Wales and homosexuality are hilariously incongruent. That was the received wisdom turned on its head to elicit sniggers in the BBC sketch show Little Britain (2003-2006). The supposedly subversive ‘joke’ was summed up by the catchphrase “I’m the only gay in the village,” liltingly lisped by a podgy fairy in skin-tight rubber hot pants while all around same-sex couples canoodled without a qualm. Since, in English/British paradigms, homosexuality is automatically modish and sophisticated while Wales is automatically backward and provincial, the two identities must be mutually exclusive – ipso facto, how amusing: gays in Wales!
Actually, the joke was on writers/performers Matt Lucas and David Walliams for getting both phenomena so very wrong. Homosexuality is no more a signifier of anything than heterosexuality, or shoe size for that matter; and Wales is now, and always has been, an advanced and liberal society – and in fact a very gay place indeed. You want proof? OK then; here, in chronological order, is a list of the gays who made Wales, and the Welsh who made gayness. *
●BUDDUG (c20-c60) The 1st century Celtic queen of the Iceni (aka Boudicca/Boadicea) is still the ultimate example of the strong, brave, independent woman who can do just fine without a man.
●ST DAVID (c500-589) The relics of the patron saint of Wales are intermingled with those of his close friend and confidant Justinian. David regularly visited Justinian at his Ramsey Island men-only enclave where they would stand around together in ice-cold water to subdue their sexual urges. Like you do.
●DAFYDD ap GWILYM (c1320-c1370) A master of complex stresses, rhymes and metres, Europe’s greatest medieval poet was wielding lucid idioms and juicy vocabulary with an almost modern poetic sensibility when English was still merely a few monosyllabic croaks. The bisexual innovator patented the examination of male sexuality with autoerotic odes like Cywydd y gal (In praise of the penis).
●MARGED ferch IFAN (1696-c1788) From Dyffryn Nantlle in the mountains of Gwynedd, 6ft tall Marged was a champion wrestler and weightlifter (plus boatbuilder, carpenter, harpist, blacksmith, hunter, innkeeper, ferry operator, musical instrument-maker, bridge-builder and cobbler!) who could still out-wrestle any man when in her 70s – conclusively proving that the icky-wicky, pinky-winky, girlie-wirlie “femininity” foisted on women today is nothing more than cultural conditioning.
●THE TWO LADIES OF LLANGOLLEN Eleanor Butler (1739-1829) and Sarah Ponsonby (1755-1832) scandalised and titillated when they eloped together to Wales in 1778, where they cohabited openly in beautiful Plas Newydd near Llangollen for nearly 50 years and virtually set the template for self-improving, self-sufficient rural lesbianism. Easy-going locals had no problem with this pioneering civil partnership more than 200 years before the British State could bring itself to condone such things.
●THE REBECCA RIOTERS Between 1839 and 1844 the oppressed farm labourers of southern Wales frocked up before going out at night and tearing down the toll gates of the English landowners, thus becoming the first to conflate radicalism with drag.
●SARAH JANE REES (1839-1916) From Llangranog in Ceredigion, boldly unconventional Rees never accepted the stifling restrictions on women. A proto-suffragette, early feminist and temperance campaigner, she was also a marine navigator, won eisteddfod prizes for poetry in her bardic name Cranogwen, edited the pioneering Welsh-language women’s magazine Y Frythones and lived openly in two long-term lesbian relationships. Her poem Fy Ffrynd (my friend), written after the tragic early death of her first partner Fanny Rees (c1845-1874), is one of the first explicit expressions of lesbian love in any language.
●GERARD MANLEY HOPKINS (1844-1889) What does a sensitive, obsessive-compulsive, uptight Catholic boy from London do when he’s tormented by his illicit same-sex longings? Why, he retreats deep into the Clwyd countryside, goes native, learns Welsh and invents a new poetic language that synthesises Anglo Saxon rhythms and Welsh sound effects. And lo, those sinful thoughts are suppressed and contemporary poetry is born.
●AMY DILLWYN (1845-1935) Daughter of Lewis Llewelyn Dillwyn (1814-1892), a Swansea industrialist and Liberal MP for Swansea from 1855 to 1892, Amy took over dad’s struggling zinc works at Llansamlet when he died and turned it round, saving 300 jobs and becoming the world’s first major female industrialist. Fearlessly unorthodox, she smoked cigars, wrote six novels advocating social reform and feminism and attacking English rule in Wales, and had a lesbian relationship with Olive Talbot (1842-1894) of the dynasty which gave its name to Port Talbot. In diaries Dillwyn referred to Talbot as her “wife” more than a century before same-sex marriage legitimised such usage.
