Image: BBC

By Emily Garside

Cardiff has a thriving LGBTQ+ community, as well as an array of LGBTQ+ people of influence who are either from here or have made their homes and careers here. From sport to TV to advocacy, Cardiff has long been a place members of the queer community can call home. 

The city has a history of diversity, stemming in part from its roots as a port, where many from around the world came and created communities. And while it was, for a time, a much more hidden part of that, this included the LGBTQ+ community. Sailors dressed as the opposite gender, and women lived as men. Susan Brunin, from Newport, passed as a male sailor for years, and Ann Stewart was arrested in 1859 for posing as a man. In 1833, the Cardiff Times interviewed American star Lulu, Queen of the Air, a male circus acrobat who worked as a woman. Vesta Tilley, a male impersonator, performed at the Grand Music Hall in 1887.

Things were often a struggle for the queer community, with legal punishment for being caught with another man common across the 19th and early 20th centuries. A key ally in pushing back against this was Cardiffian Leo Abse, a lawyer and MP for Pontypool, who championed equality for the LGBTQ+ community. In 1957, he was a vital advocate of The Wolfenden Committee, which aimed to recommend the decriminalisation of homosexuality. Abse was praised for opposing a Bill to amend laws relating to homosexuality in 1962 and continued to be an ally to the community throughout his career.

Cardiff also has a rich history of LGBTQ+ arts. Winter Kept Us Warm, a Canadian LGBTQ+ romantic drama film, premiered in Cardiff in 1965. The film’s subtext was clear, even though it was carefully coded. What’s more, The Iris Prize was established in 2007 to showcase queer films, and has since become world-renowned for launching the careers of LGBTQ+ filmmakers as well as contributing to Cardiff’s thriving creative and queer communities.

In the mid-2000s, Cardiff became a hub of queer TV representation with Torchwood, a Doctor Who spin-off aimed at older audiences. The show followed a group of alien hunters, all with only a passing acquaintance with heterosexuality, led by John Barrowman’s Captain Jack Harkness. Recently, Torchwood’s showrunner Russell T Davies and Who returned to Cardiff to film with queer actor Ncuti Gatwa as the Doctor in 2023. A rebooted and possibly more queer Who is promised, set against the backdrop of Cardiff, flying both the Welsh flag and the rainbow flag worldwide.

Cardiff has a rich history of inspiring queer artists, such as the iconic writer Peter Gill. His plays, including Kick For Touch (1983) and Cardiff East (1997), are influenced by his experiences growing up as a gay man in the city. 

But it’s not just the arts where the town has made strides in LGBTQ+ representation. Influential sportspeople like Colin Jackson (athletics) and Jess Fishlock (football) hail from Cardiff and have set an example for athletes to be out and proud. 

Cardiff’s sports clubs are also making significant contributions to the queer community, with events like the Rainbow Wall gaining prominence during the 2022 Football World Cup, as well as the Cardiff Devils hosting annual Pride Nights and partnering with Pride Cymru to make the sport more inclusive. Cardiff is also set to host the Eurogames – the biggest annual LGBTQ+ sport event – in 2027.

Gay pubs have a long history in Cardiff, too. During the 1970s, a thriving subculture of bars in the city catered to the LGBTQ+ community. Two of the most popular were SIRS on St Mary Street and the King’s Cross. SIRS was a particularly discreet bar that required a key and access through a secret entrance. On the other hand, the King’s Cross was one of the first LGBTQ+ venues in the city and served as a flagship for many more that followed.

Cardiff’s first Pride march occurred in 1985, organised by the Cardiff University Gay Society. In 1999, it became a ticketed event named Cardiff Mardi Gras and moved to Bute Park. Volunteer-led charity Pride Cymru took over in 2023 and moved the event to the castle. Meanwhile, The Big Queer Picnic – an inclusive outdoor alternative to the main Pride event – has been taking place since 2014. 

Author WCS

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *