Kathleen: Full Interview
Interviewed by Clare McCormack
27th November 2018
CM: West Yorkshire Queer Stories. It’s the 27th November 2018, Claire McCormack is doing the interview.
K: I’m Kathleen. It’s still the 27th November 2018, we’re in my lounge.
CM: Do you wanna tell us – we met in 2009, I think it was, something like that.
K: Yeah. So I was living in Leeds by that point, kinda the middle of things, kinda the queer squatter crew. But 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 started going up a little bit more. I only really knew one person, who I met on LiveJournal who was actually kind of a creep, so I was in a bit of a difficult situation where I really wanted into this scene, but the only person I knew was someone that like wasn’t that cool, or wasn’t behaving in a way that was that cool. But, yeah. But I’d come up to gigs as well, so Jean Genet were playing a lot, who were like a queer due who used to play topless just with duct tape over their nipples and like sing really queer songs about Jean Genet and libraries and stuff. So there was a bit of a scene around that. They came to Sheffield, and all the Leeds queers came to Sheffield, which was, like, amazing. And I think some of them stayed at the housing co-op I was crashing at at the time and like, it, yeah it was really great. And then there was Boy Cunt as well, who were a queer band, and I got them down to play at Matilda once on the bill with like a load of normie straight punk bands, and I remember like just turning round during the gig and there was just like 50 like straight white boy punks just being like, ‘what is this?’ Cos they, y’know, they all had like make-up and no trousers and stuff.
So I tried queer Sheffield a bit, but in the end I was just like – well I kinda left for other reasons, I like went and squatted in Barcelona for a while, then I came back, went to the West Bank for a while, and then I came back from there and I was living on a boat in Hebden Bridge, but increasingly just spent all my time on a train into Leeds. And then I was linking up with a lot of like activist stuff in Leeds, and then, knowing that there was a queer scene and it was a decent size city as well it made me move in. So I moved into Cornerstone, on Sholebroke Avenue, and I think I was there for about six months, I was never accepted as a member, which is a point of some contention [laughs] but I think in the long run a good thing. But, so after leaving Cornerstone, like I jumped ship with a couple of other queer women, and we all moved out to a squat together, which was on Spencer Place, trying to think now – I think we all got together and planned to crack this squat and I think we moved, I think we moved from Cornerstone to there, we met up with about four or five people that were like, had been a queer squatting crew for a coupla years, we’d just hang out with those and then it all just kinda came together.
So, yeah that squat in Spencer Place – I can’t remember how long we had it for now, a few months. Everyone got arrested like the day after it got cracked because a neighbour called and reported that there was a burglary happening cos there were people going in and out with bags. So the police turned up, and then, I wasn’t there and I got a call so I then turned up and got arrested, y’know, in solidarity, to do something stupid. But then more police turned up, and then, squatting was legal then, so the police just hadn’t known the law so the more senior cops turned up and then they had to let us go, which was, which was great. And I think one of the cops was like kind of visibly queer and I think our lot banged into them on like a night out [laughs] and like a couple of weeks later and were like, yeah, shouting at her a little bit [laughs] in fact, actually, that squat was when I started working at A&E as a health care assistant and I remember like not very long afterwards going in for a shift and the same cop was like sat outside the cubicle of a patient that was in police custody and having to like hide from her for the first two hours of my shift because I was like oh my God, these two worlds colliding, it was like totally terrible.