●HENRY PAGET (1875-1905) There has never been a more profligate man than the 5th Marquis of Anglesey. He wrote the manual. Compared to him Elton John (£250,000 a year on cut flowers) behaves like a Trappist monk. I am spoiled for examples of his off-the-scale silliness: he had his cars modified so the exhaust pipes expelled L’eau d’Espagne perfume; he owned 260 pairs of kidskin gloves; he had the biggest collection of precious stones and jewels in the world; he never went anywhere without his pack of toy poodles, chows and pugs dressed in pink ribbons; he converted the chapel at the family’s country seat, Plas Newydd near Llanfairpwll, into his own personal theatre modelled on the Dresden Opera House called ‘The Gaiety’…I could go on – suffice to say, from inheritance at age 23 to bankruptcy six years later he managed to blow an income (at today’s values) of £55 million per year plus a remortgage windfall of £150 million on sheer frippery. He died alone, of pneumonia, in the Hotel Royale, Monte Carlo, reduced to cheap scent and bling but queening it to the very end.
●GWEN JOHN (1876-1939) The Tenby-born painter created the prototype of the ascetic, incorruptible woman’s woman who lives for her art, not to mention her cats.
●MARGARET MACKWORTH (1883-1958) The Newport-born daughter of coal baron David Thomas (1856-1918), owner of the lucrative Cambrian Collieries at Clydach Vale, was born not so much with a silver spoon in her mouth – more like a whole box of cutlery. That wealth afforded her a freedom she certainly made the most of in an adventurous life advancing attitudes as a first-wave feminist. Following a lavender marriage to Sir Humphrey Mackworth (1871-1948), which soon ended in divorce, she became renowned as a radical suffragette and did time on hunger strike in Usk prison after attempting to blow up a Newport post-box (still there in Risca Road). During WW1 she was on board the Lusitania with her father (by then the long-time Liberal MP for Merthyr had been ennobled as Viscount Rhondda by Lloyd George) when it was torpedoed in 1915 crossing the Atlantic – 1,198 lost their lives, but both Margaret and dad survived. After he died she became Viscountess Rhondda and campaigned long and hard to win the right for women to enter the House of Lords (she never won that battle, but her determination paved the way for the unelected second chamber to eventually admit women just a month after her death). Meanwhile she founded the highly influential leftwing feminist Time and Tide magazine, ran over 30 companies inherited from her father and became the first woman president of the Institute of Directors – and throughout she lived openly in a lesbian relationship, firstly with Helen Archdale (1876-1949) until they split over Mackworth’s ever-rightward political trajectory (just like her father), and subsequently with her partner to the end Theodora Bosanquet (1887-1961).
●CEDRIC MORRIS (1889-1982) Distinctive and influential post-impressionist painter from Sgeti in Swansea who bravely carved his own path through life without compromise. For 60 years, through the height of homophobia, he lived without apology with his partner, the English surrealist painter Arthur Lett-Haines (1894-1978). They settled in Suffolk, where Morris, a proto-Green socialist and animal-lover, developed a secondary vocation as a distinguished horticulturalist.
●KATE ROBERTS (1891-1985) From the embattled slate-quarrying community of Rhosgadfan in Gwynedd, Kate Roberts rose to the highest echelons of European literature with elegant, profound prose exploring humanity in extremis, most powerfully in her 1936 masterpiece Traed Mewn Cyffion (Feet In Chains). She originated both the industrial and the domestic novel in Welsh and decades after her death is still the pre-eminent figure of modern Welsh fiction. Roberts was also a vital component in the formative years of Plaid Cymru and, with her gay husband Morris Williams (1900-1946), founded the Gwasg Gee printing press in Denbigh, integral to the creation of a Welsh publishing sector. She was equally influential in her private life, a pioneering bisexual whose fluid, flexible domestic arrangements were years ahead of their time, anticipating the live-and-let-live freedoms of today.
●WILFRED OWEN (1893-1918) From the border town of Oswestry, and very conscious of his Welsh roots, Owen defined the doomed generation of WW1 with some of the most powerful anti-war poetry ever written, a stream of work uncorked following his relationship with fellow-poet Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967).
