A deputy minister has described how she suffered from homophobic bullying for four-and-a-half years while in secondary school.
Hannah Blythyn spoke out as she answered questions from Senedd Members to mark anti-bullying week, which urges people to make a noise about bullying “from the playground to parliament”.
Ms Blythyn, who attended St Richard Gwyn Catholic High School in Flint, told the Senedd: “I thought then it was because I was different. I think that children had recognised something in me that I had yet to recognise in myself and I think if you reflected on it now, we would call it what it was: homophobic bullying.
“It went on for four-and-a-half years and it only stopped when I decided I’d had enough, because I’d heard the group were going to put itching powder in my clothes after PE and I just couldn’t bear the thought of that humiliation.
“So, that was the point when one of my friends made me go and tell a teacher so that we could stop it. It took me a long time to build my self-belief back after that happened.
Ms Blythyn, who is responsible for fair work and deputises for the social justice minister, has been named in the 2023 Pinc List as among the most influential LGBTQ+ people in Wales.
Asked by Labour colleague Jayne Bryant about work to tackle bullying, the deputy minister told the Senedd: “We can’t underestimate the impact that anti-LGBTQ+ bullying, or any form of bullying for that matter, can have on young people in their lives.”
She said the Welsh Government is working closely with the Anti-Bullying Alliance to make new bilingual resources available to help prevent bullying.
Laura Anne Jones, for the Conservatives, raised concerns about rumours of schools seeing an increase in pupils “potentially identifying as a cat or ‘furries’”.
A headteacher in Torfaen recently wrote to parents saying the school will not be providing litter trays to children who identify as animals.
Ms Jones, who represents South Wales East, said: “I completely agree with the headteacher … that these children do not need litter trays … They don’t need a government encouraging children and young people to identify as a cat, a carrot, a ‘furry’ or whatever.”
Ms Blythyn hit back, saying: “It’s sad, but not shocking, that you seek to sensationalise what is an important and challenging issue for young people and also for teachers and support staff in schools who want to do the right thing by young people and stamp out bullying.”
Adam Price called for Wales to become part of the International Lesbian and Gay Association’s (ILGA) Rainbow Europe index.
The former Plaid Cymru leader said it would measure progress against the Welsh Government’s aim of being an LGBT-friendly country.
Ms Blythyn said ministers are already in contact with the ILGA to explore how best to highlight progress in Wales.
She raised concerns about the UK falling from the number one-ranked LGBT-friendly country in Europe to 17th out of 49 countries.
Conservative Tom Giffard, the South Wales West MS, criticised the first minister for wearing a badge at this year’s Pride Cymru, saying he has never kissed a Tory.
Accusing Mark Drakeford of belittling LGBT Conservatives, Mr Giffard quoted a party supporter as saying: “Imagine living in a country where your own leader actively pursues a campaign of discrimination against you.”
Ms Blythyn said the LGBT Conservative group seemed to take the badge in the way it was intended as it came out with its own badge saying “I kissed a Tory”.
She accused Mr Giffard of seeking to score party political points “when we should be working together to support communities”.