Wales LGBT+ History Month Roundup

Norena Shopland

When Sue Sanders asked me to do a roundup of events that had happened in Wales for LGBT+ History Month, I thought yeah, that’s straightforward. As a historian of Welsh sexual orientation and gender identity history I do try and keep abreast of events, attend many, and speak at a lot. However, having said that, doing this review I was surprise to see some really interesting events that had completely passed me by.

I used Twitter as a base line to check what people had done because that seems to be where most post but I am aware some use other platforms so apologies if anyone got missed out. What is included though, shows how diverse and dedicated those in Wales are to celebrating history month.

There are numerous social/support groups of all sizes, who put their events together on a shoestring budget and lots of willing volunteers and many, such as Gay Ammanford; Llanelli LGBTQ+ Support Group; Queer Writers Cardiff and others, ran local events such as coffee mornings, films and social meets,.

Glitter Cymru – a BAME LGBT+ social group highlighted profiles of queer BAME women weekly on their social media, culminating in an event featuring a panel discussion on those women. They also invited author and filmmaker Aude Konan to deliver a queer writing workshop. Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales is keen to expand their LGBT+ collections and so Glitter Cymru donated a banner, used at various Pride events, including the first BAME Pride in Wales (Cardiff in 2019) and worked with the museum to record experiences of BAME LGBTQ+ people living in Wales.

The Carmarthenshire LGBTQ+ Project launched with a £9,300 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to record and celebrate Llanelli LGBTQ+ heritage. They also organised a campaign to change the law in Wales around blood donation – challenging the ruling that only gay men are subject to a deferral period from sex for three months before they can donate blood. The e-Petition: Freedom to Donate Blood is available on the Welsh Government site. 

PembsPlus a relatively new group working towards LGBTQ+ inclusion across Pembrokeshire, ran social events and set up the first meeting of Pembrokeshire Queer Choir. They held brunches, did some filming, promotion around LGBT+ adoptions, and filling in forms as to what the meaning of history month to members.

Project Unity in Aberdare had a very successful year, they worked closely with Merthyr Tydfil Council in their effort to promote equality and unity by raising flags of inclusivity. For the first time the Non-Binary and Bisexual flag flew alongside the Rainbow and Transgender flag above Merthyr council showing the progress that is being made in the area. A day of events at Cynon Valley Museum was very well attended with a variety of performances, and stalls from a wide diversity of charities and businesses who took over the museum, to the delight of the many people who attended. This month’s theme of Poetry, Prose & Plays was represented by a poetry competition and a talk from myself.

Many events included general film showings, including the continually popular Pride, as well as the Iris Prize free short films made by community groups and others which have become a stable in Welsh LGBT+ events. They can be accessed on the Iris YouTube channel. Their own events Iris on the Move visitedCardiff, Mold, Swansea and other locations outside Wales. This tour included workshops addressing issues of diversity using film and the director of Iris, Berwyn Rowlands, was nominated in the British LGBT Awards.

In Wales there is a close community of LGBT+ groups and organisations and February is great for catching up with everyone and hearing what they’ve been up to. Many, including Deaf LGBTQIA+ Wales/Cymru Pride, Umbrella Cymru, and others take advantage of free stalls being offered by those hosting larger events. Some groups, made up of handfuls of volunteers and limited cash, have to limit their events to other celebratory periods such as Prides and so welcome these opportunities to get involved in history month. For example, BiCymru, runs extensive programs during BiFest and Bi Visibility Day so tend not to run their own events during history month but attend those hosted by others.

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The University of South Wales always puts on a good show and include numerous events throughout the month. Organised by the indomitable Associate Chaplain, Ray Vincent, and the LGBT + Staff of USW they offered us quiz nights; LGBT+ books that had influenced lives; how to be a trans ally; chatty breakfasts and lunches; open mic night; cake and flag decorating; showed the film Carol; a history talk; sold rainbow hoodies and had a closing party. Amidst all this was Football with Pride that included Cardiff dragons, Wales’ first LGBTI+ football team, and Team Stonewall Cymru. Enactus USW also launched Bridge Bont, a project to tackle social isolation for LGBTQ+ people in the valleys.

Cardiff University’s Enfys, the Staff LGBT+ network, hosted a talk by Daryl Leeworthy on the gay history of Cardiff and the Cardiff University History Society hosted one by myself on Welsh poetry, plays and prose.

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Youth groups are always busy at this time of year. Viva LGBTQ+ supporting LGBT+ young people across north Wales, held a history event, showed Iris Prize films and held workshops; Newport Youth Council attended events including that hosted by Newport City Council’s History in Full Colour at Newport’s Riverfront Theatre; Youth Cymru both attended and ran staff training programs by Rachel Benson as well working with their project TransForm Cymru and Mess up the Mess; Impact LGBT+  ran a queer cabaret and quiz; and Sarah Younan, Youth Engagement at Amgueddfa Cymru, launched *MXWales* with the Andrew Logan Museum, Swansea’s Waterfront Museum and YMCA Swansea on alternative art. The young offender’s prison section at HMP Parc, invited Captain Richie Cann, an openly gay soldier, to talk about his career in the army, and myself to talk about Welsh LGBT+ playwriters, poets and writers. Urdd Ynys Mônd worked with an LGBT+ club at Ysgol Uwchradd Bodedern (Bodedern High School) to produce a banner

Some parents went off in their own direction, particularly Fflag South Wales, a group of parents that support other parents and family members of LGBT+ children, joined other Fflag events.

The police not only policed events but attended many, often with a rainbow painted car and most flew rainbow flags at their stations. The staff networks overseen by LGBT Police Wales include Gwent Police LGBT; HGC/NWP Enfys (North Wales Police), South Wales Police LGBT+ Network; and Dyfed-Powys LGBT+ and a number of staff members attended the LGBT+ Adviser Seminar 2020 to share what liaison offers were doing.

