A petition has been launched calling for a public memorial in memory of gay activist Mark Ashton to be erected in his hometown of Portrush, Co Antrim. Ashton was a tireless activist, and co-founder of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM), which formed the basis for the film, Pride.
A volunteer with the London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard, Mark then founded LGSM alongside Mike Jackson, 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. A huge turnout of people paid their respects at his funeral in Lambeth Cemetary.
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 pop group, The Communards, wrote the song, ‘For A Friend’ in his honour.
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 the place where he grew up.
Organiser of the petition, Jude Copeland, said he was inspired after seeing the film Pride and looking further into Mark’s life. In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, Copeland explained, “In the film you see them [LGSM] being treated with hostility and that’s complete divergence because all the miners were grateful to have someone interested in their cause. The strike action ended and the miners went to Pride so there was real solidarity.
“It was because of their union membership connection that the unions got a motion at the Labour annual conference about supporting gay rights.”
Copeland continued, “My belief is that you have to give people the opportunity to support things. It’s very easy to say it will only be of interest to left-wing people but I think he’s somebody everybody could be proud of.”
— LGBT History NI (@LGBTHistoryNI) February 12, 2021
Copeland is a volunteer with Northern Ireland’s LGBT Heritage Project. Its coordinator, Dr Richard O’Leary, shared, “Mark is a significant figure in LGBT history and deserves to have his achievements marked in the town where he grew up. It is fitting that his life should be remembered during this month, LGBT History Month.”
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