The AIDS Crisis and the Welsh LGBTQIA+ Community

(Chapter excerpt from Luke Blaidd's undergraduate dissertation, "“What drove the development of Welsh-language LGBTQIA+ terminology 1972-2022?”) 

On the 4th of July 1982, Terrence Higgins passed away from AIDs-related complications at St Thomas’ Hospital in London. Originally from Pembrokeshire, Higgins had left Haverfordwest due to feeling alienated for his sexuality and sought a new life in the English capital. It was there while working at gay nightclub Heaven, Higgins collapsed and was promptly admitted to hospital. He eventually succumbed to pneumonia and progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy — these would later come to be recognised as complications from an AIDS infection. Higgins himself would come to be identified as one of the first people to die of AIDS-related illness in the United Kingdom. The HIV and AIDS awareness charity Terrence Higgins Trust was founded by close friends of Higgins in his memory.

During this period, it was largely informal LGBTQIA+ terminology which was being developed in Welsh. One of these new, informal terms was hoyw (gay), not dissimilar to the colloquial usage of gay in English — taken from its original meaning of ‘happy’ or ‘joyful’. One of the earliest examples of hoyw being used in Welsh to mean gay comes from 1985 in Geiriadur Esperanto~Kimra Vortaro, an Esperanto-Welsh dictionary, which contains hoyw as a translation for ‘gej’. In addition to this, a letter to the Welsh language Christian periodical Cristion refers to “gwrywgydiaeth a’r gymdeithas hoyw” (tr. homosexuality and gay society) and on the topic of the AIDS crisis declares that “Rhan o broblem ehangach yw'r ffactor gyfunrywiol yn AIDS” (tr. Part of a wider problem is the homosexual factor in AIDS). The Thatcher Government issued ‘Don’t Die of Ignorance’ AIDS information leaflets to every household in the country — in Wales, Welsh-language booklets were also distributed, declaring that “Nid haint gwrywgydwyr yn unig mohoni” (tr. It is not just a homosexual infection). At this stage, a hybridisation occurred between formal, informal, archaic, and offensive language in reference to homosexuality in Welsh.

Fig. 2: Detail of the front cover of “AIDS: Peidiwch â marw o anwybodaeth” booklet.

The sudden existence of newer, more informal terminology alongside the older terminology speaks to the rise in LGBTQIA+ community organising in this period. Formal, antiquated, and pejorative terms had long dominated Welsh LGBTQIA+ terminology — but as Welsh-speaking LGBTQIA+ individuals began to organise, that began to change. For instance, in 1984, Lesbians and Gays Support the miners (LGSM) was founded in London in support of the Miner’s strike of 1985-1985, allying their cause with striking miners in Neath, Dulais, and the Swansea Valleys. The following year, in 1985, the first ever gay march in Wales was held in Cardiff and led by Cardiff GaySoc. On a social level, more LGBTQIA+ Welsh speakers were meeting each other through university societies, events, protests, and various new LGBTQIA+ organisations. Naturally, informal slang developed in Welsh between them.

But the circumstances in which Welsh-speaking LGBTQIA+ people were meeting each other were less-than ideal. The AIDS crisis contributed to stigmas around LGBTQIA+ identity in Wales. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s government introduced the Local Government Act 1988, in which section 28 prohibited any ‘promotion of homosexuality’. LGBTQIA+ organisation was made difficult by these circumstances. Misinformed panic about AIDS, its causes, symptoms, and transmission was commonplace in the United Kingdom once the disease had been named. On the 18th of September 1986, the Abergele & Pensarn Visitor reported on the outcry at the shelving of a detailed AIDS information booklet. Reportedly, the Clwyd Health Authority refused to fund the booklet, despite the intention being to address misinformation about the disease. Criticism of the booklet in the article included the notion that “it would make women who were at risk of catching AIDS, such as prostitutes and women married to bisexual men more anxious that they too might have AIDS or AIDS antibodies, even when tests proved they had not”. Misinformation on AIDS transmission was repeated in many newspapers in Wales.

Despite the many barriers that the Welsh-speaking LGBTQIA+ community faced at that time, many connections were still made, and organisations founded. This ultimately led to the need for more informal terminology as these groups grew in size and scope.

While informal Welsh LGBTQIA+ terminology developed during the AIDS crisis, it was still in its infancy. Older terms for LGBTQIA+ identity in Welsh were still present and used in some publications. In his 1987 nonfiction book about prison welfare Trwy’r Drws ac Allan (tr. Through the Door and Out) Merfyn Turner alleges that through the lack of the opposite sex, inmates become lesbian or gay in order to satisfy their libidos. “Hyn sy'n gorfodi'r trigolion i droi'n wrywgydwyr ac yn lesbiaid… Cydnabyddir bod problem cyfunrywiaeth yn bod yn Broadmoor, ac i raddau llai mewn carchardai” (tr. This forces the residents to become homosexuals and lesbians… It is acknowledged that there is a problem with homosexuality in Broadmoor, and to a lesser degree in prisons). Turner’s usage of wrywgydwyr (homosexuals- mutated) and cyfunrhywiaeth (homosexuality) together is of note. In this period, Welsh dictionaries publish terms for homosexuality prefixed with gwrywgyd- and terms prefixed with cyfunryw — side by side. These terms appear to be used interchangeably- especially in this period of Welsh LGBTQIA+ history.

In 1986 Robat Gruffudd published Y Llosgi (tr. The Burning). The novel is about an officer of the Welsh Development Agency whose car is torched outside of his lover’s home. Later, the plot takes the main characters to Germany and a fictional bar there is mentioned. “…y Romy-Haag. Clwb bach dilys transvestite’… ‘Mae trawswisgo felly'n beth nodweddiadol Almaenaidd?’ gofynnais i Trenkler.” (tr. ‘the Romy-Haag. A small authentic transvestite club’… ‘So transvestism is a typical German thing?’ I asked Trenkler.). Gruffudd’s usage of trawswisgo (transvestism) is significant due to the fact that the earliest known Welsh dictionaries to include trawswisgo was Geiriadur yr Academi in 1995 23 . The term is also present in Geiriadur Termau Seicoleg (Dictionary of Terms for Psychology) published in 2004 24 . The usage of trawswisgo in Y Llosgi predates the publication of both dictionaries. It may be that the term was too low frequency at the time to be included in any dictionary contemporary with Gruffudd’s novel.

Another term which has an example of usage in this period but does not get included in any Welsh dictionary until 1993 is anrhywiol (asexual). Anrhywiol is used in 1986 in the medical journal Cennad cylchgrawn Y Gymdeithas Feddygol to describe prostate cancer risk to unmarried people and asexual people.

The Welsh LGBTQIA+ terminology from this period was, for the first time, developed by and for the Welsh-speaking LGBTQIA+ community. Earlier terminology had begun to settle in this period, but consensus on usage was yet to be found for some terms. In general, the events of this period led to the increased social development of the LGBTQIA+ community due to the need for greater organisation and alliance against discrimination — this meant stepping away from formal, medicalised language and stepping towards informal, community-created terminology.

Luke Blaidd 


Additional Secondary Reading

Shopland, N., Forbidden Lives, (2017), Seren Books.

Leeworthy, D., A Little Gay History of Wales, (2019), University of Wales Press.

Cardwell, T., Anger as AIDS book is shelved, Abergele & Pensarn Visitor, 18th September, (1986).


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