Stonewall Cymru has called on public bodies and businesses in Merthyr to ensure their services are 'gay friendly.' Addressing a Speak Easy event for lesbian, gay and bisexual people at Treganna Hotel on Monday evening, Jenny Porter highlighted concerns that gay people in Merthyr often find themselves disengaged from their local community.
"Five years ago an event for lesbian and gay people in Merthyr would have been unthinkable," said Jenny Porter, Stonewall Cymru's Community Liaison Officer. "But today's event, supported by Communities First and South Wales Police, demonstrates that, to really reflect the diverse communities of Merthyr, service providers need to be more gay friendly, and that is something which is beginning to happen in Merthyr."
The Speak Easy event was the culmination of a 3 month project, supported by the Communities First Diversity and Equalities Fund. Local lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people were invited to a series of public meetings between February and April to voice their opinions about being gay in Merthyr.
Community safety emerged as a key concern prompting discussions about the need for a LGB group to be established, which would liaise with police and help tackle homophobic hate crime in the area.
Jenny Porter added, "Sadly, too many gay people still expect to face discrimination and that prevents them from making a positive contribution to their local communities. Through the Merthyr LGB Project we have identified a need for a lesbian, gay and bisexual support group to be set up to create opportunities for socialising and peer support. A local support group would also help the police and other services to engage with local LGB people, to hear their experiences and ensure their services as gay friendly."
Huw Lewis, Assembly Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, welcomed Stonewall Cymru's Merthyr Project, "We are right to celebrate the 'speak-easy' event this week. The ground we have made in fighting bigotry in the UK over the last decade is truly incredible, and Wales is no exception."
Mr Lewis added "Legislation is only half the battle in tackling homophobia, however. Whilst LGB people in cities find strength and support in vibrant gay communities, it can be more difficult for people in smaller towns and villages who can feel isolated.
"That is why I welcome the recent initiatives from Stonewall Cymru, who have organised a series of events in Merthyr Tydfil for lesbian, gay and bisexual people so they can find out more about local services and social activities. Stonewall also brought together key organisations like the council, the police and local health providers so they could listen to the concerns of the gay community with regards to service provision."
It is hoped that local LGB people will form a support group and that Stonewall Cymru will assist in the formation of this group.