●EVAN MORGAN (1893-1949) The Morgans could trace their venerable lineage back to Rhys ap Gruffydd (1132-1197), lord of Deheubarth famed for his successful 40-year fight against the Norman invaders. They survived all the vicissitudes of the centuries to scale the British peerage and hang on as a powerful dynasty with vast land holdings and commercial interests – but they couldn’t survive Evan, the 2nd Viscount Tredegar. The bitchy, high-handed, petulant narcissist splashed the lot on attention-seeking extravagances and crackpot, proto-fascist occultism. After he died the Tredegar line came to a shuddering halt and the estate had to be broken up. His hedonism, superficiality, irresponsibility and disengagement from wider society put him years ahead of his time; marking out a path followed by many a gay man since.
●IVOR NOVELLO (1893-1951) Cardiff’s most famous son was gladly gay long before there was any such thing as “coming out”. Composer, film and stage actor, playwright and idol of millions worldwide for over 35 years, Ivor was at the hub of the era-defining circle (Coward, Sassoon, Maugham, Gielgud, Beaton et al) that constructed the pre-liberation public image of gay men (posturing in silk dressing-gowns while exchanging clipped bon-mots and toying with absurdly long mother-of-pearl cigarette holders). It’s down to Ivor that the association of gay men with glamour and glitz was embedded in public consciousness – a thoroughly mistaken stereotype gays are still saddled with – but how perfect that the very rallying-cry of chest-beating heterosexuality, “Me Tarzan, you Jane”, came from his queer pen!
●RHYS DAVIES (1901-1978) Prolific writer (over 100 short stories, 20 novels, two non-fiction works about Wales and Print of a Hare’s Foot, a marvellous memoir) who fled the “heavily masculine” world of Blaenclydach as soon as he could for the comparative freedoms of inter-War London. There, in the smoky bohemian Soho underworld, he elegantly distilled the Welsh valleys experience for an English readership while helping lay the foundations of a gay urban aesthetic: the adventure of fleeting encounters and ricocheting ideas out of which all subsequent notions of gay consciousness have developed.
●EMLYN WILLIAMS (1905-1987) Gifted actor and dramatist from Mostyn, described semi-admiringly as “that old Welsh pit-pony” by Binkie Beaumont (see below). Williams explored territory where no-one else had dared to go by outing himself with relish in his 1961 autobiography, making life a little easier for a whole generation of gays under the impression they were “the only one”, and paving the way for every subsequent celeb confessional.
●BINKIE BEAUMONT (1908-1973) Never forgetting a slight, or a favour, scabrously witty, puckishly charming, impossibly snobbish and utterly self-assured, Binkie Beaumont (real name Hughes Griffiths Morgan from Cardiff) was the quintessential theatrical impresario who dominated London’s West End for 40 years, having no fewer than 14 productions running simultaneously in his heyday. Binkie more or less wrote the handbook on selfish, conservative High Camp queenery and precious luvvie-dom. Indifferent to and insulated from homophobia by his bubble of wealth, for the last 30 years of his life he was able to live openly with his partner John Perry (1906-1995), a bit-part actor previously the boyfriend of stately homo John Geilgud (1904-2000).
●GEORGE THOMAS (1909-1997) Despicable, scheming, fawning, cruel mother’s boy who manoeuvred his way into the heart of the British State to become House of Commons Speaker. The sanctimonious, lily-livered hypocrite kept a veritable harem of rough trade one-night-stands on his payroll to buy their silence, while simultaneously bible-bashing as a Methodist lay preacher. A textbook example of the corrupting, corrosive consequences of both Cymruphobia and the closet, Lord ToryPansy made it his life’s work to deny Wales any morsel of devolution and died a broken man just a few days after the ‘yes’ vote in the 1997 devolution referendum. There is a God!
●DYLAN THOMAS (1914-1953) Only Wales, poetry’s Ground Zero, could have produced such a figure. No other English-language poet since Shakespeare has inspired such a vast posthumous industry, and no other bohemian’s blueprint for life has been as enduringly influential. He would sleep with anyone for a drink or a square meal: contradictory drives that were at the heart of his epic alcoholism.
●DOROTHY SQUIRES (1915-1998) She was born with nothing in a Carmarthenshire field and she died a penniless recluse in a Rhondda rooming-house. In between, the barking mad torch singer clawed her way up the showbiz ladder and then threw it all away magnificently in a frenzy of ostentatious spending, self-indulgent vendettas and ill-advised litigation, thus securing her permanent place at Camp’s top table.
●LEO ABSE (1917-2008) Dynamic, dapper, quirky Pontypool MP Abse painstakingly piloted the landmark 1967 Sexual Offences Act through Westminster and thus set in train the decriminalising of male homosexuality first outlawed in the British Isles by the Buggery Act of 1533. It took a secular Welsh Jew to do it.