Some not so pleasant things happened. The Gathering, a safe Christian space for the LGBT+ community in Cardiff started the month badly with a ‘horrific abuse’ on someone making their way to the meeting. Members rushed to their aid and the incident was reported to the police. However, they were quickly back on track celebrating the marriage of Samuel, one of their pastoral leaders, and Daniel. Members of The Gathering attended events to speak about what the Bible has to say about being LGBTQ+; and one member, Toby, embraced the theme of poetry and wrote a poem which was published on their Twitter page. The group were also featured on BBC Wales.

In Llangollen there was a service by St Collen’s church celebrating diversity and a blessing of the tomb of the Ladies of Llangollen – the Ladies’ house and tomb attracts many LGBT+ visitors every year.

Proud Forum Wales kept readers abreast of things LGBT+ happening in Wales; Queer Stories Wales runs a blog of Welsh LGBT+ history and Mrs SVJ – Barry’s Boldest Blogger adds commentary on many issues re sexual orientation and gender diversity. Abergavenny Pride took advantage of history month to promote their event on 4 July (like many other events, this is currently under review due to COVID-19). At the Pierhead building a panel of LGBT+ activists, organised by Bleddyn Harris, spoke on the journey to equality and included Catherine Burton Lisa Power Alexander Leon. Behind the Pierhead, the Senedd, the Welsh Parliament was lit up in rainbow colours and AM Vikki Howells marked the month in a 90 second statement. Cardiff Lions RFC  were included in Portraits of Pride photos of rugby players; and TransAging Project at Swansea University launched their YouTube video Never Too Late To Come Out as Transgender: Heartfelt stories; Stonewall Cymru hosted their Workplace Conference and gave out well-deserved awards for those who have made a difference in the workplace. The Welsh Museums Federation worked with People’s Collection Wales to feature LGBT+ collections from the Museum of Cardiff and Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales and Andrew Logan Museum.

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Storm Clara caused upsets throughout the country and the numerous rainbow flags flying on council buildings, castles, prisons, police stations, museums and elsewhere, were flown at quarter-mast. The extensive rain and floods saw visitor numbers down on average but most organisers battled on regardless. None more so than the unstoppable Ceri Harris and her team from Velindre NHS Trust who organised the Love is Love poetry competition to celebrate the NHS – rather poignant give the current crisis. The response was very good with many good poems being sent in but sadly, attendance at the evening of awards was thwarted by the horrendous rain and flooding. All poems will be published in a forthcoming book.

Wales tends to go it alone with regard to history month themes each year, and only a handful followed the Poetry, Plays and Prose theme. Mike Parker produced a short video on his book On the Red Hill about two gay men living in Wales.

Aberration Cymru (@AberrationCymru) | Twitter

One of the most popular events in any year is that by Aberration Cymru who always have sell-out shows. This year, Forgotten Stars was, as always packed out despite the awful weather. Their first Queer History Walk of Aberystwyth was sold out; Yasmin Begum ran a zine-making workshop; Alison Child, author of Tell Me I’m Forgiven, and Rosie Wakley did a reading and singing performance. Yasmin returned for the evening show talking about the unique research into the 1919 race riots of South Wales, and shining a light on gay people of colour. Living Histories Cymru by Jane Hoy and Helen Sandler specialising in bringing to light LGBT+ people from Wales to life in colourful stories, for this event featuring Marged ferch Ifan. Later in the month they took their play on Amy Dillwyn to the Pride Cymru event at the Senedd.

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Swansea can always be relied on to produce a large range of activities and this year was no different. Movie nights, talks, social events and a Poetry, Plays and Prose event in memory of Lyra Mckee. Swansea Pride produced a useful guide to everything going on which included: YMCA Swansea and youth art; the Waterfront Museum was lit up in rainbow lights; LGBT history Swansea, Swansea Council LGBT+ staff network were all involved in an event at the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery; Swansea University LGBT+ Society also had an array of events on campus that included painting hearts, Iris films, suicide prevention, talks, social events and others; and Swansea Central Library staff put together a display of local history.

As the month came to a close Pride Cymru‘s event, Leap Into Sight, organised by the tour de force that is Lisa Power, and her team, took place at the Senedd and included a raft of interesting speakers. There are too many to list here but their Twitter page features all those who took part and the talks will eventually be on their YouTube channel. Their Icons and Allies pop-up exhibition on Welsh LGBT+ people appeared in St David’s shopping centre which certainly highlighted history month for members of the public.

There are always a few events which bleed over into March, this year the most notable was Amgueddfa Genedlaethol Caerdydd – National Museum Cardiff who hosted their first Queer Tour in association with Dan Vo and Pride Cymru – and covered by the BBC. Originally booked-out, numbers fell due to the bad weather and the threat of coronavirus but there are more tours planned once things return to normal – whatever normal will be. 

As for me I ran up and down the country doing a talk on Welsh poets, playwrights and authors and promoting my new book The Veronal Mystery, an important real-life case from 1913 showing how the legal system suppressed homosexual evidence – raising the question, as a result of this suppression, did a Swansea man get away with murder? I was also invited to be the keynote speaker at the Pride Cymru event to speak on Lady Rhondda who was there in spirit in the shape of a life-size Lego statue. One of the issues I wanted to raise was that LGBT+ people still lack permanent representation in most British museums and none in Wales. While events are included in heritage organisations, they are restricted to celebratory days and months but when the exhibition banners come down and the tours are over – where are we to be found? We still, it seems, have a lot of work to d