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Forbidden Lives is a fascinating collection of portraits and discussions that aims to populate LGBT gaps in the history of Wales, a much neglected part of Welsh heritage. In it Norena Shopland reviews the reasons for this neglect while outlining the activity behind the recent growth of the LGBT profile here. She also surveys LGBT people and their activity as far back as Giraldus Cambrensis’ Journey Through Wales in the twelfth century where he reports on ‘bearded women’ and other hermaphrodites. Other subjects include Edward II and Hugh DeSpenser, seventeenth century poet Katherine Philips, the Ladies of Llangollen, Henry Paget, artists Gwen John and Cedric Morris, and actor Cliff Gordon.
Shopland also identifies the strong Welsh connections to the exploration of homosexuality and transgender during the twentieth century, highlighting the contributions of John Randell, AE Dyson and Griff Vaughan Williams, and MPs Desmond Donnelly and Leo Abse. They helped to transform social and legal attitudes towards LGBT people across the whole of Britain, particularly in the post-war period, which created the more accepting culture present today. There is still plenty of work to do, as chapters on the responses to Pride in Wales and the first gay play, We All Fall Down, clearly show. But the stories of the people portrayed in this book are less likely to be repeated: the LGBT community has moved from living forbidden lives to a place largely less forbidding. Norena Shopland helps us understand the struggle which achieved these changes.