●ROY JENKINS (1920-2003) From Abersychan in Gwent, Roy Jenkins was probably the best Home Secretary in UK history. Appointed to the post by Labour PM Harold Wilson (1916-1995) in 1965, he changed lives for the better by steering many vital progressive measures into law, including the legalisation of abortion, the end of theatre censorship, the outlawing of racial discrimination and sex discrimination, the reform of prisons and the decriminalisation of homosexuality. Married for 58 years, as a young man he was bisexual. He was also prone to rhoticity, and I type that without rage or rancour.
●RICHARD BURTON (1925-1984) Richard Jenkins took the name of his gay teacher and mentor Philip Burton (1904-1995) and went on to become box-office gold and the highest-paid actor in Hollywood, his sonorous, lyrical voice personifying Wales to the world and permanently associating the Welsh accent with the essence of theatricality. His distress at his gay impulses fed his alcoholism and drove him to seek out abusive relationships with women, none more high profile than serial lavender bride and doyenne of fag-hags everywhere Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011), with whom he founded the cult of celebrity coupledom and invented the custom of very public personality disintegrations.
●ROGER THOMAS (1925-1994) Once upon a time, before the internet, anonymous sex between men in public toilets was a whole gay subculture, called ‘cottaging’ in an ironic homage to the prevalent faux-rustic design of bogs. By definition, it was high-risk (for some, that was a fundamental part of the turn-on). Apart from the constant danger of queer-bashers, the police used it as an easy way to persecute homosexuals, wreck lives and boost arrest figures by using agent-provocateur ‘pretty police’ to entrap. Among the many high-profile men arrested for cottaging over the years were John Gielgud (1904-2000), Wilfrid Brambell (1912-1985), Peter Wyngarde (1927-2018), Leonard Sachs (1909-1990), George Michael (1963-2016), and countless numbers of clergymen, judges, military personnel, peers of the realm and MPs. And, of course, a Welsh MP figured in one of the most famous cases when Garnant-born Thomas, Labour MP for Carmarthen, was caught red-handed (if that’s the right term) in a Swansea convenience in 1984. It finished his career and he was dead within a decade. PS: Cottaging no longer exists, mainly because the provision of non-profitable public amenities no longer exists.
●JAN MORRIS (1926-2020) Passionate Welsh republican and superb travel writer, historian and essayist who underwent sex reassignment surgery in 1972, changing from James to Jan with the minimum of fuss and more or less singlehandedly drawing up the transgender rulebook.
●CARWYN JAMES (1929-1983) A visionary rugby union coach for Llanelli and the British & Irish Lions, revered for the creative, attacking play he fostered, as well as a poet, lecturer and Plaid Cymru activist, the brilliant polymath was as out as it was possible to be in the stifling straightjacket of his era. He died alone in an Amsterdam hotel room before he had a chance to tackle the issues.
●VICTOR SPINETTI (1929-2012)
Exuberant, witty, multi-talented Spinetti from Cwm first made his name at the influential Theatre Workshop of Joan Littlewood (1914-2002) in Stratford, east London. In the 1960s he appeared in all the Beatles films and went on to forge a long, eclectic career on stage and screen. Another brave gay pioneer, he unapologetically lived openly with his partner, bit-part actor Graham Curnow (1930-1997), for over 40 years.
●SHIRLEY BASSEY (1937-) It says a lot about Cardiff, capital of Wales, that the single most famous person it has spawned in 2,000 years is the girl from Tiger Bay, the undisputed, matchless icon of knowing Camp. There’s not a drag queen on Earth who didn’t cut her teeth to a Burly Chassis rendition of Big Spender.
●JOHN DAVIES (1938-2015) Responsible for the greatest book of Welsh history ever written (Hanes Cymru, 1990; A History of Wales, 1993), so, of course, he was gay.
●BRUCE CHATWIN (1940-1989) Restless, randy, English travel writer who became emotionally attached to Wales by making the connection between the shared outsider status of Welshness and gayness. This identification inspired his masterpieces In Patagonia and On the Black Hill before he became one of the earliest high-profile men to contract AIDS.
●TOM JONES (1940-) Ponty’s finest has taken his knicker-collecting, hairy-chested, medallioned sex-beast persona to such extremes of self-parody that he’s managed to fatally undermine machismo and reposition it squarely where it always truly belonged, in the Camp camp.
●TOMMY NUTTER (1943-1992) Born in Barmouth before his family moved to London, Nutter was the leading tailor of ‘Swinging London’. The epitome of the witty, self-deprecating queen, he skilfully reconciled the classic Savile Row tradition with the male peacock revolution of the 1960s and his trademark suits dressed every preening dandy of the era.
