Campaign to commemorate Northern Irish gay activist Mark Ashton reaches 27,000 signatures

A fundraiser for a plaque in his honour in his hometown of Portrush is also well on its way to reaching target.

A split screen of photos of the same smiling man dressed in 1980's clothes

A campaign to honour Mark Ashton, the gay activist whose work inspired the film Pride, is gathering momentum as more than 27,000 people have added their names to a petition started by historian Jude Copeland.

Copeland, shared, “It is difficult to put into words what the success of this petition means to me. I had anticipated some low number of signatures, the figures 70 and 300 were in my head.”

Mark Ashton was volunteer with the London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard. Alongside Mike Jackson, he founded Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM), which formed the basis for the film, Pride, collecting donations for the striking miners during the 1984 Pride march in London. It resulted in the miners showing their own solidarity in turn, and attending a gay Pride march.

Mark died too soon, at the age of 26 in 1987 after being diagnosed with AIDS. He was admitted to hospital with pneumonia and died only 12 days later.

Mark’s huge impact has been recognised in the UK – a plaque in his honour was erected above the Gays The Word bookshop in London where the LGSM would hold their meetings, while the Mark Ashton Trust was created in his memory to raise money for people living with HIV, and the Terrence Higgins Trust now includes the Mark Ashton Red Ribbon Fund.

Mark is also remembered on a plaque at the entrance to the THT in London, and with a panel on the UK AIDS Memorial Quilt, but the petition calls out for him to be remembered in Portrush, the place where he grew up.

A crowdfund has also been set up to raise money for the plaque for Mark. Copeland elaborated, “A motion is being brought to the local council to earmark public funds for a statue.

“After much contemplation, while a statue or large memorial to Mark would be well-deserved, we are in the middle of a global pandemic. Mums and dads can’t feed their children. People are worried about their jobs. Nurses, for whom we clapped, are being insulted by a 1% pay rise. Those with the least are suffering the most. I can’t ask for public funds to be used for this memorial, but I have started a fundraising campaign for a plaque for Mark.

“Portrush was Mark Ashton’s home place. His legacy is recognised in London, Wales and Paris. We are fundraising for a plaque so, finally, Portrush can have pride in Mark.”

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