Qommunity Champion - Sheldon Mills
Sheldon Mills is a Cardiff born, London based champion for LGBTQ+ equality. He has been on the board of Stonewall for the past 9 years including most recently being the Chair of Trustees. He has also spoken passionately about his experience of growing up as black and welsh. He shares some of his thoughts and hopes for the future with us.
Q1: Tell us a little bit about you, your background, where you are based now, the work/volunteering that you do?
I was born and raised in Caerau in Cardiff or Trelai as I used to call it when I was young. Wales is home. My parents are Welsh and Jamaican and I was brought up by my grandmother, Kathleen and grandfather Arthur. They gave me a wonderful home and upbringing. My mum, Karen, still lives in Ely and all my siblings on my mum’s side live in Cardiff, Barry and Senghenydd. Just me who left to go to London at the age of 18. We have a pretty queer fam. I’m cisgendered gay, bro is bi and my other bro is trans. There is a hetero bro somewhere in the middle too. We fight – like all siblings – but not about who we are, we are always loving and tight on that.
I work in London as a regulator and trained as a lawyer. My mum says I’m a workaholic but I had cancer a few years ago and it taught me to listen more to my body and energy levels so I have a better work life balance than before. That said, as a person, I tend to be active and busy.
I have been on the board of Stonewall for a number of years now (9) and am currently its Chair of Trustees. I will step down this year but I’ve had the most amazing experience during this time and it’s been an honour and privilege to serve on this Board. I got involved through their Stonewall Leadership programme. Volunteering has been part of my life for the past decade with Stonewall and I’m happy to have been able to contribute my time to making Wales, the UK and the world a safer place for all LGBTQ+ people. I remember fun runs, walks and loads of charity events when I was younger in Ely – my nan would always be raising money for something or other. And we used to do ‘bob a job’ all summer – shining shoes – as cub scouts and scouts – so volunteering and stuff has always been something I’ve done.
The best bits of Stonewall for me have been Gay Marriage, Rainbow Laces campaign, our work to support activists in many countries across the world, and adding the ‘T’ to ‘LGB’ for the charity.
Q2: You took part in the BBC Wales programme ‘Black and Welsh’. Why was it important to you to use your voice in this way?
A friend of mine, Cat, the producer, asked me to get involved. I had a chat with the Director and we got on so well. We had mutual connections and it just felt right to do it. And I thought the project was important. The death of George Floyd really made it clear to everyone that black people – even if they aren’t in the US – do suffer from a range of unique challenges in society and that one way of exploring that is just to be open and honest about the journeys of many different people in the country. I loved how varied the black experience in Wales is and I was happy to contribute my own voice to that.
Q3: It's been a challenging time for the LGBTQ+ community and LGBTQ+ charities, what gives you hope for the future?
Well as I write this, we’ve just seen the first gay footballer come out since Justin Fashanu. We’ve worked so hard at Stonewall with the FA and Premier League and many clubs and individuals over the years. And we gave significant support to Jake on his brave journey. Football is so totemic in this country and to see Jake go on this journey and the support and love that he’s experienced demonstrates real change in society and that gives me huge hope.
We still see discrimination and challenge for LGBTQ people across the country and in Wales. And we have also seen our own charity come under intense scrutiny for its support for trans and non-binary identities. What’s important is ultimately that we support each other within the community and we reach out to allies and supporters including parents, friends, community members, businesses, schools and healthcare providers and politicians to share our stories and let them know that we are all just human beings seeking to get on with our lives like anyone else.
The biggest challenge is getting to a sensible evidence base around issues. I think it’s important to start from a point of ‘inclusion’ for all identities and then work with evidence to navigate conflict and complexity. The other challenge is that you can change laws but you still need to work as a society to change views and attitudes and move from ‘disgust, denial, discrimination and hatred’ to ‘tolerance’ to ‘positive acceptance’.
Finally, there are intergenerational differences in attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people. And this gives me hope that future generations will move into the positive acceptance mode in Wales and beyond.
Q4: What's the best thing about being Welsh?
I was once in Argentina and went to a place called Gaiman. There’s a Welsh community there and it felt like home. So I guess, for me, the best thing is always coming home.
Q5: If you could be doing anything in the world right now, what would it be?
Walking barefoot on warm sand.
Q6: Best advice you were ever given?
Sticks and stones will break your bones but names will never hurt you. From my nan, when I came home crying at age 6 from primary school as the kids had called me a racist name in the playground.
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Photo credit: Wales Online