●TERRENCE HIGGINS (1945-1982) Europe’s biggest HIV/AIDS charity is named after Haverfordwest’s Higgins, whose friends set it up after he was one of the first to die of an AIDS-related illness. A Welshman is thus the very symbol of the inspiring collective activism that, while governments did nothing, transformed HIV from the tabloids’ ‘gay plague’ to today’s treatable condition.
●JEFFREY WEEKS (1945-) Rhondda’s Professor Weeks’ searingly intelligent academic analyses of gay history make him the most significant intellectual working on sexuality and the founding father of Queer Studies. Every gay person should have a copy of his seminal 1977 work Coming Out (updated second edition 1990; third edition 2016), and every Welsh person, gay or otherwise, should read his 2021 autobiography Between Worlds: A Queer Boy from the Valleys.
●RON DAVIES (1946-) As Welsh Secretary in the Blair government he was the architect and driving force behind Wales’ first crumbs of autonomy for 500 years, but sadly he was symptomatic of that generation who would do anything rather than admit to their sexuality and was forced from office after a legendary “moment of madness” on Clapham Common in 1998. Ron’s phrase went into the lexicon of implausible explanations and, after a subsequent episode at another cruising ground, so too did “looking for badgers”.
●SIMON HUGHES (1951-) In 2006 the senior LibDem provided us with the definitive guide to How Not To Come Out: unwillingly, via shrieking headlines in The Sun a few days after categorically denying it, and 25 years after winning the notorious Bermondsey by-election by whipping up virulent homophobia against Labour candidate and gay rights activist Peter Tatchell. Cheshire-born Hughes identifies as Welsh through ancestry; most likely a subconscious displacement strategy, siding with the underdog to compensate for living a lie for so long.
●FRANK VICKERY (1951-2018) In over 30 Welsh-set productions, playwright Vickery from the Rhondda Fawr conclusively proved that Wales and the Welsh experience are not, as the anti-Welsh insist, narrow and marginal but rather, universal and relevant. Utilising comedy and pathos Vickery attained massive pan-Wales popularity by skilfully chronicling the real lives of his beloved valleys’ people.
●JEFFREY JOHN (1953-) Who better to split England’s established church asunder than a Welshman from Tonyrefail? In 2003 the Dean of St Albans was the first person in an open same-sex relationship to be nominated for a Bishopric (not a typo). The predictable furore prompted the vacillating Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams (the first Welshman to be Primate of All England) to block the appointment – and the Anglicans’ kinky obsession with gay sex has preoccupied them ever since. Let there be light refreshments.
●SEAN MATHIAS (1956-) Theatre and film director from Swansea best known for directing Bent, Martin Sherman’s harrowing landmark 1979 play about the Nazi persecution of gays (an estimated 50,000 died in the concentration camps). Mathias’s then boyfriend, Ian McKellen, starred as hero Max, a role that would embolden him on his personal journey out of the closet, via publicly outing himself in 1988 to oppose the Tories’ viciously homophobic ‘Section 28’, and all the way to Sir Gay, today’s Much-Loved-National-Institution. Mathias and McKellen are still pals and co-own a groovy pub in Limehouse.
●NIGEL EVANS (1957-) This archetypal gay Tory from Swansea, the MP for Ribble Valley in England since 1992 after repeated rejections by Welsh voters, perfectly embodies Conservative thinking: live a double-life in the closet, support every anti-gay measure, feather your nest, climb the greasy pole, happily reap the gains won for you by other gays over decades of struggle and then, when it’s risk-free, come out. There’s a word for this: cowardice. What Evans fails to grasp is that everyone knew he was gay all along – the quiff was the giveaway.
●CERITH WYN EVANS (1958-) Installation artist from Llanelli who went to Art College in London and then worked with the radical film director and gay rights activist Derek Jarman (1942-1994). The influence of film has remained in his ever-expanding portfolio of conceptual art, exhibited around the world, in which he explores light, text and language with daring experimentalism and creativity. Bilingual Wyn Evans never forgets his Welsh roots: he represented Wales in the first-ever Wales Pavilion at the 2003 Venice Biennale, sending a seven-mile beam of light into the night sky over Venice flashing a morse code version of the classic Welsh poem Gweledigaetheu y Bardd Cwsc (Visions of the Sleeping Bard) by Ellis Wynne (1671-1734).
