Mark Ashton was a Human Rights Activist, who co-founded the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners Group (LGSM).
Ashton was politically active as a member of the Communist Party, a volunteer at LGBT helpline, Switchboard and openly supported Nuclear Disarmament when he and friend, Mike Jackson, founded LGSM.
Moved by the Miners’ strike in the mid-80s with the NUM (National Union of Mineworkers) in opposition to Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Government systematic closing of the UK coal industry, Ashton wanted to do something to help.
He understood deeply the marginalisation of the LGBT Community and felt it was no different from the marginalisation of the Working Class. The economy was in turmoil; even so, Ashton, Jackson and supporters spent a great deal of their time fundraising, standing out in all weathers, rattling buckets for coins further cementing their relationship with trade unionism.
The LGSM also arranged a benefit concert and a trip to Dulais to raise funds for the miners and eventually there were 11 separate groups of LGSM as well as Lesbians Against Pit Closures, which was formed in response to LGSM.
Significantly, lesbian and gay rights were embedded in at the Labour Conference in 1985, thanks in no small part to the block vote exercised by the NUM. The NUM also began protesting against Section 28 – an amendment of the Local Government Act 1988 that banned the promotion of homosexuality and the funding of material such as films, plays and books that featured or were perceived to encourage homosexuality.
Thatcher’s hostile response to Gay Rights were outlined at the 1987 Conservative Party Conference, where she stated that ‘children who need to be taught to respect traditional moral values are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay’.
Of course, this was met with furious protests from all Gay Rights Groups including LGSM, Lesbians Against Pit Closures and now – thanks to Ashton’s intervention – the NUM.
Sadly, Ashton was diagnosed with AIDS and was unable to join the protests. He developed pneumonia as a complication and died 12 days after initial diagnosis.
Section 28 itself wasn’t repealed until 2003.
Ashton’s contributions to Gay Rights remains monumental and he stood tall in his attempts to end discrimination for all oppressed groups at a crucial point in the history of Gay Rights in the UK.