A project which honours trailblazing LGBT+ figures from across Wales is continuing to rewrite history and inspire people five years on.

Pride Cymru were awarded £30,300 in August 2016 by The National Lottery Heritage Fund to deliver an inspirational project called Icons and Allies that celebrates inspirational figures from the LGBT+ community throughout Wales.

Pride Cymru asked the community to name those trailblazers who have helped shape Wales’ political and social world, making it a space in which LGBT+ people can be themselves today.

There were only two criteria: they should be historical figures (i.e., no longer fighting for rights), and their story must be linked to Wales.

They could be anyone – famous or not – that influenced perceptions of what it is to be LGBT+, and who inspired others to be who they are, even if that meant being different.

Submissions poured in from across Wales, with names of men and women from as early as the sixth century, with the nation’s patron saint himself making the longlist.

However, most nominations came from the 19th and 20th century: people who were at the forefront of changes to the laws around sexuality in the UK, and at the cusp of these changing and conflicting attitudes – individuals like Welsh lawyer and politician, Leo Abse (1917-2008), noted for promoting private member's bills to decriminalise male homosexual relations and liberalise the divorce laws.

Ealing Times: Pride Cymru’s ‘Icon & Allies’ project was essential in making sure that Welsh LGBTQ history was told correctly.Pride Cymru’s ‘Icon & Allies’ project was essential in making sure that Welsh LGBTQ history was told correctly.

And according to activist Lisa Power; Pride Cymru’s ‘Icon & Allies’ project was essential in making sure that Welsh LGBTQ+ history was told correctly.

Power, 67, is a volunteer at Pride Cymru and has been involved in LGBTQ+ activism since the 1970s and was involved in The National Lottery-funded project, which profiles 20 Welsh people.

She said: “History is important to me because I’m 67 and I’ve been involved in LGBT or, when it started, gay activism since the 1970s and I’ve watched people lose our history and get our history wrong.

“Previous generations of our history had been very hidden. People don’t realise that. If you don’t have role models and people you can see in the past, it’s harder to know your way into the future. It’s not impossible, but it’s harder. When I came out, I didn’t have any role models at all. 

“LGBTQ+ is part of wider history and that’s why the first project we did was Icons & Allies, which was showing people who were LGBT and LGBT supportive from Welsh history.

“It was very interesting as we got some people saying they didn’t know someone was gay, and other people saying they didn’t know someone was Welsh.”

Launched five years ago, the success and impact of Icons & Allies has taken Power by surprise, and she admits that has made people more aware about both LGBTQ+ and Welsh identity. 

Ealing Times: There have been several projects building on Icon & Allies in recent years, including a project highlighting those living with HIV.There have been several projects building on Icon & Allies in recent years, including a project highlighting those living with HIV.

“It was essentially a photographic poster exhibition,” she added. “We conceived it for that year [2017] and we put it together as an exhibition thinking it would be interesting to people for a year or so. In fact, that was several years ago now and it’s still going strong, every year for history month.

“It’s a collection of 20 people who were literally icons and allies and they range from people who I think now are quite well-known like Cranogwen, the lesbian poet, to people who are still not that well known.

“People like Angus McBain, who was a really famous photographer, but people don’t know that he was Welsh. Terrence Higgins, who the Terrence Higgins Trust, the largest HIV charity in the UK, is named after a lad from Pembrokeshire.

“It’s reclaiming that history and reclaiming the Welshness of some people who were icons, but people didn’t know that they were ours. It’s very interesting that it works in both directions in that sense and is tremendously popular.

“We couldn’t have done any of it without National Lottery funds. Pride Cymru has done an awful lot to bring the community together with the big project they have, and they want to do more.”

There have been several projects building on Icon & Allies in recent years, including a project highlighting those living with HIV.

The height of the HIV/AIDS pandemic was recently brought back into the spotlight by critically acclaimed TV Series ‘It’s A Sin’, written by Welsh writer Russell T Davies.

Ealing Times: Pride Cymru have supported countless LGBTQ people in the communityPride Cymru have supported countless LGBTQ people in the community

And the importance of the show is known to Power, who worked on it to make sure it was historically accurate.

She said: “I’m just delighted that it had such a Welsh flavour, but then you would expect that from Russell T. Davies. It was a massive thrill.

“It has been part of history that has been very much buried and I think partly because it was very traumatic at the time and partly because the very early days of AIDS, as it was then, were followed by Section 28.

“That effectively stopped people talking about anything gay in schools or in anything for quite a long time. We lost a lot of that memory, and a lot of people died.

“It was just fascinating to help the people working on it and help them reconstruct that to some extent. Russell did an amazing amount of research with a lot of people. 

“He talked to loads of people who were survivors at that time and really all I did was some date-checking on top of that, helping them find people.”

More than £30 million goes to good causes from The National Lottery across the country every week, making vital projects like these possible. To find out more about how The National Lottery supports good causes throughout the UK, visit www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk

Did you know:

  • Hugh Despenser (1286-1326), Lord of Glamorgan and owner of Cardiff Castle. It was widely accepted that he and Edward II were lovers, and when the king was overthrown Despenser was charged with treason and interfering in the royal marriage. He was hanged, castrated, drawn and quartered.
  • Llangrannog-born Sarah Jane Rees (1839-1916), or Cranogwen to give her bardic name, who rejected an appropriate ‘feminine’ career as a dressmaker and instead joined her father on his local merchant ship before officially training to be a captain. When she returned to her hometown she set up a navigation school, all the while living openly with her partner Jane Thomas.
  • Goronwy Rees (1909-1979), former journalist, MI6 operative and principal of Aberystwyth University.  After joining the Government’s Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution in 1954 he played a key role in producing the Wolfenden Report by successfully arguing that the Committee should take evidence directly from homosexual men. For its time, this was an amazingly forward-thinking move that helped lay the foundations for the 1967 Sexual offences Act, which partially decriminalised male homosexuality for the first time in England and Wales.