●STEVE STRANGE (1959-2015) Up in London at the start of the punk era, Steven Harrington from Newbridge insisted on being that bit more shocking than anyone else, singing Free Myra Hindley with his dreadful band Moors Murderers before acting as the New Romantics’ figurehead with synthesizer project Visage, taking cross-dressing and black mascara to new levels of tackiness and repackaging timeless teenage sullenness for a fresh batch of dysfunctional kids. In Ibiza in the 1980s he oversaw the sea-change as clubbing replaced disco and was midwife to the trance and rave movements. Heroin addiction, nervous breakdowns, obscurity back with his poor old mam in Porthcawl, a bust in Bridgend for shoplifting a Tellytubby (of all things!) and finally an early death from a heart attack dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s to complete a career arc of flawless rock’n’roll disrepute.
●PAUL BROWN (1960-2017) The leading theatre and opera designer of his generation, a creative dynamo renowned globally for his unerring instinct for the fabulous, was what else but Welsh. The Cowbridge boy travelled the world but never left Wales, settling in a beautiful 15th century Pembrokeshire manor house with his civil partner before his premature death from cancer.
●CHRIS BRYANT (1962-) They don’t count the Labour vote in the Rhondda; they weigh it. Bryant’s been MP since 2001, but his impregnable majority is gradually being whittled away by Plaid: not because of his habit of posing in his off-white y-fronts touting for action on Gaydar, or because he was knighted in 2023, nor due to him being the first to hold a civil partnership ceremony at the Houses of Parliament in 2010 – it’s simply that he’s a British Blairite.
●RUSSELL T DAVIES (1963-) Über-gay from Swansea whose drama series Queer as Folk was the first to present contemporary gay men in a realistic way, while It’s a Sin (2020) also broke new ground by exploring the HIV/Aids crisis of the 1980s. His revival of Dr Who brought two rarities, a queer sensibility and Welsh locations, to prime-time UK telly, underlined by spin-off Torchwood with its bi hero and fetishised Cardiff setting.
●LAURA McALLISTER (1964-) It’s not easy for a lesbian to become a pillar of the establishment, but Bridgend-born McAllister has managed it in Wales. Her CV includes Professor of Public Policy & Welsh Governance at Cardiff University, Institute of Welsh Affairs board member, Chair of Sport Wales (2010-2016), member of the Learned Society of Wales, member of the Richard Commission investigating the powers of the National Assembly (2002-2004), member of the Senedd Remuneration Board, winner of 24 caps for the Wales women’s football team, BBC Wales political commentator and Western Mail columnist. She’s not so much a pillar, more the entire edifice!
●PAUL BURSTON (1965-) Card-carrying Supergay from Bridgend who has entirely immersed himself on Planet Gay as journalist, author, organiser of Polari, “London’s gay literary salon”, and founder of the Polari Prize for LGBTQ+ writing. Burston largely set the parameters that limit so many modern gay men; vacuous gym bunnies tattooed to within an inch of their life and spectacularly missing the point that the whole aim of gay lib was to render your sexuality irrelevant not make it every waking moment’s only imperative.
●DAMON ROCHEFORT (1965-) Another Welsh gay² with brass knobs on, if you’ll pardon the expression, Cardiffian Rochefort first made a mark in the dance music charts in the 1990s with his house music duo Nomad (‘Damon’ backwards) before switching career to TV scriptwriting and ultimately graduating to the plum Coronation Street job, ITV’s impregnable fortress of retro-camp gay sensibility
●MARC REES (1966-) In the vanguard of contemporary dance, Rees weaves sound and video into his often naked performances, howls of protest against depoliticised stag’n’hen conformity and the continuing repression of gays. In so doing, he triggers a breakthrough perception: gay men are the ‘natural’ men; it is the manufactured ‘masculinity’ of straight men that is the aberration.
●SARAH WATERS (1966-) Acclaimed author whose exuberant 1998 novel Tipping the Velvet shook lesbian fiction out of the clichés of heaving bosoms and thwarted desires – while also reviving an evocative Victorian metaphor for cunnilingus. Subsequently Waters took sensuous lesbianism to a whole new level in her gripping 2002 thriller Fingersmith. She’s Welsh too, from Neyland.
●COLIN JACKSON (1967-) Wales’ best-known track athlete, a sprint hurdling specialist, came out as gay at age 50 in 2017. The delay is understandable: he probably was the only gay in Llanedeyrn village!
