Queer culture in Leeds
Kathleen remembers being drawn to Leeds' queer culture and the overlaps between squatting, queer parties and Leeds Queer Film Fest.
TRANSCRIPTBut I first started coming to Leeds, it was when I lived in Sheffield, it was about 2006 – yeah, about 2006, so I was living in Sheffield, I was doing a lot of political activism, which was most like eco activism. There’d been loads of stuff around the G8 in 2005, then there was like protests in Iceland in 2006. I went to the West Bank early 2007, and in between all that there was a big squatted social centre called Matilda in Sheffield, so I was super involved in that. I was also in my last year of university, not really paying much attention. But all that scene just felt very straight, and so I definitely was felt a bit frustrated by it. Sheffield felt like quite a small place, it felt, I think, like that kinda classic thing where the, y’know the gay scene was super like normie, but then the kind of activist scene that I cared about and the punk scene was like super straight, the punk scene was super bro-ey as well, it was like straight boys.
So I knew a couple of like queer women through activist stuff and so I went with them to Queeruption in Leeds. Oh and I did know some of the Manchester queers as well but it felt a bit further away it felt like, they were doing a CaféQueeria and that whole scene. So yeah I started going up to Leeds. I’m trying to think – I can’t remember the first time I went, but there was a squat on Hanover Square, which is like, quite central in town, it’s kinda like round the back of the LGI, near the university, also known as Hungover Square, Legover Square. There was this big building, which you know was totally intimidating, terrifying but like really amazing as well cos they’d have, it was basically a queer squat, huge, and they had a film festival there. There was a big room and they skipped a load of couches and they built tiered seating out of couches, which blew my mind and at that film festival it was like really down and dirty, and there was like a dressing-up room and you could do facial hair, there was just like a little tea cup full of like bits of hair someone had cut off that you could like, you stuck Vaseline on and stuck it on. So there was a lot of that, it was, everyone just slept in a big heap and like yeah, it kind of blew my mind really.
So I came, I went to the West Bank in 2007, then I was dicking around the rest of that year. I think it was early 2008 that I moved to Leeds, and I think that squat was… then I started at A&E in like December 2008 and I was at Cornerstone when I started there, so I think it would’ve been like spring 2009, and I think we were there for a bit of the summer. Oh no, I think we were still at that Spencer Place squat when we squatted another building, which was like a big old house in Headingley, where we had like a weekend-long queer gathering that was pretty cool and then like a big party on the last night. I think that was squatted before, and maybe even since, it sat empty for ages and it was just like huge, had loads of space.
Although, non-chronologically, I’d also been to a squat years before that when I first was just visiting Leeds, where there was like a Queeruption-type event, and that was on… near Cardigan Road, on the road out of Leeds but it was, used to be a nunnery, amazingly, so then there used to be this queer party with like loads of this sexy stuff happening, in a nunnery, which was kinda perfect. That was one of the times I came up to Leeds and visited, and that was when I met Fraz, who was kinda like core queer squatter, cos she’d burnt her hand, she’s like the most accident-prone person I’ve ever met. In fact, another time I got, when I’d started paramedic training I got like a 6am missed call and I like called back and they were like, ‘oh yeah, Fraz fell down the stairs. She went all funny, but we’ve taken her to A&E now, anyway’, and they’d been calling me as a like substitute ambulance. But that was, that was in a squat, there were lots of squat DIY-based accidents, cos of poor safety regulations.
Yeah, I’m trying to think. So, after Spencer Place got evicted there was a little gap while I think everyone sorted their stuff out, and then I think that was when we squatted Sholebroke Avenue, which is where Cornerstone is, but it’s further up there was some, it was like a housing association house but it had just been like totally lunched out for years, it had Sitex on the windows, so we got into it… We got into it twice, I can’t remember why, I think we got into it to live, and it was pretty sweet, like we got hot water going, which wasn’t a given. Nikolai managed to steal Wi-Fi from somewhere, there was maybe like six or eight of us living there. Just loads of space, and it was like in a nice location. I’ve got a feeling we moved, we squatted it to live, and then I moved out of there because I’d got a flat in a housing co-op, and I think then it was evicted, and I think then it was re-squatted later for the second Queer Film Festival, the first being that one with the tiered couches in Headingley, at Hanover Square, then the second one was on Sholebroke Avenue, which was really nice actually, it was like three days, I remember like a really big mixed group of people came, like there was mixture of ages, which was really nice, because like that scene was pretty like 18 to 30. Yeah, there was some like massive, massive rows. There was big drama about that festival, like there was a film that like we pulled cos we thought there was racist undertones and there was like huge, huge fallout from that, which was kind of like what was happening on the scene anyway, and since, you know like – I think the thing that changed from years before is that people were instigating those discussions but like they weren’t being dealt with all that well, there was like huge fallout. So the Film Fest did happen, but like the organisers spent it in these shitty meetings like dealing with shitty emails and stuff.
And then, I think it stayed open for a little while, that squat, and then there were some kinda like queer parties. I was commuting to Sheffield to, as a student paramedic at this point, and working in Leeds to do my placement hours, so I was like a lot less involved with stuff. Although I started my course when I was living in that squat on Sholebroke. And then, I’d left, then it had been like evicted, and then when we re-squatted it for the Film Festival I went into what had been my room, which was like this tiny little like boiler room and I closed the door and like one of my student paramedic uniform like shirts was hanging on the back of the door and it was like the bailiffs obviously hadn’t noticed it and like the door had been opened and it was just sat there perfectly waiting for me the whole time, which was funny.