Mark Christian Ashton ((1960-05-19)19 May 1960 – (1987-02-11)11 February 1987) was a British gay rights activist and co-founder of the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) support group. He was a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain[1] and general secretary of the Young Communist League.[2]

Mark Ashton
Mark Ashton in 1986
Born(1960-05-19)19 May 1960
Oldham, Lancashire, England
Died11 February 1987(1987-02-11) (aged 26)
Southwark, London, England
Alma materNorthern Ireland Hotel and Catering College
Occupation(s)Gay rights activist,
General Secretary of the Young Communist League
Political partyCommunist Party of Great Britain



Ashton was born in Oldham, and moved to Portrush, County Antrim, Northern Ireland, where he grew up.[3][4] He studied at the former Northern Ireland Hotel and Catering College in Portrush, before moving to London in 1978. Richard Coles wrote about this period: "Mark also worked for a while as a barman at the Conservative Club in King’s Cross, or, rather, as a barmaid, in drag, with a blonde beehive wig. I was never sure if the patrons worked out that he was really a man".[5]

In 1982, Ashton spent three months in Bangladesh visiting his parents, where his father was working for the textile machinery industry. The experience of his sojourn had a profound effect on him.[6] Upon his return, he volunteered with the London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard, supported the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament[4] and joined the Young Communist League (YCL).[1] In 1983 he featured in the Lesbian and Gay Youth Video Project film Framed Youth: The Revenge of the Teenage Perverts,[citation needed] an early documentary that won the Grierson Award 1984 for Best Documentary.[7]

He formed, with his friend Mike Jackson, the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM)[3] support group after the two men collected donations for the miners on strike at the 1984 Lesbian and Gay Pride march in London.[8] The group was formed in Ashton's flat in Claydon House on the Heygate Estate, Elephant and Castle.[9]

After LGSM, he became involved in the Red Wedge collective[5] and became the General Secretary of the Young Communist League from 1985 to 1986.[2]

Diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, Ashton was admitted to Guy's Hospital on 30 January 1987 and died 12 days later of Pneumocystis pneumonia.[10] His death prompted a significant response from the gay community, particularly in publication and attendance at his funeral at Lambeth Cemetery.[11][12]

Personal life


A friend of Ashton's, Chris Birch, described him in 2014 as "a lapsed Catholic who still went to mass very occasionally".[3]


Blue plaque commemorating Mark Ashton

In his memory, the Mark Ashton Trust was created to raise money for individuals living with HIV, and as of 2007 it had raised £20,000.[10][12] Since 2008, the Terrence Higgins Trust has included the Mark Ashton Red Ribbon Fund, which had collected more than £38,000 as of 2017.[13] The Trust also memorialised Ashton in May 2014 on a plaque at the entrance its London headquarters.[14] Ashton is remembered on a panel on the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt.[15][6] In 2017, on what would have been Ashton's 57th birthday, a blue plaque was unveiled in his honour above the Gay's The Word bookshop in Marchmont Street, London, the site where LGSM met and held meetings during the miners' strike.[16][17]

The ballad "For a Friend" in the album Red from synth-pop duo The Communards was written in his memory.[18] Mark Hooper of The Rough Guide to Rock wrote that the cut may have been Jimmy Somerville's "most impassioned moment".[18] Ashton was a friend of both Somerville and Richard Coles.[19] "For a Friend" reached number 28 on the British charts.[20]

The Constantine Giannaris film Jean Genet Is Dead (1989)[citation needed] was dedicated to his memory.[21]

The LGSM's activities were dramatised in Pride, a film released in September 2014 featuring Ben Schnetzer as Ashton. Ashton's role in the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners group was recalled in a series of interviews with some of its other members prior to the film's release.[8] However, Ashton's membership in the Young Communist League was not explicitly mentioned in the film, possibly to avoid alienating American audiences.[3] Fellow communist activist and a close friend of Mark Ashton, Lorraine Douglas, accused the film of having "glossed over Mark's politics and said nothing about the fact he subsequently became General Secretary of the YCL."[22] Schnetzer was nominated for two British Independent Film Awards for his performance.[23] Following the film's release until 21 September, the Mark Ashton Trust received £10,000 in donations.[3]

On 25 September 2018, the Council of Paris awarded the garden adjoining the Hôtel d'Angoulême Lamoignon the new name of Jardin de l'Hôtel-Lamoignon - Mark-Ashton (Hôtel-Lamoignon - Mark Ashton Garden), in his memory.[24][25]

On 2 June 2021, the Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council approved the erection of a memorial blue plaque in his hometown of Portrush.[26]

On 28 August 2022, a tree was planted in St Columbs park in memory of Mark Ashton, as part of the 2022 Foyle pride events. His former LGSM member Mike Jackson and civil rights activist Bernadette McAliskey were in attendance.[27]

On 5 August 2023, Mark Ashton's hometown, Portrush, held its inaugural pride in honour of him.[28]

See also



  1. ^ a b Kelliher 2014.
  2. ^ a b Frost 2016.
  3. ^ a b c d e Doward 2014.
  4. ^ a b Birch 2007.
  5. ^ a b Coles 2014.
  6. ^ a b Birch 1994.
  7. ^ Framed Youth Revenge of the Teenage Perverts (1983) at the British Film Institute[better source needed]
  8. ^ a b Kellaway 2014.
  9. ^ "Lesbians and Gays support the Miners looks back on the strikes 35 years ago". Islington Now. 5 March 2020. Retrieved 8 June 2021.
  10. ^ a b Robinson 2007, p. 170.
  11. ^ Frost 2014.
  12. ^ a b Taylor & Keay 2006.
  13. ^ Birch, Chris. "The Mark Ashton Red Ribbon Fund".
  14. ^ Birch 2014.
  15. ^ "HIV Quilt Comes Out in May". George House Trust. 21 February 2007. Archived from the original on 21 June 2008.
  16. ^ "Mark Ashton memorial plaque". Crowdfunder. Retrieved 18 August 2017.
  17. ^ "See LGBT activist Mark Ashton's plaque". Gasholder. Retrieved 18 August 2017.
  18. ^ a b Hooper 2003, p. 221–222.
  19. ^ Kellman, Andy. "Review: Red". AllMusic.
  20. ^ Warwick, Kutner & Brown 2004, p. 256.
  21. ^ Murray 1998, p. 56.
  22. ^ Meddick, Simon; Payne, Liz; Katz, Phil (2020). Red Lives: Communists and the Struggle for Socialism. UK: Manifesto Press Cooperative Limited. p. 7. ISBN 978-1-907464-45-4.
  23. ^ Barraclough, Leo (7 December 2014). "Matthew Warchus' 'Pride' Wins Top Prize at British Independent Film Awards". Variety.
  24. ^ Volfson, Olga (27 September 2018). "Mark Ashton, militant queer fondateur de Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, honoré par la ville de Paris". Komitid (in French).
  25. ^ "2018 DAC 389. Attribution de la dénomination Jardin de l'Hôtel Lamoignon - Mark Ashton, au jardin de l'Hôtel Lamoignon (4e)" (in French). Archived from the original on 27 September 2018. Retrieved 8 October 2018.
  26. ^ McCann, Maria. "Mark Ashton: Council approves Portrush memorial for gay activist".
  27. ^ @LGSMpride (28 August 2022). "Just planted this tree in memory of Mark in St Columbs garden, Derry City" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  28. ^ "Mark Ashton:Hometown embraces first pride rally".


Party political offices
Preceded by General Secretary of the Young Communist League
Succeeded by
Post vacant