Mark Ashton

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Mark Ashton
Mark Ashton 1986.png
Mark Ashton in 1986
Born Mark Christian Ashton
(1960-05-19)19 May 1960
Oldham, Lancashire, England
Died 11 February 1987(1987-02-11) (aged 26)
Southwark, London
Alma mater Northern Ireland Hotel and Catering College
Occupation Gay rights activist
Political party Communist Party of Great Britain

Mark Christian Ashton ((1960-05-19)19 May 1960 – 11 February 1987(1987-02-11)) was a gay rights activist, communist and member of the Communist Party of Great Britain.[1]


Ashton was born in Oldham, and later moved to Portrush, County Antrim, Northern Ireland.[2][3] 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".[4]

In 1982 he 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.[5] Upon his return, he volunteered with the London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard, supported the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament[3] and joined the Young Communist League.[1] In 1983 he featured in the Lesbian and Gay Youth Video Project film Framed Youth: The Revenge of the Teenage Perverts,[6] 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) support group after the two men collected donations for the miners on strike at the 1984 Lesbian and Gay Pride march in London.

After LGSM, he became involved in the Red Wedge collective[4] and became the General Secretary of the Young Communist League from 1985 to 1986.

Diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, Ashton was admitted to Guy's Hospital on 30 January 1987 and died 12 days later of Pneumocystis pneumonia.[8] His death prompted a significant response from the gay community, particularly in publication and attendance at his funeral at Lambeth Cemetery.[9][10]


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.[8][10] Since 2008, the Terrence Higgins Trust has included the Mark Ashton Red Ribbon Fund, which had collected more than £21,000 as of 2015.[11] Mark Ashton is also remembered on a panel on the UK AIDS Memorial Quilt[12][5] and has been memorialised in May 2014 on a plaque at the entrance to the London headquarters of the Terrence Higgins Trust.[13]

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

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.[19] However, Ashton's membership of the Young Communist League was not mentioned in the film to avoid alienating American audiences.[2] Schnetzer, an American actor, excelled in the role and was nominated for two British Independent Film Awards.



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