’s a really good use of council money [sarcastic], but he wants to have one of them, but he wants to put it down where the t’gay pubs are, which are like down t’backstreet. It were like yer’ putting it outside here - it just doesn’t make any sense. So, but yeah, that’s my other issue, council’s wasting money on LGBT controversial votes.
RH: Can you say any more about that?
RC: Yeah, I mean if you talk about Leeds, Leeds council is cutting people’s jobs. People have not had a good pay rise, but the council deems it fit to buy rainbow laces for people’s shoes. I don’t need a shoelace to show that I’m proud of who I am. It don’t make any sense and then, do you know what, let’s have - er – what else did we? We had - er - bi laces, trans laces, LGBT laces. Not had any bear ones, but that could be next, ‘cos the person that runs the project-, but it just does my head in. It makes no sense.
RH: You mentioned a BBC documentary when you were talking about your role in Wakefield. Did that go ahead? What was it like?
RC: Erm, I think it’s still in production. It was a bit of a – it was so they wanted to look at - erm - how councils were supporting children and young adults. So they’d seen about the motion that I’d put into council about schools. So they came - erm - in, ahh... The group in Wakefield’s called Fruitbowl. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it. They get good, so they get. I went to a few meetings when I was a councillor they just get together on a Monday night I think it was probably about fifteen or twenty but it’s just a nice space for them to sit there and I suppose I felt a bit old going to that actually because they sat there and they all introduced themselves to me and they all said, like... “They, them” [pronouns]… I get why people need to do that but I don’t really feel there is a need to do that if you get me. I think we’ve gone a bit far in terms of some things which is why I’ve got the problem of lesbian erasure.
RH: Is this a reference to Pride in London on Saturday?
RC: Because our communities have become our own enemy, and I was explaining this to my mum and to my friends, that the amount of abuse that I get from within our own community is far more than I get from outside. So, on my way down here I was thinking about such things actually… So people on the gay scene will openly say, “Oh, you’ve put a bit of weight on”. And they say it in a judgemental tone, but they don’t know that I was born with a disability and that I’ve had to stop going to the gym because I’ve got medical problems and stuff like that. They just go: “Ooh, are you becoming a bear?” Oh, right! Cheers! [sarcastic] And they don’t realise they’re really hurtful with what they’re saying because if you don’t fit into this, in Leeds in particular… if you don’t fit into the gym body, Fibre-esque image [Fibre is a trendy Leeds bar] then you’re not worth it. That, you know, I don’t get that from straight people that I know. It’s just within our own community. A couple of weeks ago, one of my own friends commentated about my weight, and I was like, what are you doing? What’s this got to do with anything? I know bisexual people in Leeds that don’t like going out because… gay men… gay men aren’t very nice to bi men, and lesbians aren’t very nice to trans women, and it’s all a bit stupid. It’s absolutely pathetic in my opinion, and I think that’s why I’m not going to Pride this year, because I just can’t be doing with it. Controversial!
RH: What would you like to see change?
RC: One of the things that bugs me about Pride is – Pride is… and fair to the group at London Pride the other day. It is a protest; that is what pride should be so er there are issues in other countries… Uganda, Northern Ireland. Pride should be a protest about those things and demanding change, but instead Pride has turned into a celebration, well I wouldn’t even call it a celebration any more. Sometime I look at pride and I just think this has turned into sometimes just a bit of a freak show because you don’t see straight people going down the street on the back of a bus - open-top bus in gold hot pants and glitter all over! Talk about putting yourself in your own stereotype. It drives me mad. I don’t mind going in the parade when I do go, ’cos I go with Unite, and we’ve got a Unite brass band and I’ve got my Unite fag, but you know it’s just turned into everything we want it not to be, and that really, really bugs me. People still say ‘gay bars’. What on earth is that about? We don’t say, “Oh that’s a straight bar.” It’s just a bar innit? And then I don’t like the fact it’s called “Freedom Quarter” - it just riles me. Everything about it is bugging me at the minute. But I think that’s part of the problem. But that’s where you’re getting these groups of lesbians and set up their own faction, that’s how it’ll end up, but I think that’s how society has always been. You all work together to get what you want and where you need to be, and then all fall out, because where do you go after that? We’ll see what happens. It will be interesting, that.
RH: Did you get any positive reactions from the LBGT community when you were working in your council role?
RC: Er - yes and no. Err, putting a pride flag up which er, some people got in touch saying they can’t believe I wasted money on a pride flag. Well, that flag cost two pound off eBay, so I ain’t going to get too upset like that, and some people did get in touch and said it’s really good er you know, we had the Pride flag flying from Pontefract castle at one point, which were really good. I think that really surprised people as they had not seen it on that building or stuff like that. I got a lot of support from just general people and like business people, some banks, their people were LGBT, but the resistance I got was from people that owned the two properties because some reason they thought I was interfering, and that’s obviously not what it was. I got more support from people in Leeds than I did from people on Wakefield I really did. I got invited to so many things in Leeds I sez like the blue plaque on The New Penny. I think that’s why I do miss doing what I did as a councillor, but I don’t- but I really did struggle with the LGBT stuff because some of the stuff that I think people are trying to do isn’t necessary, so we’ll see how it goes.