And during that squat, there was another, there was like some kind of – I don’t think it was being called Queeruption any more, but some kind of queer gathering, and they needed a venue. And so there was, it was called Green Bank, it’s like, you see it when you come in on the train, it’s like on the canal side somewhere, and it was some, it was like built as this like eco housing development, that I think was all just green-wash bullshit, I don’t think anything about it was eco, I think they claimed they were gonna have a free shop or something. But it wasn’t anything proper, and also it never got built, I don’t think, but they’d built like this one building that was like, I dunno whether it was like a show home or whether it was like a headquarters or something, but it had big letters that said Green Bank on the side, and it just seemed like a good spot that people could walk to from the train station and stuff cos people were coming from all over for it. And I wasn’t involved – I was on nights at A&E so I wasn’t involved, but everyone else went and squatted that and I think it all then kicked off cos like the landlord sent a load of heavies round and stuff, but in the interim they had changed it to Green Wank, which I thought was hilarious, on the sign, so everyone could see that coming in. And, yeah, they were there for a few days, but I’ve got a feeling that like the event didn’t happen or had to move venue. And then we got evicted from there. I’ve got a feeling after that, I think I, like –
CM: What year was that?
K: Ah. Oh yeah, sorry. 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.
But that’s – that got evicted, it’s now actually just being used as housing, which is nice, so like a lot of the other squats, you just saw them continue to be abandoned for years after being evicted, which was pretty frustrating. And then I think there was some people squatting in Newton Grove, which had been squatted before and then was re-squatted, but I think it was pretty like Arctic and then there wasn’t much in the way of like heating or maybe windows. And then there was a squat behind Morrisons in Harehills, which was there for quite a long time, but recently popped up on Right Move, cos that’s where my life is at now, and was on sale for like fifty grand cos like it was in a pretty bad state. I think after the queers got it some crust punks got it and then just crust punked it into the ground. But it was there for years. But then, like I suppose a big thing was that squatting was legal then and it isn’t now, so even though places would only last three months or whatever you did have that level of security, like I think Green Bank was a bit of an exception, because the landlord sent heavies down like it really didn’t last very long at all. But if you could trust a landlord to do things properly and go to court like you were at least guaranteed like a month y’know or whatever, which is a difficult way to live to be moving round that much, cos I’d squatted in Sheffield as well, but yeah it’s nothing like, like constantly worrying about immediate eviction. So I mean I’m also like older and out of the scene a little bit, but I don’t know any of the squatters in Leeds anymore, and there used to be… I mean there was kind of a solid queer squat crew in like Chapeltown, Harehills, but there was also other squatters, there was like punk squatters and stuff, like, there were ones over in Woodhouse, and like back in the day there’s like a really big squatting tradition in Leeds. But don’t know how – if any of them remain. Possibly some on the down low, but – yeah, as a scene I think it’s kinda disappeared a bit. I think like what, a middle ground for some people, which is what I did, is living in housing co-op with really cheap rent.
And there was, there is a shared house in a housing co-op that’s a queer house, and their rent is like ridiculously cheap, and I think that kinda fulfils the function of squats in that you don’t have to be working full-time to afford that rent, so it takes the pressure off a lot, which is more like houses I’ve seen in America, like, I’ve spent a fair bit of time in America and like there aren’t squats there really, except real shady like abandoned building type deals, but people tend to live in punk houses, which are like big houses with cheap rent, and then they split up the bedrooms and like everyone, people sleep in cupboards and stuff and basically find a way to get the rent at least affordable enough that you can cover it with part-time work. So, there is a middle ground, and I suspect that’s what people are mostly doing now.
CM: When you say that there was quite a coherent scene in those days, quite a coherent queer scene, can you just describe that.
K: I suppose by coherent it was quite a small group of people, actually I think it’s bigger now and I think it’s more interesting now. But back then, a lot of the stuff we did, it was just like the same kinda ten people involved in everything, like the Queer Film Festivals, like queer parties, queer squats the same group, like especially cos people were squatting and not working they had, they were just full-time organising that kind of stuff. So, I think there was kind of like a friendship group that was really core to stuff, and I think that’s dissipated now. And also like, you know, so things just shift over time, so there were people a little like peripheral to that scene that are like more important, and also yeah when I go to stuff now there’s loads of young queers that I don’t know, which I think is brilliant. I certainly think that there’s like a strong like trans-friendly scene, which I think is really important.
