This blog post is about Mark Ashton, founder of the LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners), a vital support group in the 1980s. The LGSM was the reason that Labour incorporated rights for gays and lesbians in their party program, due to pressure from the National Union of Mineworkers.
Born in 1960 in Oldham, he later moved to Portrush, Northern Ireland and studied at the Northern Ireland Hotel and Catering College before moving to London in 1978. He worked for a while in London, in drag, as a barmaid at the Conservative Club in King’s Cross. However, in 1982, after a 3 month trip to Bangladesh to visit his father, Mark’s attitude changed. He began to volunteer with the London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard, joined the Young Communist League and supported the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
Alongside Mike Jackson, he formed the LGSM support group in 1984 after collecting donations for the miners on strike at the Lesbian and Gay Pride March in London. Between 1984 and 1985, they raised around £20,000 for the families of those who were on strike, helping those families greatly in their time of utmost need.
After LGSM, Mark became involved in Red Wedge, a collective of musicians whose aims was to engage young people with the political process, particularly Labour Party policies, in the run up to the 1987 general election. Mark was also the General Secretary of the Young Communist League from 1985 to 1986.
Mark Ashton died of pneumocystis pneumonia in 1987, having been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. He was 26 years old.
In his memory, the Mark Ashton Trust was founded to raise money for those living with HIV, and it has raised over £20,000 as of 2007. Moreover, the Terence Higgins Trust since 2008 has included the Mark Ashton Red Ribbon Fund, collectig more than £21,000 as of 2015. Mark Ashton is also remembered on a panel of the UK AIDS Memorial Quilt.
Yet despite his youth when he founded the LGSM, the alliances formed by the LGSM between the LGBT+ community and British labour groups were a turning point in the progression of LGBT+ issues, as miners groups began to support and endorse gay pride events throughout the UK. Miners’ groups were also among the most forthright allies of the LGBT+ community against Section 28 in 1988.
There is no doubt that Mark Ashton was a pioneer in the gay rights movement in the UK, an activist of outstanding quality and should be remembered as such.