Mark Lewis, leader of Hoops and Loops at City URC, has been asked to join a discussion in the Senedd at the LGBTQ+ Action Plan for Wales: Next Steps Conference to talk about his inspirational work of supporting gay refugees and asylum seekers in Wales.
The conference is organised by Senedd Insight, which holds conferences, policy briefings, workshops and practical training on matters of public policy to create a forum for public and private sector professionals where they can hear from experts and inspiring practitioners working in the various fields. It will be held on Wednesday 19 July, 2023.
Mark has been asked to focus on his work in setting up and running Hoops and Loops, now registered as a charity, which meets most days at City URC, and what the invitation calls its ‘great work’ in ‘supporting LGBTQ+ refugees and asylum seekers in Wales’.
He has been asked, particularly, to share his approach to understanding the different needs and vulnerabilities of people suffering discrimination. Speakers at the session will address delegates, then answer questions and comments from the floor in a session called Implementing Intersectional Practices.
This is not the first time Mark’s work with Hoops and Loops has been honoured by the Senedd. At the Pride Cymru march through Cardiff last year, City URC was the base for the Welsh Parliament’s LGBT+ staff network Prism, when among the 150 who turned up to support was First Minister Mark Drakeford.
Mr Drakeford, pictured with group member Smiler, and some members of Hoops and Loops marched with Prism in the Pride Cymru parade, the biggest celebration of equality and diversity ever held in Wales, when thousands joined the rainbow stream through the streets of the city.
Earlier this year, Mark was invited by the Welsh Government to make up a group from Hoops and Loops to accompany Minister for Economy Vaughan Gething’s party to the final Football World Cup training session of the Welsh team at Cardiff City Stadium before the squad left for Qatar later that day.
Mr Gething told the Senedd: ‘Earlier today, I was joined by members of Hoops and Loops while attending the final pre-world cup training session at Cardiff City Stadium.’ He explained members of the group had come to Wales to ‘escape domestic violence, persecution and even the threat of death’.
He emphasized: ‘Wales’s status as a Nation of Sanctuary matters. It is a core part of the values we choose to stand for,’ adding, ‘I am delighted that those who are building a new life here were able to join us as we mark this major moment in Welsh sporting history.’
Mark said: ‘It was a wonderful experience for them. We met two Ministers of the Welsh Government. It meant a lot. They couldn’t believe they were being so highly honoured by such an important body. Some were in tears.’
ITN News has broadcast a special report on Hoops and Hoops, when broadcaster Sion Jenkins visited City URC to talk to Mark, see the group in action, and interview some members. Mark told Sion all about the work going on at City and gave him, and television viewers, a tour of the church.
Mark explained Hoops and Loops, which he started with the support of City in 2018, provided emotional support and practical help to gay asylum seekers. It was a safe space where they could meet others in the same situation and have a sense of community and family.
Sion interviewed three asylum seekers who were not identified and filmed from the back. He told viewers thousands were forced to flee their homes every year for fear of persecution for political or religious reasons – or simply ‘because of their sexuality’, the subject of his special report.