And I think the smaller, like the radical queer scene has spearheaded that to an extent, like it was also like very trans-inclusive – not necessarily, so it was always just assumed that was part of queerness, like I think the thing that attracted me to Leeds is the queer scene is just super open, like I remember seeing a Queeruption flyer like years before I actually came cos y’know it was far too scary back then, but like it was a Queeruption flyer, I think for the first Queeruption, and it said on it y’know for like queers, their friends, like, I’m trying to think of the way they phrased it, it was like super open, it was just like, basically like yeah it’s for queers, questioning, like their mates, anyone else and everyone else, and I, at that point I had gone to uni, I’d got involved with like the LGB society, which didn’t even have a T at the end of it then, and like I had a girlfriend, and then when we broke up I had a boyfriend, and then like they all dropped me because I wasn’t like properly gay, and I think then I’d been in this kinda like straight world where there just weren’t that many queers around and it was just this like crappy biphobic shittyness and I wasn’t totally sure what I was really, I just knew, y’know and then like having the option of queerness was just like super welcoming after feeling like there wasn’t really a place for me anywhere else. And I think that it was a very trans-friendly scene as well when a lot of places weren’t – y’know they weren’t even thinking about it in the like student society so, it was always just a scene where there were a lot of trans people and I think that like the, that you – yeah, I think that like that’s to Leeds’ benefit, like when you look at the kinda DIY scene now, which is maybe less like politically radical but I think it’s like down or like trickled down a little bit – it was always just like fundamental to that crew, so there’s like always been no time for like TERFy stuff, which I think at the moment is like pretty good that’s got like a solid foundation, and I think looking at the Film Festival now, which is like this amazing, proper thing, y’know it feels like it’s trans-inclusive to its core, which I think really matters. Yeah, and I guess certainly those first Queer Film Fests that were done in squats were just like super, like there was a lot of like gender fluidity and stuff like the kind of like dressing-up room was just like everyone dragging up, everyone exploring that kinda stuff and like, yeah, I think that was always like a big part of the queer scene, there’s like – and I think, I know in my time in the queer scene like I’ve seen a lot of friends come out as trans and I think it like created this space where there was, it was easier to come out as trans than in a more normie world.
And I suppose, like, with squatting as well, like if you aren’t so dependent on a job like that gives you a bit more freedom in that, y’know if fear of losing your job is one of the things that like keeps people in the closet, like it matters if you have somewhere very cheap or free to live and transition. So, yeah.
CM: You’ve spoken – you’ve mentioned Queeruption a couple of times. Are you able to describe that, or tell us what it is?
K: It was slightly before my time. There was – I don’t, I don’t know what years they were kind of active, they were like these big like European gatherings. There’d been one in Barcelona, I think, in about 2005 and loads of Leeds queers had gone across and I think it had blown their mind and it was still just being talked about and I hadn’t been there, but I heard a lot about it. So they, I think for a while they were like this yearly thing that like people would make a pilgrimage to. And then there was one in Leeds – I don’t know if it was like advertised as like the European event, or just like an affiliated thing. But there was one before my time in Leeds, that was in a squat. I’m trying to think – I feel like there was people involved in Aspire, which was like a kind of squatted social centre deal, and I think there was like the queer arm of that, and I think that overlapped with the newer queer scene and that helped Queeruption happen, but that might be not true.
And then, yeah, so there was Leeds Queeruption happening and I think it like changed, I think it changed its name fairly soon but like it was similar kind of stuff like queer gatherings, and there’d be like workshops and meetings and like sex parties and party parties. And then the thing that people were going to after that, which again I don’t know what happens any more, but like Copenhagen Queer Festival was like on the calendar for a few years, liking getting a coach over for 36 hours to Copenhagen. I’m trying to think – I went to it twice, and I remember like the second time especially there being like, Leeds was just so over-represented it was great [laughs] like it must’ve just seemed like this queer paradise from the outside cos it was just like a disproportionate number of Leeds queers considering the size of the city. There was Queeruption Brighton as well, they did a bunch of stuff, but I don’t, yeah I don’t know who else did it. But that was like, mid-2000s.
