New Briggate artworks call for a brighter, safer and queerer future

This LGBT+ History Month, performance artist, writer and radical creator Harry Clayton-Wright shares a manifesto for a brighter, safer and queerer future.

Emblazoned with statements including ‘Divine right to be happy and respected’ and ‘Disco balls in every toilet’, the artworks are pasted on New Briggate’s now-closed public toilets – once known as the cottaging spot ‘Brill’s Cottage’ – and on display in North Bar. Limited edition risograph prints of the Queer Manifesto are also available as free take away art from North Bar, Ultimate Skin tattoo shop, and Relics Records.

The Queer Manifesto was created by Harry as part of our Hidden Histories of New Briggate project. The project – supported by Leeds City Council and Historic England as part of the New Briggate High Street Heritage Action Zone regeneration programme – is all about bringing people together, through art, to explore the culture and heritage of the historic high street, New Briggate.

Throughout his research, Harry identified a rich history of queer lives lived on New Briggate, including elements of the gay experience from the 1950s to ‘80s such as police violence, persecution and secrecy, some of which are still prevalent over half a century later. Harry and our team worked with four LGBTQ+ groups – Gendered Intelligence, Leeds LGBT+ Forum, Sage Men’s Group, and Angels of Freedom – to envisage a future that is brighter, safer and queerer.

Harry Clayton-Wright said I wanted to acknowledge that Hidden Histories aren’t just about people and stories from the past. There are a vast amount of queer people deliberately hiding themselves or living privately for their safety in the present day. The manifesto talks to these serious threats and inequalities that LGBTQ+ people still experience, whilst also leaning into the playful, tongue-in-cheek humour at the heart of the community.”

Alice Boulton-Breeze, programme producer at East Street Arts, said: “In heritage and regeneration projects like this, it’s vital that there’s a focus on inclusive futures. New Briggate brings together a unique mix of people – we wanted to celebrate and leave a lasting imprint of these identities on the high street, and include the community voice in what happens here in the future.

Councillor Hannah Bithell, Leeds City Council’s LGBT+ champion, said: “I am delighted that the council has supported this work. Our LGBT+ community has always shown joy and humour in the face of adversity – it is one of our strengths, and this work continues that long-held tradition. Life is hard for many of us and we have to fight for equality on a range of fronts, and this important message is held beautifully in the personality of this work.”

Also as part of Hidden Histories of New Briggate, Harry will join photographer and queer archivist Stuart Linden Rhodes in March for an in-conversation podcast, which will explore the themes of queer history, queer safety, and the future of the city centre for LGBTQ+ people. They will also explore what photography archives mean to marginalised groups, and why they’re important for heritage projects.

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