QueerAF Partnership: A queer revolution is on the rise in rural Wales

09 December 2023 | Inclusive Journalism Cymru

“Paid ag anghofio fod dy galon yn y chwyldro. / Don’t forget that your heart is in the revolution.”

Wales. The land of song, poetry and also – a queer revolution. 

Most people wouldn’t think that this country of sheep and shut down coal mines would be the place for an exciting and dynamic queer cultural scene, but it’s happening. 

During the last few years, the decades of work by our queer elders has come to fruition in the form of a blossoming queer cultural and literary scene. Cultivated by activists, the queer community is more accessible and inclusive than ever before.

I grew up in Gwynedd, a predominantly rural county where the majority of people speak Welsh. 

I was constantly teased for being a “lesbian” at school. The bullies must have had great gaydar. They knew of my queerness even before I did! But I wasn’t alone, I witnessed others being bullied and even attacked for their perceived queerness too. 

“Gay” was the most shameful slur you could call someone. My persistent “concern” that I might be queer really frightened me at that age.

The homophobia in these communities continued many years after school. I heard from a friend that some people choose the “Women” interested in “Women” option on dating apps to see who was “gay” in their village, in order to gossip and vilify. 

Despite this there has been an undeniable shift in recent years. 

In my youth all there was for us rural Welsh queers was one gay bar, in a city over an hour away by bus. We tried to get in with fake IDs, but the place overwhelmingly seemed like it was just for white, able bodied gay men anyway. Exploring queerness felt totally dependent on alcohol and quite inaccessible to me as a young person.

Fast forward to today and, in Gwynedd alone, there are several LGBTQIA+ youth clubs, a queer reading group, and projects at Ty Newydd, a historic building hosting residential writing courses, to support queer writers. 

On the national level, the Urdd, a Welsh language youth organisation (which boasts 55,000 members), has a dedicated youth queer space at their yearly Eisteddfod. Their mascot, Mr Urdd, now a queer ally, proudly wears a He/Him (Fo/Fe) pronoun badge. 

"During the last few years, the decades of work by our queer elders has come to fruition in the form of a blossoming queer cultural and literary scene."

Diffwys Criafol

Writer

The main event of Welsh language culture, the national Eisteddfod where our poets are crowned and throned in the bardic tradition, has developed an LGBTQIA+ initiative “Mas ar y Maes”. There is also a Queer Welsh language mobile bookshop – Paned o Ge

These things have not come without serious backlash however, and a lot more work needs to be done. 

Some Queer youth still feel that they must move to the big cities in order to be themselves. With the Welsh language losing speakers, and these heartlands where Welsh is a community language suffering from its youth leaving for the cities – this is something that has to be urgently addressed. The fate of the language surviving in these rural communities and of queerness is inextricably linked in this respect. 

When the first ever anthology of Queer Welsh language poetry – Curiadau – was published this year, it felt like a corollary to this struggle. A historic moment where the periphery moved towards the center. 

I hope that all of these initiatives make growing up queer or trans in rural Wales is easier. It’s particularly heartening too, how many of them are led by the community, for the community. 

I know for sure that if I had more of this growing up – it would have given me a way to quiet down the internalised homophobia I took on from the bullies at school, and find spaces to be me. Equally, it shows me that the place I love is somewhere I can be myself – so we don’t all have to flee to the apparent safety of the big cities to be queer, which isn’t for everyone anyway.

I recognise there’s still a long way to go, but I’m so glad we can also appreciate what the queer community in Wales have achieved. 

This article is part of a QueerAF and Inclusive Journalism Cymru partnership dedicated to uplifting Welsh LGBTQIA+ emerging and marginalised journalists. 

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