I’m trying to think of the names of the queer events we put on, but – Daniel will know. Cos then yeah, there were like club nights and stuff. I think, something else that’s important is when we were doing squatted events there wasn’t really any decent venues in Leeds. Like Wharf Chambers didn’t exist, well it was the Common Place, which like yeah… was okay, but like also the stuff we wanted to do was like a weekend where everyone slept on site, had a sex party, partied as long as we wanted, had meetings in the day, served food, had a bar, that was cheap, and it’s like those things were just not possible to do them properly. You know, like try and find a venue for that and then like what’s your budget gonna be, it’s just like, the only way you could do stuff like that was squats really.
And I think, like having been involved in Matilda in Sheffield it’s like the stuff we used to put on there, it’s like if you introduced any level of like legitimacy to that it would just be totally impossible. Like, we used to have a bar and we would just go to Costco, like fill a trolley with like tins and then sell them for like £2. And it’s like, yeah we had no licence, no one was getting paid, there was no like – I dunno, it was all just like, dunno, a car boot sale or something [laughs] And it’s, especially seeing friends involved with Wharf Chambers since and seeing the amount of like work that’s involved in doing something properly and how it expensive it is when you have to pay insurance and rent and stuff like that, it’s like squatting just created that space where you could just sidestep all of that – which you know, obviously like there’s plenty of criticisms of that, like and if you look at stuff like the [?] fire in Oakland like there’s, it’s not just this paradise of like being free of bureaucracy it’s like a lot of those rules are there for a reason, like having fire exits and stuff. But like, yeah, for those short times it like enabled events that were completely unachievable. Also like we would’ve had no idea how to do it properly, it’s like we weren’t events managers, but if you could be like, you just decided how you wanted to do it and you just did it like you didn’t, you kind of didn’t know how, you didn’t have to know how to do it properly. Like, we needed seating in, like I think it was the second Queer Film Festival on Sholebroke Avenue, like we needed seating and then someone talked to someone and it turned out there was loads of cinema seating upstairs at the Common Place, which is what Wharf Chambers is now, that they wanted to get rid of, so like someone talked to someone and found a van and then we went and got them and we just like bolted them all into the floor. And so there was just this, which I would’ve fucking loved to have seen the bailiffs evicting that place, like they’d just open this door and there’s just like red velvet cinema seating like for this whole room.
But yeah, it’s just stuff, you just made it happen because it was just, you just figured it out. So yeah, I think – and it’s interesting to see the Queer Film Fest now, like because it is a lot more proper, and I think it’s a lot more work in that way, but also it’s so much more accessible and stuff like – and I think we were aware of that but like having an event in Chapeltown and like trying to get people that were travelling, like trying to get them out to this like, it wasn’t city centre at all and like it wasn’t disabled access, like y’know we built a ramp out of like plywood or whatever for the stairs but it was very much like yeah, when you get here like shout and then we’ll hear you and then we’ll come and put the ramp down and then we’ll help you up the stairs and like – we did think about that stuff a lot, but like it is cool seeing like a group that is more permanent, and like more organised like getting properly stuck in to that kind of thing.
And also just the films you show, like you take submissions and like we pretty much just illegally downloaded stuff and showed it, and we were like who’s got DVDs that we could put on? And like we did, we did make the effort to hunt stuff out and watch loads of stuff, but like certainly no filmmakers got paid, and it was all just stuff that was out there, there was no like, yeah. I think to say it was curated would be very generous. And one cut out halfway through, I think the one on the last night like, yeah there was lots of equipment problems. And I mean it was just like on a laptop with a projector as well and like some crappy USB speakers, so yeah. I think people were there as much for the hang outs as they were for the films, like they weren’t totally central.
CM: I was gonna ask what other events came out of it, that sort of scene, but you’ve covered a lot.
