Belfast Telegraph

How young Belfast-born gay activist became the Pride of striking miners

By Stephanie Bell

The role played by a Northern Ireland gay rights activist in supporting the Welsh miners' strike of the Eighties is the central storyline in new movie Pride.

Launched to widespread critical acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival and currently showing in cinemas, Pride tells the story of Portrush man Mark Ashton's efforts to break down barriers in mid-80s Britain.

The film follows the true story of a group of gays and lesbians in London who decided to raise money for striking miners, because of their mutual hatred of Margaret Thatcher.

Ashton, who died of Aids at the age of 27 in 1987, studied at the former Catering College in Portrush, before moving to London where he became a leading gay activist.

During the 1984/85 miners' strike in Wales, Ashton and his friend Mike Jackson set up Lesbian and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM).

Aston is played by Ben Schnetzer in a cast that includes Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton and Dominic West.

The Guardian describes Aston as the movie's "most arresting character – a charming, fresh-faced Irish boy" played beautifully by Schnetzer with "spontaneity, sweetness and swagger – a heartbreaker".

Director Stephen Beresford said Aston was the hardest character to recapture, not least because: "In Wales, they still talk about Mark Ashton as if he were Joan of Arc."

Ashton was born in 1961 and moved London in the late 1970s where he was part of the young, underground gay scene into music, fashion and clubs. In 1982 he went to Bangladesh to visit his parents – his father was working there in the textile machinery industry.

He stayed for three months and the experience was to be a transformative one for him.

Witnessing extreme poverty, sickness and social inequality he returned to the UK with a renewed sense of purpose and political drive.

He joined the Young Communist League and became involved with Gay Switchboard.

He featured in Framed Youth: Revenge Of The Teenage Perverts (1983), an early award-winning documentary produced by Lesbian and Gay teenagers.

He was diagnosed with Aids on January 30, 1987 and died 12 days later.

Background

Mark Ashton joined the Young Communist League and became involved with Gay Switchboard.

In 1984 Mark played a key role in the formation of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. From 1985-1987 Mark was the general secretary of the Young Communist League. Mark was diagnosed with Aids and died on February 11, 1987, aged 27 years old.

Belfast Telegraph

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