Saturday 16 May 2020

A Brief History of the LGBT Community in Wales

A Brief History of the LGBT Community in Wales

A lot of us know either what it’s like to be apart of the LGBT community or know someone who does, yet the history of it is only known in relation to English Law. Something that needs to be looked at is the LGBT people who have never been fully recognised by modern society as being LGBT.

In Wales there have been numerous influential people that came from the LGBT community who haven’t been fully recognised including people such as Peggy Evans, also known as Margaret uch Evans of Penllyn who lived the 1770s. Most of the information known about her was recorded by Thomas Pennant, a writer at the time who was doing a tour of Wales. While he never met Peggy, he described her in his work solely from the descriptions given to him by other people. The descriptions used in his book are “Near the end of the lake lives a celebrated personage… This is Margaret uch Evans of Penllyn, the last specimen of strength and the spirit of the ancient British fair.”

She was said to be an “extraordinary female” who “was the greatest hunter, shooter, and fisher, of her time”. At the age of 70, she was apparently the best wrestler in the country, as well as a blacksmith, shoe-maker, boat-builder and maker of harps. Aged around 90, Peggy also kept a dozen dogs. When she was alive, she lived near Capel Cerig on the edge of Llanberis Lake.

There are rumours surviving to this day which suggest that Edward II, also known as Edward of Caernarfon, was a homosexual and that he had a relationship with his court favourite Piers Gaveston. Upon the murder of Gaveston by aristocracy who wanted him out of the kings life, Edward is said to have begun a relationship that destroyed his life, with a man called Hugh Despenser. Despenser was surrounded by controversy as he was involved in executing someone in Cardiff, seizing lands, and wielding absolute power. He was a man who guarded access to the king and unpopular amongst the many. When Edward chose Hugh over his wife Isabella of France, when she wouldn’t return from France, it led to his then inevitable downfall.

His downfall was an attempted coup that would have put his son Edward III on the throne with his mother as regent. However, the pair fled to Caerphilly castle and then Neath Abbey when they failed to raise a welsh army as the welsh also hated Hugh. They were eventually captured near Tonyrefail on November 16th, 1326 and Hugh was later tried and found guilty of crimes including the prevention of a relationship between the King and Queen. Edward was declared dead in 1327 with controversy surrounding the how.

One of the first recorded cases of gender dysphoria is Henry, the Dancing Marquess of Anglesey. He is believed to have, using terms from the time, a man meant to be born a woman because of his love of jewels and acting. In Henry’s version of Aladdin, it is said he wore an outfit that cost £10,000 where he performed a “butterfly dance” gaining him the nickname The Dancing Marquess. A writer in the New Zealand paper Otago Witness wrote: “I am driven to the conclusion from much that I have seen that there are men who ought to have been born women, and women who ought to have been born men.”

This is why he is important in history as a figure of gender identity. Not much is known about Henry’s sexual orientation, apart from the opinions on others about despite the fact that he had married his cousin Lillian Florence Maud Chetwynd, as they annulled the marriage not long after. Iwan Block wrote in his 1964 book, The Sexual Extremities of the World, that “the Marquis of Anglesey... also seems to have had homosexual tendencies, or at least to have been effeminate to a high degree”.

Gwen John is one of Wales’ most famous artists, supposedly most well known for her relationship with French sculptor Auguste Rodin. It is believed that she realised her sexual orientation was bisexual during her time at the Slade School of Fine Art in London, an art school which admitted women as well as men. Her brother Augustus also attended the school at the same time and named one of the women as Elinor. She later had an affair with Auguste Rodin, which lasted around 14 years.

Dr John Randall, who did a brief stint at Cefn-Coed psychiatric hospital in Swansea and Sully Hospital in the Vale of Glamorgan, was the first to revolutionise the how doctors decided who would receive gender reassignment surgery in the UK the 1960s. He said that all patients wanting to undergo the surgery had to be observed by him for at least a year and have lived as their new gender for 6 months to a year. Patients also had to be free from any mental disorders, reasonably intelligent, single, and able to pass in public in the gender they chose.

Anyone who didn’t accept the rules would be declared a transvestite and not suitable for surgery. Despite becoming the go-to doctor for gender reassignment surgery in the UK, he believed that you could not be assigned the wrong gender at birth and viewed transgender people as homosexuals. His views on homosexuals were more out of the norm then most people’s views at the time because instead of believing they should be locked up he believed they should be offered psychiatric help.

In 1982 he died of a heart attack suddenly aged 63. Despite his flaws and thoughts on transsexual people, he was a pioneer in an era where LGBT people were vilified, helping many transgender people with his clinic in London.

These are just five of the forty or so LGBT people/pioneers in LGBT fields who have a connection to Wales that have either been nearly left to the passage of time to be forgotten or had the connection almost buried in order to preserve the image that English law wanted to present. The fact that Pride Cymru was only officially set up in 1999 shows how little Wales is thought about in the making of UK laws in Parliament as the first Pride held in the UK was in London on 1 July 1972, 25 years previously. Now, more and more people are attending the Pride parades in Cardiff each year since they were started in 1999.

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