LGBTQ+ History Month: Three Welsh authors you should know about
Emily Grist, Masters by Research English student at the University of South Wales
For decades, the LGBTQ+ community in the UK has been demonised for living and loving outside the gender norm. Yet the British post-war period saw campaign after campaign by the community to change the political and cultural landscape; the Wolfenden Report (1950), The Sexual Offences Act (1960) and London’s first gay Pride Parade (1970).
But the 1980s brought the fear of AIDS and weaponised homophobia.
After the death of Terrence Higgins, the first person known to die of an AIDS-related illness, the AIDS campaign began to take hold in the UK. The Thatcher Government launched their 1987 ‘AIDS: Don’t Die of Ignorance’ campaign which served to escalate social anxiety surrounding the epidemic, while the late Princess Diana visited London Middlesex Hospital to open the first unit dedicated to treating people with AIDS.
Prior to this in 1984, the LGBTQ+ community were in the process of supporting a fellow government scapegoat – the striking South Wales Miners. The Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) campaign helped unite two communities at odds with a hostile government and bring around fundamental change. Their unification during a time of great political and social unrest sparked the beginnings of a recuperation and acceptance of the gay community in Wales.
Amid huge efforts to ensure LGBTQ+ safety and inclusion, including the Well-being and Future Generations (Wales) Act of 2015, it’s hard to imagine living through such prejudice. However, there are three contemporary Welsh authors that have dedicated their lives to writing, researching and campaigning for the gay community in Wales.
Jeffrey Weeks grew up in the Rhondda Valleys of South Wales. Born in 1945, he remained there until going to University in London in the autumn of 1964. From the early 1970s Weeks played an active role in the new gay liberation movement, campaigning with the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) and writing in the collective journal Gay Left. He is among the most prominent researchers, authors and historians, with his long career has seeing him gain both national and worldwide recognition for his contributions to debates surrounding sexuality.
Arguably his most influential works, Coming Out: Homosexual Politics in Britain from the Nineteenth Century to the Present is a concise history of LGBTQ+ movements and sexual identities, tackling issues such as self-definitions, reformation and community movements to make lasting political change. His writing documents grass-roots movements that have led to major cultural and political changes, while his personal contributions to the LGBTQ+ community have left a lasting legacy that continues to shape both the social and political landscape.
John Sam Jones
Born in Barmouth on the northwest coast of Wales in 1956, John Sam Jones published his first collection of short stories, aptly titled Welsh Boys Too (2000). Having been hospitalised and subject to electro-shock conversion therapy in the 1970s while studying in Aberystwyth, Jones has spent his life writing novels and short stories that voice the gay experience. Jones’ work seeks to uncover the turbulent journey to acceptance, love and community that many men face while coming to terms with their homosexuality.
Never to underestimate the importance of representation in literature Jones’ second collection of short stories, The Fishboys of Vernazza (2003), comprises 10 poignant tales that cover love, loss, shame, sexual expression and acceptance. Eurachrist, the fifth story, follows a young man’s struggle in marrying both his faith and sexuality in light of an AIDS diagnosis. By narrating the uncertainties that come with living an openly gay life on the edge, Jones is able to create characters that gay men can connect with and find a semblance of themselves within.
Although born in Yorkshire, Paul Burston is a Welsh author and journalist who attended school in Bridgend before leaving for London in 1984. He previously worked for GALOP, the LGBT+ anti-abuse charity, as an activist with ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), and has written for publications such as The Guardian and The Times. Burston’s literary work comments upon gay culture in all its glory, discussing themes such as sexual promiscuity, drug and alcohol abuse and the fear of becoming an ageing ‘scene-queen’.
Burston’s literary work creates fictional worlds that have their foundations in the gay scene. His characters all demonstrate the various stereotypical ‘Queens’ that made up the gay community in the 1980’s to early 2000’s. The Gay Divorcee follows the life of protagonist Phil as he navigates the resurfacing of his heterosexual past while attempting monogamy with his current partner. His witty but sincere narrative voice allows a keen insight into the social realm of gay society, making The Gay Divorcee arguably his best novel to date.
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