Written evidence submitted by John Sam
My name is John Sam Jones. I am a Welsh-speaking
Welshman from Meirionnydd (originally). Currently I work as the
Adviser for Personal and Social Education (PSE) in Denbighshire
Education Service. For the past five years I have chaired the
North Wales Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual (LGB) and Police Liaison Group
and for the last 18 months I have been the chair of the LGB Forum
Cymru. On two occasions in the last four years I have been a trustee
of the West Rhyl Young People's Project. I am the author of Welsh
Boys Too (Parthian, Cardiff 2000) a collection of short stories
about the lives of gay men in North Wales. This collection of
stories was an Honour Book winner in the American Library Association
LGB Book Awards in 2002. I am 46 years old and have been living
openly as a gay man since I was 18.
Because the request for written submissions
to this inquiry only came across my desk today (4 December 2002)
I offer this submission as a private individual since time does
not allow for these observations to go before any of the above
organisations for their approval.
I will limit my observations to issues around
sexual preference and talk only of North Wales.
From work that I have done over the past four
years with the VIVA group at the West Rhyl Young People's Project
it is very clear that teenagers who are gay and lesbian do not
have an easy time in the eastern part of North Wales. A life-story
writing project carried out with this group of young people in
1998 revealed that those who contiibuted pieces of written work
had experienced feelings of isolation and exclusion, loneliness,
depression, thoughts of self harm, substance misuse, sexual abuse,
bullying at school and family tensions that were sometimes unbearable.
None of these young people had found much support in school and
their own experience had not been reflected at all in the sex
and relationships education programmes offered at school. Levels
of self-esteem amongst members of the group were low and this
had a direct impact on the care they took of themselves; this
was particularly evident in their disregard for safer sex messages.
The news that this piece of written work, published by the Health
Promotion Service under the title Stories that give shape to
lives, had won a national youth work award was cause for celebration.
That the Daily Post refused to cover this success story
caused distress and further endorsed the view held by many gay
men and lesbians: that the Daily Post has a homophobic
More recently, through my work as the PSE Adviser
in Denbighshire, I have seen first hand how ill equipped the majority
of our teachers appear to be to deal with gay and lesbian issues
in educational settings. The new guidance on Sex and Relationships
Education in Schools from the National Assembly for Wales (Circular
No: 11/02) states clearly that teachers should be able to deal
with these issues (sexual identity and sexual orientation) honestly
sensitively and in a non-discriminatory way (see page 11). At
a recent meeting of the secondary school PSE coordinators in Denbighshire
there was unanimous support for an INSET-training programme in
the Spring of 2003 on gay and lesbian issues both within
the curriculum and in the context of supporting lesbian and gay
students in educational settings as no one around the
table felt sufficiently confident or competent to address these
An invitation to speak with the Education Social
Workers in the county last week revealed a lack of confidence
to deal with LGB issues amongst young people, though a number
of the ESWs had, over the past few years, been involved in crisis
intervention and support where a young person had come out and
faced hostility from peers and family. A training event with school
nurses (now called young people's health advisers) was more optimistic,
however; all of them felt that they would be able to offer some
support to LGB teenagers and would know of suitable referral agencies
like the VIVA Project and the Arinistead Project in Liverpool.
It is clear to me that a young person who is
either gay or lesbian in North East Wales at the present time
is more likely to experience a period of turmoil as a consequence
of their sexual preference, and that this turmoil will be experienced
within a degree of isolation. There is a good chance that the
young lesbian woman or gay man in North East Wales will experience
hostility from peers and even from family members, and that this
hostility can lead to an intensification of the isolation to a
point of feeling excluded. At present, teachers do not seem sufficiently
confident to address LGB issues within the curriculum or offer
young lesbians and gay men support when they face difficulties
in their lives that are a direct consequence of their sexuality.
Most of the young gay men and lesbians that
I have talked with over the course of the last few years have
said that they want to leave North Wales as soon as they can.
(And many have!) Their perceptionanywayis that their
lives would be easier in a more cosmopolitan, metropolitan area.
For those lesbians and gay men who are Welsh speaking and from
traditional Welsh backgrounds the attraction of a city like Manchester
or London comes into conflict with their sense of cultural identity.
Given more time I could perhaps have presented
these few observations more coherently but I trust they will be
received in good faith.