Mark Ashton

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Mark Ashton
Born (1960-05-19)19 May 1960
Portrush, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland
Died 11 February 1987(1987-02-11) (aged 26)
Southwark, London
Nationality British
Occupation Gay rights activist
Political party
Communist Party of Great Britain
Movement Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners 1984-1985 (co-founder), Young Communist League 1982-1987 (General Secretary 1985-1987)
Denomination Catholic Church[1]

Mark Christian Ashton ((1960-05-19)19 May 1960 – 11 February 1987(1987-02-11)) was a gay rights activist, socialist and member of the Communist Party of Great Britain.[2]


Ashton was born in Portrush, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland.[1][3] He studied at the former Northern Ireland Hotel and Catering College in Portrush, before moving to London in the late 1970s and be employed as barman (and drag queen) in the Conservative Club.[4]

In 1982 he spent three months in Bangladesh to visit his parents, his father was working there in the textile machinery industry. The experience of his sojourn had a profound effect on him.[5] At his return, he volunteered to the London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard, supported the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament[3] and joined the Young Communist League.[6] In 1983 he featured in the Lesbian and Gay Youth Video Project film Framed Youth: Revenge of the Teenage Perverts(pl),[7] an early documentary which won the Grierson Award for Best Documentary.[8]

He formed, with his friend Mike Jackson, the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) support group, after the two men collected donations for the miners on strike at the 1984 Lesbian and Gay Pride march in London. The group's activities were dramatised in Pride, a film released in September 2014, in which Mark is played by Ben Schnetzer (nominee for BIFA Award for Best Supporting Actor for this role). Mark'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.[9]

After LGSM, he became involved in the Red Wedge collective[4] and became the General Secretary of the Young Communist League from 1985 to his death.

Diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, Mark was admitted to Guy's Hospital on 30 January 1987 and died 12 days later of Pneumocystis pneumonia.[10] His death prompted significant response from the gay community, particularly in publication and attendance at his funeral at Lambeth Cemetery.[2][11]


In his memory, the Mark Ashton Trust was created to raise money for individuals suffering from HIV, and as of 2007 it had raised £20,000.[10][11] Since 2008, the Terrence Higgins Trust has included the Mark Ashton Red Ribbon Fund, which had collected more than £14,000 as of 2014.[12] Mark Asthon is also remembered on a panel on the UK AIDS Memorial Quilt.[13][5]

The ballad "For a Friend" in the album Red from the British pop duo The Communards was written in his memory.[14] Mark Ashton was a friend of Jimmy Somerville and Richard Coles.[15] Mark Hooper of The Rough Guide to Rock writes that this cut may be Somerville's "most impassioned moment".[14] For a Friend reached number 28 on the British charts.[16]

The Constantine Giannaris film Jean Genet Is Dead (1989)[17] is dedicated to his memory.[18]



Party political offices
Preceded by
Douglas Chalmers
General Secretary of the Young Communist League
Succeeded by