Growing up in the valleys of South Wales is a difficult task for many people. Since the industrial decline, a sense of defeat rings through the air, as councils struggle to find the funds to update things for the youth of today. In the EU referendum last June, this sense of defeat turned to anger, with a majority of rural Welsh communities backing the Leave campaign. Growing up in the South Wales valleys as a queer person, however, is a whole lot harder. In conversation with a customer at my old retail job, my hometown Mountain Ash was referred to as a town that time forgot, I sadly wasn’t offended. It is, just like many of the former mining towns of Rhondda Cynon Taff.
As we grew up there – the minorities and the outcasts – our main goal was to leave and only return for Christmases and funerals. For Harriet Protheroe-Davis, the opposite was true. While the young feminist left Merthyr for further education in another country, she returned to Cardiff and sought to organise the first LGBT+ club night in her home turf. Not only would this be revolutionary for her past self, but for a growing population of queer teens with nowhere to turn.
“Because Merthyr is my hometown and I am a queer woman!” Protheroe-Davis explains to me her decision to host her night here of all places. “Without a doubt there are people in Merthyr who self define as LGBT+ but we hear very little about this, even though most locals would be very accepting of LGBT+ rights, there don’t seem to be many (if any) safer spaces where this is welcomed. I wanted to make my town somewhere that young wee queer kids can be proud of. Where we could come together, be proud, be loud and take up space.”
The emphasis on “safe place” is key to this event. The night will offer a free bus service to those from the valleys who may need a safe lift to and from the event, as well as reaching areas that may not otherwise have made it all the way to Merthyr Tydfil, with pick ups in Pontypridd, Porth, Ferndale and Aberdare. Entry to the event is free, reducing the financial burden on attendees. Protheroe-Davis also promises they will be “providing a space for people to dress at the venue if this is needed and also will be ensuring toilet facilities are gender neutral.”
This LGBT+ event is one that isn’t just sorely needed, but will be ground-breaking for the local area. Unlike other club nights, Protheroe-Davis isn’t waiting to see if this is a success before planning more events. “I am currently talking to an activist and volunteer who came to us to help us with this event about doing a similar one in Newbridge.” She tells me, “We have spoken about rolling events out in each of the valleys so we can try and turn the tide of hatred that has been used by the far right locally.”
The event takes place on Saturday the 25th of February from 9pm to 1am at The Guest Keen, Merthyr Tydfil.
Photograph 1: Andrew Perry