K: Trying to think of like affiliated stuff, Riot Grrrl was like a regular thing for a while, so that happened at the Chemic pub. It was an open mic, but just like the again like the coherent community around it, like it was really nice, like a crew of us used to walk over like over Buslingthorpe Lane into Woodhouse. It was, it was monthly. Laura Schofield used to put it on, and Fanny DiWanko used to play every time, which was an Annie DiFranco tribute act who were just like totally hilarious. Loads of people like kind of appeared on the scene for the first time through that, like I think it brought people in nicely and yeah it was just a nice crew. I think that’s like where Jesus and His Judgemental Father were like some of their first gigs were there. Cos I think they used to like put on, there’d be like a couple of featured bands, but then an open mic before it, so it was like yeah, pretty welcoming space. Trying to think if I ever played – I think it was that accessible that I might’ve even played a ukulele or something terrible, like very low level, low bar for entry. So, there was that.
Then, I feel like there have been a couple of, there were some club nights at the Common Place and Wharf… Trying to think what they were called – oh, Sapphic Traffic – at Wharf was overlapping with all of that time, and that was a bit more like, a bit broader group of people, like it wasn’t just kind of like professional, professional queer, y’know like people who just squatted and were queer was their whole identity, like I remember going to Sapphic Traffic and banging into some people from work, which was like, didn’t, like other than that my life was like super separate, I was just hanging out in these squats and at demos and stuff, whereas Sapphic Traffic also felt like a legitimate club night. Yeah, that was cool, I remember there was like blind date one, and there was like drag queens and stuff and I think they’d had like live music and things – I think that started when Wharf was the Common Place still, so. There was definitely another night before that that I used to go to, but I’ve forgotten the names of everything now…
But yeah, before it was Wharf, the Common Place was like very social centre-y, there was like a certain vibe, there was like a whole kind of like generation of big social centres around the time of the G8 and they all had a similar vibe, like with Common Place – like the gig room was cool, but then you came out into the main bit, which is now the bar of Wharf and it was just like strip lighting and like school tables and chairs, it was like the most atmosphere less place ever, y’know you’d be like, having a great time dancing at the gig, and then you’d come out and it would just feel like you were in a school dinner hall. It was not very sexy. But I don’t think it [unclear] back then, it was all, it was all quite different, but it – that was like a pretty good venue, it was like the go-to venue for stuff, but I also think it’s better run now...
I can’t think of anything else, although there was a reading group for a while. And I think No Borders Leeds at that time was like largely queer as well, there was a pretty solid cross-over. Yeah, like, I think all the queers involved in that scene were also doing like other political work like outside of it. Like I was doing, me and like a couple of the others were doing like a lot of street medic stuff so we were running training for street medics, which is like people were doing first aid at demos. So we were training and running that and then from that I was then working on a ward and then in A&E, and then from that I became a student paramedic. I’ve been a paramedic now for seven years, so that was kind of the beginning of my career, which I’m still doing now, but also like it’s kinda the reason I’m less involved in all that stuff, cos I started working at A&E when I lived in a squat in Spencer Place and it was just impossible, it was like – I was doing 13 hour shifts, and then I’d come home and like I dunno everyone’d just be hanging out and it was also like quite a full-on job, y’know, like I’d y’know be sorting out like a dead body, which is quite full-on, especially then because it was all quite new, but like I remember dealing with that and like people dying in the department and that being really full-on and then like coming home and everyone’s just like having a can and like, messing around in the lounge and, firstly I’d had to be back at work in 11 hours’ time, but also just not being able to like engage with people like not really knowing how to talk about like about things, and also just feeling like I was going between different planets, y’know like I was in the super like legitimate world, and then going back to this like really, this sub-culture that was like all-enveloping y’know like it was, could be your whole life. Yeah, I found it difficult to have a foot in both sometimes, and I think, especially when I started studying, it was just like more of a commitment and I was away in Sheffield, so I certainly didn’t want to squat any more, cos it just took up too much of my brain, so then – I was still involved in that scene for ages but like I had like a steady housing co-op flat, which I thought is what I needed really, quite quickly, the amount of work I was doing.
