Expression Leeds: Fostering LGBTQ+ Creativity, Confidence, and Community
Expression began as a student-led fashion show in Durham, offering an avenue for the LGBTQ+ community to express themselves creatively. Lulu, the company director, saw an opportunity to expand this initiative after noticing the lack of creative spaces for the LGBTQ+ community in the north of England. Choosing Leeds as a new base, the team aims to continue providing a platform for young queer creatives, both students and locals. Together with Sophie, the Expression Leeds President, they explained to me their goals for this project.
Expression Leeds not only focuses on fashion but aims to foster a sense of belonging and confidence within the LGBTQ+ community. Lulu emphasised the importance of inclusivity, mentioning instances where individuals found the courage to embrace different identities after being a part of the show. Lulu and Sophie’s stories exemplify the transformative impact Expression had in Durham and hopes to have in Leeds. Lulu’s partner, initially identifying as a straight man, found a safe space with expression, and as Lulu said, “I think when she saw just the liberation of expression, I think that really solidified [she] doesn’t have to kind of be miserable or settle for the identity that [she’s] in.” In the future, Lulu aims to open up a trans fund and a designer fund to support individuals with their transitions and creative futures.
Their outreach spans diverse avenues. From collaborating with universities to organising fundraisers and social events, Expression Leeds aims to celebrate LGBTQ+ culture through various mediums. Sophie shares that they are planning gigs, movie nights, and pub outings to give everyone a chance to meet more people from the community.
Our discussion brought to the forefront the realities of straight intrusion into queer spaces, with both Sophie and Lulu sharing their experiences. Unfortunately, these types of incidents are not isolated and they contribute to a sense of unease within the queer community. Sophie and Lulu emphasised the importance of creating and maintaining safe havens where LGBTQ+ individuals can freely express themselves without fear of discrimination or harassment and they hope Expression can become that for Leeds.
Lulu chose Leeds because of its rich LGBTQ+ history. Among Leeds’ LGBTQ landmarks is the New Penny pub, which has been a safe venue for the community since 1953. Leeds’s Freedom Quarter originated in the 1930s when Blayd’s Yard’s Pelican Social Club gained notoriety for welcoming gay and transgender individuals. Despite local opposition, the University of Leeds society branch of the national Gay Liberation Front distributed pamphlets and staged protests in support of same-sex rights during the 1970s.
According to welcometoleeds.co.uk, “Leeds has championed LGBTQ+ rights with many UK firsts, including:
- The University of Leeds hosted what was said to be the country’s “first national conference for transvestite and transsexual people” with 102 attendees in 1974.
- The Yorkshire Terriers Football Club was established in Leeds in 1997, the first gay-friendly team to be created in the UK.
- The UK’s very first civil partnership was held on 21st December 2005 between local entrepreneur Terry George and Michael Rothwell, after a special licence was granted to Bar Fibre on Lower Briggate.
- The first ever Trans-Pride celebration in the north of England was held in Leeds in March 2018, including talks, discussions, a march, and a day of film screenings.”
Expression’s future plans are to expand its reach and impact, bringing together diverse individuals and providing a supportive space for self-expression and growth. As they continue their journey, the team aims to hold a spectacular LGBTQ+ fashion show in Leeds in June 2024, showcasing not only fashion but also the resilience, creativity, and diversity of the LGBTQ+ community.
The team’s current focus lies in recruiting individuals for various roles, from designers and models to welfare officers and production directors. Their goal is not only to put together a successful fashion show but to create a welcoming environment where everyone, regardless of academic affiliation, feels included. If you’re interested in participating, contact Expression Leeds through their instagram @leeds_expression or their website expressionentertainment.co.uk