Voices of the Future: Post lockdown, members of the LGBT+ community in Leeds can be themselves again

Voices of the Future columnist Josh on why the end of lockdown restrictions will allow LGBT+ youth to embrace their identity.

Friday, 2nd April 2021, 11:45 am
Leeds has been welcoming to the LGBT+ community in Leeds. Picture: James Hardisty.

Whilst lockdown has taken its toll on everyone in society for LGBT+ young people in particular the end cannot come any sooner.

When the first national lockdown in England was announced last year, LGBT+ people were already more likely to experience social isolation, suffer from mental ill-health and were at an increased risk of homelessness.

Since then, these inequalities have only been exacerbated by lockdown.

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For many young people, with universities closed and limited employment opportunities available, the first lockdown meant having to move back home and live with families who either do not know their sexual orientation or gender identity or are not fully supportive of it. 

This isolated them from the support of LGBT+ peers and allies, and left some with no option but to go back into the closet.

University for many is a safe space but being at home meant having to keep more secrets, lie more and even be careful of their mannerisms, including the way they talk.

It came as no surprise, therefore, when researchers at University College London and Sussex University reported that lockdown had created a mental health crisis for young people in the LGBT+ community, with the study finding that 69per cent of those surveyed suffered depressive symptoms during lockdown.

This crisis was also seen in the rise of calls to the LGBT+ helpline Switchboard.

The charity reported receiving over a third more calls during lockdown, with more young people using instant messaging or email to avoid being overheard on the phone.

In the later lockdowns, fewer LGBT+ people moved back home but, even then, many found the restrictions on socialising unbearable.

With household mixing banned in Leeds since September, many young people, especially the first-year university students who are randomly allocated housemates, have struggled to make meaningful connections with others in the community.

So many LGBT+ people choose to study and work in Leeds exactly because of the opportunity it presents to live in a city with a visible LGBT+ community.

The Viaduct Showbar on Lower Briggate, for instance, is bold, bright and unashamedly queer.

Over the years, it has welcomed some of the UK’s biggest drag artists and, at the start of term, it is always taken over by LGBT+ freshers.

Flamingos Coffee House Leeds, a late-night LGBT+ friendly Coffee House, is another business closed by lockdown, which usually provides a rare safe space for LGBT+ people in the city.

Over the past year, many LGBT+ young people have felt like time has been frozen in place, but, as the country starts to exit lockdown, the hope is that they can finally be themselves again and stop hiding.