CM: You talked as well, or you mentioned discussions and arguments around the Film Festival, and sort of implied that that was a wider thing around the queer scene, can you say anything about that?
K: Yeah, I mean, that could be a whole separate interview really, but like there was – so when I was first involved with stuff, like it was a nearly, nearly all-white scene, it was very white-dominated. And I think there was always some awareness of it, cos it was an explicitly political scene, like people did care about that stuff but like definitely… yeah things have, things have definitely changed like I think people were aware of it but kinda didn’t do much about it. And then like stuff got kind of, there was a series of things were people were like explicitly called out for stuff, like there was big drama in Brighton because they were screening a film called Travel Queries, which like a kind of white filmmaking had made about the European queer scene, but like, she didn’t interview like queers of colour and they not, they didn’t, felt like not really represented like not what they said like had been quite critical of this white-dominated scene and she kinda edited it down into making them sound like a lot less like critical than they actually were. So people had kicked off at this film and then like this, I think it was a queer film festival in Brighton wanted to show it and like basically not really caring that loads of people of colour had like lots of issues with this film. And I think the whole event, like the whole weekend ended up getting cancelled and that was like, that kind of thing was happening a fair bit.
So, the Queer Film Festival on Sholebroke Avenue were like – we’d talking a lot, I think part, we’d had this reading group and we’d been talking about like white privilege and race quite a lot, cos it was a really white scene. Yeah we were trying to talk about it and the queer gathering in, at the big squat in Headingley, like really explicitly talked about race. I think that was in shortly after a fairly disastrous like gathering to talk about like race, specifically in Bristol that’d just ended in totally acrimony, so I think we were like pretty aware of all of that.
But, yeah, so we’d been talking about it a bunch, but it was still largely like a white crew of people putting it on, which we were pretty aware of, so like when picking the films we like were careful not to just be showing like kinda of, yeah like a narrow selection of films. And also like films, making sure to centre people of colour, but also like films from other countries and like trying to break out of it kinda just being just English and American films, which are often the ones that are like most accessible to us. But the, we’d planned this – so, the thing we’d done in advance was, like so Paris is Burning is this documentary that is like, it’s pretty legendary within the queer scene and I’d seen it at a showing in Berlin in a queer squat. And yeah it’s like really widely loved but like at the time, the participants who were overwhelmingly like queers of colour were really critical cos a like middle-class white filmmaker had come and made this film and like done really well off it, it’d done well as a documentary and they felt that they’d kind of been taken advantage of. And yeah there were kind of issues around it basically there had been discussions but like – and it’s still happening now like it made it onto fucking Netflix recently and people just love it and it’s like there’s always been these discussions in the background and like the fact that those aren’t like, that yeah that people incessantly ignore those, it is frustrating, so people were like – people heard we had this film festival and were like, ‘oh you have to play Paris is Burning’.
So what we did in the end was we did this screening that we kind of set up to be like thoughtful basically, so we – I can’t remember the order we showed them in, I think, so we showed this film called Tongues Untied by Marlon Riggs who was a like African-American filmmaking who – he died young actually, he died of AIDS in the early ‘90s, so he only made a few films, but he made this one Tongues Untied that’s basically about like the intersection of being African-American and gay in the 80s, and a lot of it is like looking at the same stuff as Paris is Burning but like from a black filmmaker rather than, who’s inside this scene, rather than like a white filmmaker who’s like being a tourist basically. So it’s real thoughtful, it’s quite experimental, it’s like a really amazing film, like we’d heard of it, we’d heard of it cos it was mentioned in a bell hooks’ essay and then the only place I could find it online was like downloading it in like ten different sections and then stitching them together, it was like this ridiculous thing like, which I think even now like ten years later it’d be so much easier to find films. But yeah, so we presented them together, and then also bell hooks wrote an essay about Paris is Burning, contrasted it with Tongues Untied, so we turned that essay into a zine and then had one on all the seats when people came in, so basically we kind of, we showed Paris is Burning but we tried to put it in a context that was encouraging people to think about this, excuse me, about this, this film that like all the white queers were just loving and everyone was getting into voguing and stuff, and yeah, kinda just trying to add a bit more thought to it and a bit more discussion.
