In recent decades, the fight for sexual equality has been gradually making significant progress, thanks to people standing up and demanding change. Whilst many battles have been won, much more can be done. Rob Wilson explains how Leeds has been at the forefront of celebrating the LGBT+ community and the challenges that still remain, whilst Luke Christian documents a night out round the Freedom Quarter.

As you’re walking along the bottom end of Briggate, you can’t fail to notice the recently painted ‘Freedom Bridge’ as a beacon highlighting the LGBT+ bar scene area, now known as the Freedom Quarter. The painting of the bridge was the brainchild of the Leeds City Centre manager, following consideration a few years ago for the area to be framed under a ‘Gay Leeds’ branding.

Whilst the bridge painting took a few years to complete, other work on LGBT+ inclusion really took hold on the city. In February, LGBT+ History Month took place, which provided an opportunity to reflect on the past achievements within the communities, take stock of how attitudes are altering in the present time, and to continue the work on changing hearts and minds to create truly inclusive cultures in the future.

Leeds has seen a flourishing level of LGBT+ community engagement over recent years, with the council facilitated Community Hub providing a constructive platform for people to have a voice and influence over services. The group now has nearly 400 people engaged, and has already seen a significant number of achievements such as the launch of their LGBT+ Business Alliance project and the successful support of increased opportunities to participate in inclusive sport and healthy lifestyles groups.

It does need to be acknowledged that there remains some challenges from people failing to see the cohesion between championing inclusion and supporting LGBT+ led activities. We want equality but why do we want our own spaces? Why does it have to be labelled as ‘LGBT+’?

In an ideal world, there wouldn’t be a need for specific LGBT+ bars, social space or support groups, but guess what? We unfortunately don’t live in that world! Our cultures still operate on an assumption that everyone is ‘straight’. Whilst some people struggle to comprehend and respect that there is more than the binary ‘male and female’, then there will remain casual homophobia, biphobia & transphobia (yes, there’s more than just gay men and lesbians too!). Whilst there is any bullying, hate crime, or lack of acceptance, there will always be a need for specific havens for LGBT+ people.

The difference here is that these havens are inclusive for all people; they’re not promoting segregation, but rather a place that removes the assumption on a person’s sexuality or gender identity, where attendees are comfortable to be who they are without fear of judgement or having to constantly ‘out’ themselves. These are very much worst case scenarios, but they are still a real life experience for many.

The good news is all of the positive inclusive attitudes in Leeds, which are evident daily and highlighted through community celebrations such as Leeds Pride and The Leeds Owlies, community fundraising events such as Queen Bee Leeds, and many other awareness dates throughout the year. Last year the city hosted the national Bisexual Conference, held street stalls for Bi Visibility Day and the International Day Against Homophobia Biphobia and Transphobia, and supported the local Trans community groups on events for Trans Day of Remembrance & Trans Day of Visibility.

Now here we are in early 2018 with another wide range of opportunities to celebrate the positives about LGBT+ life in Leeds.