LGBT History Month offers us an opportunity to reflect on how far we’ve come in the struggle for LGBTQ+ rights and celebrate the lives of LGBTQ+ people who for too long have been hidden from history.

As this year’s LGBT History month draws to a close it’s important that we also recognise how much more there is to do, and redouble our collective commitment to create a Wales where everyone feels free, supported, and safe to be and live their lives as their authentic selves.

A Wales where people like me don’t need to wonder whether it is safe to hold our partner’s hand in public; a Wales where slurs and snide remarks - whether online or on the streets - is no longer commonplace, and a Wales where hate is consigned to history.

It is important everyone understands and appreciates the different forms hate crime can take, where it can take us and the hurt and harm it can cause.

It can be difficult to reach out, speak out or even simply acknowledge that what has happened is a hate crime.

Unfortunately, many of our experiences are all too familiar – myself included.

Only recently, on the back of launching the Welsh Government’s LGBTQ+  Draft Action Plan, my wife and I were subject to what has been recorded as a hate crime.

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Hate crime can be online and offline, it can be verbal and physical, and it can have truly devastating consequences.

The horrific and homophobic murder of Dr Gary Jenkins in the heart of our capital city has had a deep impact on the LGBTQ+ community in Cardiff and beyond. It has been made clear in the cruelest possible way that more clearly needs to be done to make hate history.

Building on our work funding the National Hate Crime Report and Support Centre, the Welsh Government will, as a starting point, bring together representatives from the LGBTQ+ community, the police and local authorities to tackle hate crime and provide further support in a way that has LGBTQ+ voices front and centre.

Increasing education and anti-bullying work both in schools and through campaigns is also key.

Ensuring the safety of LGBTQ+ people is an important part of the Welsh Government’s ambitious LGBTQ+ Action Plan.

The plan seeks to tackle the existing structural inequalities experienced by LGBTQ+ communities, to challenge discrimination, and to create a society where LGBTQ+ people are safe to live and love, openly and freely as themselves.

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From improving health support and services, to making sure the right resources and help are available in education settings alongside enabling more inclusive workplaces and strengthening the support for LGBTQ+ people in communities across the country.

The Welsh Government remains resolute in our Programme for Government commitment to use all available powers to end conversion therapy practices in Wales, and to seek the devolution of any necessary additional powers should UK Government proposals not go far enough.

As things stand, we have major reservations about the concept of ‘consent’ as presented in the recent consultation, and questions regarding the detail of how a ban would apply in faith settings.

Any attempts to change or alter a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity through so-called ‘conversion therapy’ practices are abhorrent, unacceptable and can be deeply damaging. These practices can inflict severe pain and suffering on LGBTQ+ people and often cause long-lasting physical and psychological harm.

We don’t just need to reflect on our past, but also learn lessons from it.

On World AIDS Day last year, we marked 40 years since the start of the AIDS epidemic. Four decades ago, the gay community faced an avalanche of fear, hostility and vilification. An agonising and unacceptable period of history that was enabled by society, fuelled by the media and legitimised by Government policy and inaction.

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Sadly, today we see much of the same language of vilification, fear and othering targeted at the trans community.

There can be no free pass to sit this one out and be on the wrong side of history. There is no hierarchy of hate and to extend the rights of one group is not to erode the rights of another.

The Welsh Government’s position is clear: LGBTQ+ rights, including trans rights, are human rights. We believe trans women are women, trans men are men and non-binary identities are valid. 

We restate our support for trans people’s right to self-identification and our Programme for Government makes clear a commitment to trigger a request to devolve the Gender Recognition Act and support our trans community in Wales.

Not knowing our history risks our future.

This is no time to sit back, to not speak out, to think the job is done, that rights are won.

The National Wales: Cardiff LGBTQ Pride (Picture: Siriol Griffiths)Cardiff LGBTQ Pride (Picture: Siriol Griffiths)

At the same time, it is right that we recognise the progress we have made in the struggle for equality because much of that progress is part of our all too recent history.

In my lifetime alone we could be fired, we couldn’t be mentioned in classrooms, we could be refused service and we could not marry the person we loved.

When I was younger, I never imagined I would get married because I thought I never could.

As chair of LGBT Labour, I campaigned for equal marriage not for me but because it was the right thing to do and I remain forever indebted to those who came and campaigned before me, who were prepared to stick their head above the parapet in much tougher times.

So as the curtain falls on this LGBTQ+ History month we pay tribute to the trailblazers – the activists and the allies, the campaigners and the change makers, those who have lived through it and those whose lives have been cut far too short.

But the greatest tribute we can pay is to honour their legacy by continuing to work together in common cause to create the Wales we want to see and the country we can be and become the most LGBTQ+ friendly nation in Europe.

Hannah Blythyn is the Welsh Government deputy minister for social partnership, and the Senedd Member for Delyn.

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