So, we’d done that well in advance, and then the next night was like party night and there was gonna be like glittery popcorn and everyone was gonna be encouraged to dress up and we were gonna screen this film called Otto, which is a Bruce LaBruce film about a gay zombie. And like a few of us had watched it and really loved it, and then like we’d put it in the promo and everything, bigged up how great it was, and then a few more people watched it, and then they were kinda like, ‘yeah it feels like’, y’know the main character’s this like cis white gay dude and then he – so he’s a zombie, and like, throughout the film he’s like physically harassed by people and it’s, there’s some kinds of parallels to homophobia and stuff, but basically he’s like in these neighbourhoods in Berlin and then people were like, yeah every time he’s harassed it’s like Middle Eastern men basically, Middle Eastern like boys, and they’re this like threatening presence in the film kinda like looming up in the background and then they’re like stoning him and all the other stuff. So we kinda went back and watched it and were like, ‘oh yeah this is actually like kind of intense that the baddies are just this like group of Muslim men’, especially in the context of like gentrification in Berlin like often being, like there was totally discussions happening round that about like queer gentrification and it often being in areas that like are largely immigrants and then there being these flashpoints, then tension. And yeah, it suddenly just seemed like actually like y’know this film isn’t total garbage but like there is underlying stuff that like, maybe if we’re just presenting it as this fun party film like maybe we need to take more responsibility than that. And eventually we were kinda like, well we just can’t do both, we can’t have it be like, ‘dress up’ like have glittery popcorn but also let’s be thoughtful about this film, and about race. Like, we can either do that or – yeah, it’s like either we have like a fun slightly trashy mindless film or we have, we go on the deep dive into like picking apart films, which we were trying to do with Paris is Burning but like we can’t do both at the same time. And especially like yeah if we want Muslim queers to be able to come to this Film Festival and not just like see themselves like demonised and it not really being talked about. So in the end we pulled it from the party night, we showed something else instead, and I think we then made, we then made space for discussion about like what the, what we didn’t like about this film.
But yeah, like, it just all kicked off like some people were like super-horrified that we’d pulled this film and were just like y’know calling us like PC fascists and that kind of thing. And like, y’know, Islamophobia doesn’t exist, and just like, I think some of the same stuff now, I think they would’ve called us ‘social justice warriors’ if that like had existed as a term or like ‘snowflakes’ or whatever. And they were largely people that had been involved for a really long time and I think were just like were really angry about it. So, I think there was a bit of a culture clash there, that definitely continues. But, like looking back, I would do the same again, like I’m glad we didn’t show it and I’m – yeah. I mean it’s funny, cos looking back it is just a storm in a teacup, but at the time it just was huge, y’know, we wrote a statement about why we were pulling it and then people wrote counter statements and stuff and it was all pretty wild.
But I mean that stuff still happens now, but I think that people are more aware of it like, like they’re aware of the ability of like drama – not drama, I think that can be like really dismissive, but like if you do stuff, if you do a bad job of stuff like it can all kick off and I think that we were keen to try and sort if out ourselves rather than just putting stuff on and someone from the outside being like, ‘what are you, what is this?’ Cos I think we were so keen to have stuff be really accessible and like inviting everyone that I think you have a bit of a responsibility to be properly like welcoming and like you have to be really thoughtful about what you’re doing. Because you don’t want somebody to turn up and be like, ‘oh actually this isn’t for me and like no one’s really giving a shit about my opinion because I may not be represented in the collective that’s organising it’, so I think like we were trying hard to avoid that – but yeah, that was that particular drama, but y’know there was plenty, like I was at Copenhagen Queer Fest where it got all, where it all got acrimonious cos like there was a dance, like an all-white dance troupe performing in afro wigs and then there was basically like a stage invasion intervention and it all, that, y’know that just turned into like a 48 hour argument basically.
