Plaid Cymru leader Rhun ap Iorwerth: Wales cannot go ‘backwards’ on trans youth 

Plaid Cymru leader Rhun ap Iorwerth has thrown his support behind access to gender-affirming healthcare for trans youth, saying Wales cannot “take a step backwards [on] people’s right to choose”. 

In an exclusive interview with PinkNews ahead of the general election on 4 July, ap Iorwerth addressed a number of issues regarding queer issues in the devolved nation, including the pausing of puberty blockers for trans youth, and the UK’s international ranking on LGBTQ+ rights. 

Plaid Cymru, which translates to Party of Wales in English, is a pro-independence party. 

Following the 2019 general election, the party had three MPs in the House of Commons, but has more prominence in the Senedd, Wales’ parliament, where it holds 12 seats. 

PinkNews: Why should LGBTQ+ people vote for you?

I would like LGBTQ+ people to vote for Plaid Cymru because of our track record in supporting members of that community.

We have a proud record in putting together progressive policies based on respect, based on being supportive of people and choices they make in their lives.

There are so many issues in politics which are of real concern to me… the safety of LGBTQ+ community members because [of] the culture wars that have been raged by the political right. Plaid Cymru is a safe space and we have your back. 

What would you do for LGBTQ+ people in Wales if elected?

You can talk in terms of policies, you can also talk in terms of what we’re trying to achieve as a party.

We’re a party where tolerance is a very core principle [of] all that we do and I would hope that throughout the breadth of policies that we put together in this election… people would see that golden shred of tolerance, respect and supporting people, many of whom – especially in the trans community – are finding themselves victims of policies by the UK government that show a fundamental disrespect towards them.

It’s what we are trying to achieve as a whole for Wales.

Rhun ap Iorwerth
Plaid Cymru leader Rhun ap Iorwerth. (Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)

Your party seeks Welsh independence, what would that mean for LGBTQ+ people in Wales?

We are a nation where I believe equality is important. We are a nation, I believe, where community is still important. And when we are faced with a broken United Kingdom, the challenges of which stop us being able to build the kind of society we need, that frustrates me.

So, you’ll hear me in this election talking about fairness and talking about ambition.

Ambition in itself can refer to an option to build a more prosperous society, but absolutely at its heart – to me – is the ambition of building a more tolerant and equal society.

Those would be at the heart of this new, independent Wales that we could all aspire to, wherever we are on the journey in terms of believing it is within reach.

The Conservatives have pledged to rewrite the Equality Act to define explicitly that “sex” means “biological sex”. What is the Plaid’s stance on this?  

This is an evolving issue in many ways, and the concern with what we’re hearing from the UK government recently is that we’re taking backward steps. Plaid Cymru wants us to keep moving forward. On trans issues, we’re talking about an area of discussion that is new to many people but as political leaders, we have to be bold, being prepared always to stand up for what we believe in.

We’re a party that respects individual choices. We’re a party that wants to promote tolerance, always.

It’s up to political leaders, through legislation, through what we say, to show we are eager to bring people on a journey. Regressive legislation is not what we need now if we’re to send a message to people that they ought to be able to feel safe in society.

What we’re seeing, in terms of language and culture wars, from the UK government is creating an unsafe environment – the opposite of what we need.

The LGBTQ+ Plan for Wales, released in 2023, aims to improve the experiences of queer people in the health and social care sectors. However, NHS Wales has paused puberty blockers for trans youth following the Cass Report. How would Plaid Cymru address this issue?  

This has become an ever-more complicated area. We had the Cass Review which took the debate in a new direction and, of course, there has been much criticism of the report [in] many, many directions.

What I want to do, above all, is support young people.

As with so much of the trans debate, we actually have to recognise that people have concerns. We have to recognise that there are genuine [concerns] and that we are on a journey. 

But, ultimately, it has to be always about supporting our young people making decisions through the health service that are safe… which is why we want to [put] processes in place by which that support is made available for young people. What we cannot do is take a step backwards from being able to show that we respect people’s right to choose. 

The average waiting time for an appointment with the Welsh gender service is 17 months. What would Plaid Cymru do to bring this down? 

It is a real concern when we see a wait for gender services. Plaid Cymru has made it clear that those services have to be properly resourced.

Teenage years go by very, very quickly. We can’t allow teenagers who find that time in their lives difficult to be waiting for the support they should be able to expect from the government.

How would Plaid Cymru ensure that sex education remains fully LGBTQ+-inclusive amid scaremongering about the content of the current curriculum?

I feel very firmly that throughout the school system we have to have very robust measures and processes by which young people are able to learn about and explore the concept of relationships.

Of course, there are people who raised concerns about inappropriate things being introduced to very young children. It’s not about that. Everything has to be age appropriate. Different things will be spoken about, and discussions led, with a six year old [than] with a 16 year old and that is very important. 

Preparing young people for the big wide world, and allowing them to learn and to explore the concept of safe relationships – relationships based on respect – is very important. I say that as a father [and] as a politician. 

The UK as a whole has dropped down the ILGA Europe’s Rainbow Map on LGBTQ+ equality, from first in 2015 to 13th in 2024, what will you do to return us to the top spot? 

The dropping of the UK [in] the Rainbow Map is something that should concern us all, not just people in the LGBTQ+ community. It’s one of those measures of how tolerant a society we are and I want us to be a tolerant society.

It’s about political leadership. That comes through in perhaps some specific policies but it’s also in tone, how safe people feel to express themselves, how safe they feel in terms of policy development. That is vitally important to us.

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