Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Written Evidence

Written evidence submitted by John Sam Jones

  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 tendency.

  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 issues.

  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 perception—anyway—is 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.

December 2002

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