But like I think a lot of that was – I think the scene is – I think there are more queer people of colour in that scene now, and I think that space was only created by like people of colour kicking off back then when it was a really difficult environment to say anything. We were definitely following the lead of people like Humera and Heena who did Racial Vote and they were super active on the Manchester scene. Yeah, there were, like I say it was a white-dominated scene, but it definitely wasn’t all white like there always were queers of colour who were like working extremely hard to like try and open things up a little bit more and I think had a lot of frustrations and I think when I go to stuff now, like being at the Queer Film Festival this year, like it’s a lot less white than it used to be and like I think that’s from, yeah, like queers of colour working really hard to make that happen. Like, I have a lot of affection for the scene back then, but like also it was pretty mono-cultural like I’m glad that it is, like I think it is better now.
Like and I think also squatting is really exclusive in a lot of ways, it was like all that crew were just able to totally centre this thing, like they were able to have precarious housing and like not work much and like a lot of people used to work the Christmas market, which I drove past the other night and was thinking about like it used to be full of like precarious queers but, yeah, I don’t know, I think it allows – cos I’ve squatted outside that scene as well and I think like it is quite inaccessible but does also up space for interesting things to happen, so like I have affection for it but it’s like with reservations as well. And I think it’s heartening to see like there is a lot of like DIY stuff happening in Leeds, even though squatting doesn’t really exist anymore, it’s like people are always like motivated to do stuff and find a way to make it work. And there is still middle ground between like putting on some like super professional event or like doing something in someone’s front room, it’s like there are DIY venues and there are like housing co-ops and stuff… That’s it.
CM: Thank you. Is there anything else you want to add?
K: I don’t think so […] I don’t think so, like it is a little while ago now, it is interesting a lot of the people involved are still around, it’s interesting seeing like where people have ended up, well not even ended up because it’s not a finite thing is it but like there’s a lot of, a lot of people still around, a lot of us are still in touch and some people you’re not in touch with and like yeah I don’t know, it’s interesting…
And I think yeah, what I don’t think about loads is how it interacts with the slightly more mainstream queer scene or gay scene. Like I remember at the next Film Festival, which was in Wharf Chambers, like there were some older LGBT people who were like really unhappy, really struggled with it being called the Queer Film Fest and stuff, and I remember the one at the, the Film Fest that was on Sholebroke Avenue there was like a older gay man and he, he’d just been like slightly freaked out about how sketchy it all was in that it was all just real like, like I think there was a point where we just texted everyone like people, we made flyers and then you could like text if you wanted to come and then you got texted with the address, cos we hadn’t cracked the squat yet, we didn’t actually know where it was gonna be. And I think we, that we couldn’t really avoid that, like we knew it was, it was a bit of an ask for people to just text this strange number, but he had been really freaked out by it cos back in the day he’d been to – I’m trying to think had it’d worked, I think it was some, something he thought was going to be like a queer party and then it turned out to be like a police set-up and he’d been arrested. And it was like decades ago but it, he had this residual like sense of fear at stuff like that and I think… yeah it’s interesting how this scene interacts with like the older generation or like other scenes, you aren’t always aware of where people are coming from.
And it’s certainly like a very young scene, like I think that the community elders are really important to the LGBT community and I think at that time there was very little like inter-generational like back and forth, which I think was to our detriment. Like I think it is, I think some of us knew the like previous generation of squatters in Leeds but not really further back than that and I think that was to our detriment like I think it did feel a bit sometimes like we were the first to think of some of this stuff. I mean, maybe I just say that now cos I’m now watching the next generation like thinking they’ve invented everything, and it is a bit frustrating sometimes to see people like reinventing the wheel, like it makes you wonder like what we could’ve learned if we’d reached out a little bit more. But yeah, that’s all. We did some decent stuff.