Columnist Al Jennings says that the LGBT+ community needs to invest some time and money in its scene or risk losing it forever.

When you think of a night out in Leeds; you think of the trendy wine bars of Call Lane, Millennium Square for the students, and the rock and punk scene that was evident in the early ’80s. However, Leeds has a fantastic, and diverse LGBT+ nightlife scene which has opened my eyes to some of the greatest nights of my lights.

I grew up in a conservative East Yorkshire town where there was no reference to an LGBT+ community. It was a pint of snakebite down the local boozer with the lads. As a young, impressionable eighteen-year-old, I was ready for some excitement and to meet like-minded people where I could be myself and find some acceptance. I packed up and headed off to London for university and fully embraced myself in their gay scene, I didn’t know that I had a whole scene on my doorstep I could’ve explored. From London, I moved overseas for a few years, and then back to East Yorkshire and began exploring my opportunities.

Leeds wasn’t really on my radar. Manchester’s gay village had been well popularised through Russell T. Davies shows such as Queer as Folk and Cucumber, and I began my professional career in Hull. I made a lot of good friends at the time in Hull, and it did have a great nightlife. It wasn’t until I moved to West Yorkshire that I discovered how much of a vibrant and exciting scene Leeds had and how much it could open my eyes, and I could find friendships and relationships that could truly enhance my life.

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It’s clear that Leeds has got a great reputation for Queer nightlife. The Freedom quarter, that encompasses the Calls and Lower Briggate, is its main hub. A hive of activity with a great host of venues to choose from it, depending on what you are wanting from a Friday night. Whether it’s a few drinks on a Friday night after work in Queens Court or a night of gyrating on the dancefloor to the chart hits of today in The Viaduct then there is something that caters for everybody.

Ninety-five per cent of my nights in Leeds start in Queens Court. It’s welcoming atmosphere, spacious outdoor courtyard, it provides the perfect place to get together a few friends to chew over the fat of the last week, and catch up on the latest gossip in town. It’s budget-friendly drink prices throughout the week means that a night with friends with a touch of glass, doesn’t have to break the bank. I’d always recommend a visit on a Bank Holiday Sunday to one of their infamous courtyard parties, which brings a little bit of Ibiza to Leeds through their top name DJ sets and incredibly beautiful laser shows.

After a few drinks in Queens Court, I always find it’s time to pick up the pace and before inevitably ending up in a club, Blayds Bar is always on my list for a great time in Leeds. Hidden away in a back alley just off Lower Briggate, Blayds in a great intimate little venue with lots of charm and appeal. Blayds offers something different every night of the week and includes some great special events. Everybody’s is welcome in Blayds, making it one of the most inclusive in Leeds. Hosted by Drag Queens including Mamma Bear, Blayds caters for all with its collection of chart-hits and the Eurovision Deep Cuts that leave the gays wanting more. You’ll find me on the dancefloor recreating the hair-flips from Fuego most weekends.

If you’ve not had enough by now, then there is only one place to finish off your night. The Viaduct Showbar is the place to finish off your evening, or even party your way through until the morning. The Viaduct Showbar is undoubtedly the most well-known Gay Bar in Leeds, boasting live entertainment every night of the week thanks to some of the most fabulous and glamourous performers and Drag Queens in the country. With live performances throughout the evening, the DJ’s play the hottest new chart hits and all the classics in-between the fabulous and enigmatic performances.

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Our scene needs us

During recent years, there has been a lot of press about the closing of LGBT venues all over the country. In November 2016, University College London published a report looking at LGBT+ nightlife in London since 1986. According to THEGAYUK.com, 151 gay bars and clubs in London have shut their doors between 2000 and 2016. A staggering amount. There are many reasons for this, including a rise in business rates and rents – but also, a question that simply gay bars are going out of fashion? Have we reached a point where the pink pound no longer is spent within its community? Have we reached a position in society where our safe spaces are not needed for us to express ourselves and have, we become more confident in ourselves to join the more mainstream nightlife?

Whilst in recent years Gay Scenes have seen a downturn in footfall, and the closing of bars and Safe Spaces, Leeds really does seem to be bucking the trend, but will it be able to survive the fallout of the Coronavirus lockdown?

Maybe the community need to remember where they came from and invest in their local venues a little bit more.

Bars and Clubs are going to have to be inventive and creative to get people back through the doors, and with seemingly a wider acceptance of the gay community, people have been moving away from the scene. Maybe the community need to remember where they came from and invest in their local venues a little bit more. Retaining our safe spaces is essential for many who rely on it as a haven especially for those of the trans community, who are facing a huge amount of prejudice on a daily basis in their normal lives – we must continue to support them and their journey of self-discovery.

So, when the lockdown ends, and it’s safe to do so – we must take to the dancefloor once again. Show up and show our local business’s our support. Most importantly, hug our friends – we’ve all been in isolation, and I guarantee we’re all a little bit apprehensive but we’re all here for the same thing; to blow all our worries and party like it was 1999!

I will see you back on the dancefloor, living my best life!

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