When Owen Hurcum, a part-time archaeology master’s student at Bangor University, climbed to the stage to accept their position as the newly appointed mayor of Bangor, they felt “hugely humbled” to represent their community.
What is even more unique about Hurcum, 23, is who they are: non-binary, queer and agender. They made history in this year’s local and mayoral election by becoming the first openly non-binary mayor of any city in the world.
“It wasn’t as much a shock or surprise to become mayor of Bangor,” explains Hurcum, “but it was when they asked me to put my name forward for deputy mayor back in 2019. I wasn’t expecting that. I was very honoured that they asked me to put my candidacy forward. They didn’t put anyone up against me, so I got appointed unopposed.”
Hurcum is originally from Harrow in London and moved to Bangor five years ago, but said they “didn’t feel safe” growing up in London. “I could never be myself in London, I knew I was LGBT when I was about 12. And I desperately hid it from everyone, like my family, and my friends, and the community. I didn’t feel safe, or feel comfortable being ‘out’ in London. It was only when I came to Bangor that I became comfortable in being out.
“Growing up, there was little or no representation of non-binary people. I knew I wasn’t transgender in terms of being a woman – I thought I was just super queer.
“But I could live that from day one in Bangor. It was the people of Bangor that gave me the vocabulary, the confidence, and the support to understand my gender as non-binary. Bangor is really the place that has allowed me to embrace myself, and I owe the city everything for that.”
But there have been roadblocks. The former Plaid Cymru councillor quit the party over claims of transphobia this year, and has often faced online abuse. “There have been times where I’ve got hundreds of online abuse messages in a day … I find ways of dealing with it.
“But I am pretty much desensitised to it now. If I wasn’t, I don’t know how my mental health would cope.”
Against this background, Hurcum’s appointment is significant. Demand for political representation from transgender and non-binary individuals is growing, not least as the US elected its first trans state senator and first black gay congressman. Does Hurcum see the prospect of similar representation happening here in the UK?
“I mean, it would be fantastic. We see how, without trans voices in government, just what ridiculous – excuse my language – bullshit the government will pull.”
The debate over trans rights has become increasingly toxic in recent years after Theresa May’s government opened a consultation on the Gender Recognition Act. Gender-critical feminists disagree with the view that gender identity should be prioritised over biological sex.
Some of those who support trans rights say their opponents are stoking fears and trying to deprive trans people of their human rights. Liz Truss, the minister for Women and Equalities, last year decided not to change the act, arguing that it strikes the right balance for people wanting to change their gender legally.
“It seems to be open season right now against trans people in the UK,” said Hurcum. “And that’s no fun at all. I’m hoping that we can get representation at the highest echelons and that they’ll be able to direct any government away from this harmful bigotry.”
For now, though, Hurcum is more focused on local politics and “putting Bangor on the map”. “I will try to champion the idea of the city having a poet laureate. I’d like to explore the possibility of expanding our twinning programme with Soest, in Germany.
“And I want to celebrate our peacocks. If Llandudno can be famed for its goats, I want Bangor to be famed for its peacocks.
“You’ve got the mountains, you’ve got the oldest city in Wales. You’ve got tiny little coastal footpaths, and the rolling hills, three minutes from the city centre.
“I think everyone should come to Bangor at least once and experience it because there’s nowhere else like it.”