●ADAM PRICE (1968-) Carmarthen-born Price was the highly effective, openly gay Plaid Cymru MP for Carmarthen East & Dinefwr between 2001 and 2010, leading the campaign to impeach Blair for war crimes, before leaving the discredited Westminster circus for a research fellowship at Harvard University. In Massachusetts he produced forensic reports showing how being part of the UK actively impoverishes Wales and then returned to Welsh politics as the MS for the same constituency in 2016. The Senedd was greatly enhanced by his passionate intelligence, which exposed the mediocrity and mendacity of the intellectual pygmies on the Labour, Tory and UKIP benches, and in 2018 he replaced Leanne Wood as leader of Plaid Cymru, becoming the first gay man to lead a UK political party and the first gay of any gender to lead a stand-alone political party in the UK (Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives 2011-2021, doesn’t count since they are just a sub-branch of the UK Conservatives). Price stood down as Plaid leader in 2023.
●BERWYN ROWLANDS (1968-) Anglesey’s Rowlands founded the Iris Prize in 2007, the world’s largest gay and lesbian short film-making competition, held annually in Cardiff in a four-day festival of LGBT creativity. Prior to that, as chief executive of Sgrîn Cymru, the dynamic internationalist patriot had established student moving image event Ffresh, the Wales Screen Commission and the National Screen & Sound Archive of Wales.
●RODNEY BERMAN (1969-) The Glaswegian LibDem was leader of Cardiff Council, Wales’ 2nd biggest employer after the NHS, between 2004 and 2012 and was instrumental in it becoming a beacon of equal-ops excellence. On the Pollyanna wing of his party (All’s well with the world and God is in His heaven), his civil partner is ex-ITV Wales reporter Nick Speed.
●JULIEN MacDONALD (1971-) If it’s High Camp you’re after, nobody does it like the Welsh. You expect screaming queenery in the fashion industry but Merthyr’s MacDonald, whose haute couture frocks hang on the likes of Naomi Campbell and Paris Hilton, has ratcheted it up to new altitudes.
●JEREMY MILES (1971-) Out gays in the Senedd are rather like Cardiff buses – you wait ages for one then three come along at once! Joining Adam Price (see above) and Hannah Blythyn (see below) in the 2016 intake was Pontarddulais-born Jeremy Miles. Elected as Labour’s Neath MS, he was appointed as Counsel General, the Welsh government’s law officer, in 2017. Since then he has introduced draft legislation to set up the first ever codified statute book of Welsh law.
●NIGEL OWENS (1971-) As the only openly gay rugby union referee, indeed the only openly gay referee operating internationally in any sport, Mynyddcerrig-born Owens inspired and emboldened unsure young gays globally. Since retiring as a ref he has concentrated on TV work.
●TIM RHYS-EVANS (1972-) The defining Welsh tradition of the male voice choir seemed to be in irreversible decline until Rhys-Evans, a vocal tutor from New Tredegar, resuscitated and reinvigorated it by founding the hugely popular Only Men Aloud in 2000. Only Boys Aloud followed in 2010 and Only Kids Aloud in 2012. His civil partner is opera tenor Alun Rhys Jenkins.
●GARETH THOMAS (1974-) Scratch a macho man and you often find a gay man underneath – when you’re trying to keep the lid on, trad manliness consoles and justifies. What better smokescreen than brutal contact sport rugby union: you can stick your head up another bloke’s arse with impunity! So when the ex-captain of Wales, with 100 caps and 41 tries, came out in 2009 the reaction in Wales was a universal “I could have told you that years ago” followed by a “so what?” As the first openly gay professional male athlete in a team sport, ‘Alfie’ has travelled from the deepest recesses of the closet to Pink Role Model and HIV Hero at the head of the Pride march. Here’s yet another Welsh person to invent a gay archetype: the grotesquely over-muscled and over-tattooed single-issue Iron Man sharing far too much information.
●ALED HAYDN JONES (1976-) Head of BBC Radio 1 since 2020, Aberystwyth-born Jones is a veritable prototype of 21st century gay men’s cripplingly reactionary commitment to discredited heteronormative values. Like a toe-curling parody of a pre-feminist housewife who only ever wanted a husband and a baby, he’s proceeded to do just that. And he’s had the bad taste and ludicrous self-satisfaction to make TV documentaries about his surrogacy ‘journey’.
●IAN ‘H’ WATKINS (1976-) Another textbook example of the ‘acceptable’ contemporary gay man (i.e. shallow, saccharine and deeply conventional) Watkins made his name in the 1990s as a singer with the turgid pop group Steps. These days he goes through the motions on the egregious ‘celebrity’ circuit when he’s not parenting his twin sons, test-tube and turkey-baster (JOKE!! Spare me the lynch mob!) The ‘H’, incidentally, doesn’t stand for ‘homosexual’, as I’d always assumed, but ‘hyperactive’.
