LGBT+ Figures & Activists throughout Welsh History

Wales has a rich history and culture, including a wealth of LGBT+ history. From writers to royalty, there have been numerous LGBT+ figures and activists in Wales dating as far back as the 14th century.

King Edward II

In 1301, Edward of Caernarfon became the first English monarch to hold the title of Prince of Wales at the ripe age of 16. He is most famously known for the fact that he is believed to have been gay. There have been many depictions of King Edward, the earliest being Christopher Marlowe’s play Edward II in 1593, and the 1995 blockbuster, Braveheart. King Edward began a relationship with Hugh Despenser, and ultimately chose it over his wife Isabella and his country; his downfall followed shortly after.

Ladies of Llangollen

Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby were two Irish women, born into wealthy, aristocratic families. They met in 1768 and became close friends. As the time came for them to fulfil the societal expectations placed upon them and get married, Eleanor and Sarah ran away together to Milford Haven, and then further north to the Vale of Llangollen. They were accepted by the locals, who simply called them ‘The Ladies’. They bought a house, and named it Plas Newydd. They spent their time studying literature, learning languages, and collecting wood carvings. The two women eventually became notorious, and their story gripped the imagination of the public. Famous poets such as Lord Byron, William Wordsworth and Percy Shelley also visited ‘The Ladies of Llangollen’. Visitors would bring them wood carvings to add to their ever growing collection. The house at Llangollen is now a museum,and is one of the town’s most popular attractions.

The Dancing Marquess

In his short life of 29 years, Henry Cyril Paget, 5th Marquess of Anglesey, was dubbed the black sheep of his family for his eccentric personality, extreme love of performance and costume. Henry was born in 1875 – at this time, in order to be accepted by peers, he was expected to dress conservatively; find a woman to marry; start a family and live a respectable life. Following the death of his father, Henry inherited the estate, providing an annual income worth the equivalent of £11 million today. Although his sexuality was never confirmed, Henry’s lavish lifestyle, including his taste for cross-dressing and the breakdown of his marriage, have led many to believe he was gay. A journalist in 1970 characterised him as “the most notorious aristocratic homosexual at this period”, whilst others have argued that he was just a classic narcissist. Either way, Henry fought the rigid confines of social expectations at the time and challenged Victorian perceptions of gender, without realising or knowing that he was paving the way for many others to do the same.

Griffith Vaughan Williams

Griffith was born in Bangor on the 9th of November 1940, but was better known as Griff. Griff had been a journalist and a gay activist since 1964. He spent his life working at a multitude of magazines and newspapers around the country. Griff was also the secretary of the Committee for Homosexual Equality (CHE), up until his death in 2010. Not only did his work on the frontline for the LGBT+ equality movement improve the lives of thousands of people across the country, but he also broadened the CHE to include other marginalised groups.

Jeremy Miles

Elected in May 2016, Jeremy Miles is the one of the first openly gay Assembly Members in the Welsh Assembly. Jeremy was born and brought up in Pontarddulais, near Swansea. He has been a vocal activist for LGBT+ rights in Wales, and in recent years, he’s been working to make schools safer and fighting the rising level of hate crime in Welsh communities. In a post written for Pride last August, Jeremy said: “Through our strength and unity and our diversity, we will reach ever closer to full equality for everyone”.

Gareth Thomas

Gareth Thomas is the second highest try scorer for Wales, and one of the most well-known activists for LGBT+ and sport in the world today. Thomas came out in 2009, and was subsequently voted as the most influential gay person in the UK in the Independent on Sunday’s ‘Pink List’, and also received Stonewall’s ‘Hero of the Year’ award. Thomas has been a major part of the movement to make sports more inclusive for LGBT+ people, making it easier for sports players to come out.

Keep an eye out for all the great events taking place across the university in February for LGBT+ history month!

by Zoya Chishti


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