RH: So we’ll think a little about your own background and what led you to the jobs that you had. Er- what is it that set you off on this journey?
RC: Er - well, I was born in ’83, my dad worked down t’pit, and he went on strike in ’84, so for first year of my life were living off food bank. One of my earliest memories was the brass band marching from pit past our house and so because it I decided I was going to start playing an instrument so that I played four or five instruments and then, which my mother loved and er, I’ve just been brought up with trade unions. I remember some... I used to work at O2 in Leeds at their call centre and I ‘phoned my mum and told her I’d got a promotion and she just weren’t that bothered. I ‘phoned her a couple of weeks later and told her I’d just been elected as a union rep and she said it were the best thing that ever happened, because that’s much more important for me and my family - that is much more important to help society that way. I wouldn’t mind living…I know some people do I happily just take ten grand a year if I could change society in some way…
RH: What kinds if conversations have you had with your family about your sexuality and your identity?
RC: Er [pause] well my nan bought me a birthday card, which had a picture of a naked man on the front when I were eighteen or nineteen so we never, er, me and my nan never talked about it in any conversation, other than her telling me she didn’t want me to turn out like Louie Spence. Err... My grandad, he’s always been fine with it. My mum had a tough time. So er I came out when I was sixteen, day after sixteenth birthday. Mum had a really tough time, and well my dad’s just…there… he just exists somewhere. So yes my mum struggled.
INTERVIEWER: How is she now with it?
RYAN: She’s all right now, so at the time it were more about the… Section 28 were still in. The age of consent were eighteen, so as far as she’s concerned, I’m still the first person to ever come out in Mexborough. I’m sure that’s not true, but that’s how it felt to quite a lot of people I think. She were just worried about the fact that I were entering a world that didn’t have equality that were well that’s what she was worried about. Now that we’ve had a proper conversation that’s what she worried about. She wasn’t worried about not having grandkids or any of that. That didn’t bother her, she just wanted me to have a safe future so luckily for me and for her, Labour got in in ’97 and sorted some of that problem out but erm so that were fine, she’s fine, she’s got a sixty-year-old gay cousin now who we traced in the family tree. Now, she’s fine. She loves it. Does my head in!
INTERVIEWER: How important was it to you to come out at that age?
RYAN: I’m not entirely sure why I did. I think well I’d been to a birthday party in London and there were another guy there that were same age as me… and I kissed him and that were that, so obviously I wanted to run home and tell everyone I could. Hmm, I think it was Queer as Folk had been on TV not too long before as well, and I think everyone talks about Queer as Folk… So my housemate now he’s twenty-six but he knows – he’s not seen Queer as Folk – but he knows that that were a game-changer for society. He knows that Queer as Folk did change people’s perceptions. I think some right-wingers probably had a heart attack or freaked out but I don’t know. I just didn’t felt the need to not tell anyone. I just did. And then I had to change schools ‘cos… not bullying from kids but a problem with the head teacher who was adamant that she’d no gay children in that school, so yeah - that were fun.
INTERVIEWER: Was that difficult?
RYAN: No. I’m quite gobby. I were gobby back then, so another kid had called me a faggot, so I went to see her and I explained that there were a problem with homophobic bullying in the school, but it’s from some people and she said there can’t be any homophobic bullying ‘cos we don’t have gay kids in this school, so I just said well, you’ve got one at the minute, but tomorrow I’II go to a different school so that were that.. I went to a different school. I went to a different school called Danum, and there were that many gays it were called ‘Gaynum’, and then I met my first ever boyfriend after a week I’d been there. So that were no problems at all but yeah, so the teacher were the problem, and now I don’t know whether that’s ‘cos of Section 28 – that she just weren’t allowed to talk about it. I’ve actually never thought about that. But it doesn’t matter now because she’s gone, like literally off the planet. She’s not there anymore, so… [laughs]
RH: What did you do after school?
RC: I went to university down in Surrey to do music, which I was interested in. I’d been there about four weeks when I got a job in a gay bar and then I met a 32-year-old guy when I were 18 and he was a millionaire from Australia and I was with him all the way through uni, so that was a bit weird actually. And now I know he sold his company’s for over a hundred million quid and that doesn’t devastate me but I could have been living on Sidney Harbour, but he were an arsehole. He cheated on me once. I just went down there and then… I could have stayed down south because of the stuff I’d qualified in. Lots of jobs are in London for sound recording and stuff like that but, no, I needed to be back in Yorkshire. I can’t not live in Yorkshire.
RH: What is it about Yorkshire?
RC: It’s just everyone’s a bit more down to earth, aren’t they? I can’t be doing with southerners. No, London’s just a bit too much, but, I mean, my mum is only just twenty-six miles away. She thinks Leeds is terrifying.