●LUKE EVANS (1979-) Multi-talented Evans from Aberbargoed has many strings to his bow – acting on stage, TV and screen, in dramas, musicals, blockbusters and comedies. Refreshingly, he wears his sexuality lightly, having grasped a few crucial points: 1) It’s nobody else’s business; 2) It’s not interesting; and 3) Exactly like heterosexuality, being gay is not an identity.
●ROB ROBERTS (1979-) In 2021 the Flintshire-born Tory MP for Delyn was caught sexually harassing young staff and interns, both male and female. He was suspended from parliament and lost the Tory whip but, rather than do the right thing and resign, he now sits as an independent, whinging about being “shunned” and “abandoned”. His disgraceful stint as an MP will certainly end when the Tories eventually call the next UK election. At least Roberts has provided clinching proof that the very idea of a “gay community” is as absurd as the non-existent concept of a “straight community” would be. Here’s some information for inhabitants of the gay ghetto who define themselves solely by their sexuality: 1) aggregating the kaleidoscope of sexual peccadillos does not add up to a community; and 2) ‘gay’ is an adjective, not a noun.
●HANNAH BLYTHYN (1980-) Connah’s Quay-born Labour politician Blythyn became the first out lesbian in the Senedd when elected Delyn MS in 2016. She was appointed Deputy Environment Minister in 2017, reshuffled to Deputy Housing & Local Government Minister in 2018 and then made Deputy Social Partnership Minister in 2021. So far, the most that can be said is that she furthers the cause of gay equality by demolishing the myth of gay exceptionalism.
●RUTH HUNT (1980-) Cardiffian Hunt became chief executive of Stonewall, Europe’s largest LGBT rights organisation, in 2014. She resigned in 2019 when her fixation with ‘T’ rights at the expense of the ‘LGB’ bit that was meant to be Stonewall’s founding purpose started to put off supporters and financial backers. Not to worry, she snapped up a peerage, became Baroness Hunt of Bethnal Green and currently the devout Catholic is happily settled in her second civil partnership.
●OWAIN WYN EVANS (1984-) Ammanford-born Evans started his broadcasting career on S4C children’s programmes and has progressed via weather forecasts, game shows, chat shows, charity gigs and presenting duties to the dizzy heights of DJ on BBC Radio 2’s early morning graveyard shift. His public persona – innocuous candyfloss, facile ‘niceness’ and much squealing under a silly hairdo – is the embodiment of every cobwebbed gay trope. But hey! He’s not merely a limp-wristed caricature; he’s got a hinterland! He drums as a hobby!
●JAMIE WALLIS (1984-) To the abiding shame of Bridgend, this Tory has been its MP since Boris Johnson’s ‘Get Brexit Done’ 2019 landslide. He is the personification of everything that’s rotten about the Tory Party and about identity politics: a pre-Westminster ‘business’ career of shell companies, breaches of trading standards and misconduct; a disqualification from Pencoed Town Council for non-attendance; his ownership of a ‘sugar daddy’ dating website; and a typical rightwinger’s cavalier disregard for law resulting in multiple criminal convictions for driving offences, culminating in his arrest in 2022 for fleeing the scene of a late-night crash in Llanfleiddian near Cowbridge while wearing “a black leather PVC miniskirt, tights, high-heels and a pearl necklace”. Married with children, he now declares himself transgender and, to justify his behaviour, says he has PTSD after being raped. He is currently pondering which pronoun to use. I’ve got a suggestion: “it”.
●JESS FISHLOCK (1987-) Out gay footballer from Llanrumney in Cardiff who in 2017 became the first Welsh player, female or male, to win 100 caps for the national team. Despite her best efforts the midfielder hasn’t yet seen her country qualify for the Women’s World Cup.
And I haven’t even mentioned that bloke off the telly who does the weather. Of course, as most gays until recently were not hampered by that foe of creativity, sapper of energy and drainer of resources, in the memorable phrase of Cyril Connolly (1903-1974) “the pram in the hallway”, any country’s list of influential individuals will include many gays. But only Wales can claim to have had such a disproportionate influence on the nature of gayness itself. Why? I have a theory. For centuries both Welshness and homosexuality were mercilessly penalised and systematically discouraged by statute. It took a conscious effort of will to embrace such identities and run counter to the rewarded and encouraged default identities: British and heterosexual. Only those with the necessary courage, stamina, imagination and brains risked it rather than opt for the easy life by anglicising or “straight-acting”. Hence, when Wales and gay overlap very special people emerge – to the benefit of Wales, and the benefit of the world.
*Non-inclusion on this list should not be taken to presume heterosexuality; inclusion should not be taken to imply homosexuality