Joyful Photos of Queer Life in 1990s Northern England

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Out & About with Linden: A Queer Archive of the North
Manchester ParadisePhotography by Stuart Linden Rhodes. Courtesy of the artist

“Most of my work was about capturing the gay community having a fabulous time”: speaking to Miss Rosen, Stuart Linden Rhodes remembers the parties, people and spirit of the North’s LGBTQ club circuit

In the 1990s, Stuart Linden Rhodes was living a double life. By day, he was a teacher in Leeds; by night he photographed the LGBTQ bar, pub, and club scene across northern England for Gay Times and All Points North magazines. For decades, Rhodes’ luminous archive of queer life was tucked away in his attic on a cupboard shelf, only to be rediscovered in spring 2020 during lockdown. “I was just so bored,” Rhodes tells AnOther. “I wasn’t allowed out of the house. I couldn’t go anywhere or do anything. I was sick of watching the telly and reading books. I needed to do something different.”

For the better part of the past year, Rhodes scanned thousands of 35mm film negatives of pictures he made long ago, capturing the vibrant, inclusive spirit of the times in Blackpool, Birmingham, Derby, Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, and York.

Once completed, Rhodes decided to share them and created the Out & About with Linden Instagram account. “I thought a few people might like it,” he recalls – and soon enough he had thousands of followers. Soon, the comments started flowing in, Rhodes’ photographs jostling long-buried memories of the past. “We’re all reflecting, looking back at where we came from, and I think this archive allows people to do that,” says Rhodes. “Some people will say, ‘What was I thinking? What was I wearing? Look at my hair! How did I go out like this?’ Then you get the sad ones, writing, ‘Thank you for sharing a photo of this loved one who passed away.’ It’s touched people in ways I never really thought about.”

Invariably, the generation raised on film and photo albums recognised the need for something more; a physical keepsake in book form. After speaking with a couple of publishers, Rhodes realised the only way to do this right was to do it himself – and so he has just launched the Kickstarter for Out & About with Linden: A Queer Archive of the North

Rhodes brings together glorious scenes from a fascinating chapter in LGBTQ history, when everyone came together in celebration of the community. Organised by city, Rhodes weaves together contributions from performers including Boy George, Mel B and Angie Brown, who share their memories of queer life in a northern town. “The 1990s was when the northern gay scene came out of the closet,” Rhodes says. “The UK might be a small island, but there’s very much a North/South divide. The gay capital of Britain has always been London and the North was a good 10, 15 years behind with small, local bars with maybe 100 people in them. Around 1989 that started to change.”

As the Aids epidemic raged on, the Conservative politicians legalised section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988, which prohibited local authorities, councils, and schools from “promoting” and funding LGBTQ initiatives, further marginalising vulnerable populations. It would be a more than a decade before section 28 was repealed, first in Scotland in 2000, and then the rest of the UK in 2003. 

In response, the community fought back, using marches, concerts, and media to speak out, making themselves vocal and visible as never before. Rhodes remembers, “The Pink Pound started pumping money into sponsoring Pride events an Mardi Gras, building bigger and brighter pubs, and bringing in designers. In the past, they were quite small, dark, and hidden away – but in the 90s, they were out on the streets. The clubs could now hold thousand people.”

Suddenly, the northern LGBTQ scene was a veritable wonderland with Pride events and parties as far as the eye could see. After finishing his 9-to-5, Rhodes hopped in his car two or three nights a week, and drove 100 miles to cities like Birmingham and Newcastle for a night on the town, before getting home at four in the morning, only to be back in the classroom at 9am. “That’s fine in your 30s but I certainly wouldn’t be doing it now,” Rhodes says. “We had the energy to be foolish and it was great.” 

Indeed, as Rhodes photographs reveal, there is nothing quite so affirming as the freedom of youth and the determination to create your own world. Liberation isn’t just protest – it is the celebration of life, of being true to yourself and making space for others to do the same. 

“There were times I covered political events but most of my work was about capturing the gay community having a fabulous time,” says Rhodes. “It was all about going out and having a blast every weekend. People were on the dance floor living their best life and I would get in the right place to snap the picture. I would tell them it was for a magazine and ask if that was all right – and every time, without fail the answer was always, ‘yes!’”

Out & About with Linden: A Queer Archive of the North is on Kickstarter through December 19, 2021.