It’s time to unearth the real history of LGBT people in Wales

Lisa Power MBE, Ymddiriedolwraig Pride Cymru
To celebrate LGBT History Month, Lisa Power MBE, Pride Cymru Trustee member, explores the richness of the LGBT community’s heritage in Wales.

“History is for interfering with.”

As an activist for gay/lesbian and gay/LGBT rights since the 1970s (the changes in terminology are a history project in themselves) that's always been my motto. We make our own future history every day, whether we realise it or not.

But I'm also acutely aware of the other saying, that 'those who forget their history are condemned to repeat it', and so I'm very supportive of LGBT History Month, even if it does turn me into a historical artefact for one month a year and reminds me how old I am.

The history of any community is incredibly important to its sense of self – and self-esteem. It's also very useful for people in other countries and newer parts of the movement to learn from the gains and the mistakes of others who went before.

Recently I've been interviewing LGBT activists of all ages for a role model project, Purple Reign. Two interviewees who came out 40 years apart (a lesbian who came out in the 1970s and a trans man who came out in this decade) both said: “We had no role models, we had to make our own”. Discovering and documenting our history is a vital part of growing and claiming our place in society.

The Welshness of LGBT history

The UK's LGBT history has all too often been related as the history of London-based political activism and London-based arts. There have been many players from Wales - such as Leo Abse MP who piloted the Sexual Law Reform Act, writer, historian and trans woman Jan Morris, and Ruth Hunt, who helms Stonewall – but their Welshness is seldom remarked upon or celebrated.

Wales has a long history of LGBT characters and activism, but they have often been reduced to tick-box stereotypes in public discourse. If I hear once more about the Ladies of Llangollen (the two aristocratic ladies who eloped together to Wales in 1778) as the token lesbians in Welsh LGBT history, I may scream. Wales has many more stories, waiting to be uncovered or just to be rediscovered - stories of both triumph and struggle.

[quote]"The history of any community is incredibly important to its sense of self – and self-esteem. It's also very useful for [others] to learn from the gains and the mistakes of others who went before."[/quote]

It wasn't until Pride Cymru, which I'm a trustee of, held an event last year to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the first Pride march in Cardiff that I realised quite how many and how diverse the stories there are all around us just waiting to be told. There are the lives of gay men and lesbians in the Valleys during the miners' strike (it wasn't all Londoners coming down in a van, lovely though they were), the gay men arrested for cottaging in raids in 1940s mid-Wales, the poets and dreamers and lovers right across the country, living as best they could in a society that denied their existence – and in some cases still tries to deny them.

Sharing stories

So I'm delighted that HLF is supporting LGBT History Month and encouraging us all to think of what's to come, such as the 50th anniversary in 2017 of the Sexual Offences Act, which partially decriminalised gay sex – which Welsh people, including MP Leo Abse, played a huge role in getting through Parliament.

Many wider stories have a Welsh connection. Just this month, we decided to host an evening about David Bowie and his influence on gender identity and sexuality (if you’re interested it’s in Cardiff on the 28 February, tickets are £5 and can be booked on the Pride Cymru Ticket Source website). Our preparations uncovered the journalist who tried to teach Bowie Welsh, the Welsh woman who knew him all her life and now sings in the Holy Holy Bowie revue and the Dalek who became his greatest fan and archivist. If you want the rest of that story, come to the HLF-supported event.

But the best thing about LGBT History Month? It's about us, but everyone's welcome. Everyone can take something from our stories, whether it's spiritual comfort, activist energy or just a smile. History: uncover and learn from the past, interfere with the future.

Further information

Read more about how HLF is committed to helping people share their experience of LGBT heritage on our Celebrating LGBT History Month blog.

Share your plans, ideas and questions about celebrating LGBT History Month in our Online Community discussion.

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