As a member of a minority - does your history matter?
Published 15/02/2018   |   Last Updated 15/02/2018
As part of our work to commemorate LGBT History Month, our guest blog comes from Norena Shopland (@NorenaShopland), the author of Forbidden Lives: LGBT Stories from Wales. When my book Forbidden Lives: LGBT stories from Wales was published at the end of last year, one of the questions I was asked was, why did I write it? The question wasn’t asked out of prejudice, but a genuine concern about the usefulness of a work that concentrated on a ‘minority within a minority’ with, they believed, a limited audience. At first glance, they seemed to have a point - Wales is a small country, with just 4.8% of the UK population; and when it comes to history, is it even necessary to define every person or event as specifically English or Welsh? After all, the laws of the UK affect everyone, and everyone has more-or-less the same experiences under those laws. The same question can be asked of other, larger minorities, who rarely exceed 20% of the population, such as black and Asian, at around 13%. Although we can relate diverse histories in themselves, is it necessary to talk about, for example, Welsh and English black and Asian people as separate entities? Before answering, perhaps it is helpful to contemplate how you might go about finding individuals in the written record, which in itself can be a daunting task, and something I came across when writing Forbidden Lives. One of the reasons I became interested in my country’s history of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender - about 6-10% of the population depending on whose statistics you accept) was because Welsh people were being used in UK history without any reference to their country of origin. This was particularly noticeable when celebrating LGBT History Month in February, when people like Ivor Novello, the Ladies of Llangollen, Leo Abse, and many others, were being included but within a UK, or more often, English concept. LGBT history books rarely include an individual’s country of origin, or an index references to Wales or the Welsh – something that is also true of other countries. For example, many LGBT histories will include references to, say, work on sexology done in Germany at the end of the nineteenth century, but Germany per se will not appear in an index. If you wanted to construct a German history from general histories it could not be done.