Film tribute to Mark who fought for gay rights

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The story of how a man originally from Portrush helped to destroy homophobia amongst miners, whilst raising over £20,000 for mining families during the Welsh mining strike of 1984/85 will be portrayed on the big screen later this month.

‘Pride’, written by Stephen Beresford, is based on the true story of pioneering gay campaigners in London, who supported the strikers with the “Pits and Perverts” benefit concerts and in so doing had to overcome tribal suspicions among both London’s gays and the miners of south Wales.

Portrush man, Mark Ashton died in 1987 after contracting HIV, he was just 27.

Born in 1960 he studied at the Catering College in Portrush, before moving to 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 in the country for three months and the experience was to be a transformative one for him.

Witnessing extreme poverty, sickness and social inequality amongst the Bangladeshi natives, Mark 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.

In 1984 he and his pal Mike Jackson, set up ‘Lesbian and Gays Support the Miners’ (LGSM), and raised over £20,000 for the mining families of the Dulais Valley in South Wales.

The LGSM group, led by Mark was initially met with resistance and suspicion by the miners. But as the months went on, the villagers were eventually won over by the group’s enthusiasm for their cause and the friendships the group made helped to break down prejudice.

The brave actions of this group will be portrayed through the film, ‘Pride’ which will be released in the UK on September 12.

Speaking after a special screening of the film in Manchester last month, Mark’s friend Mike Jackson said that he had “found being involved in the film a cathartic experience.”

Jackson said: “The skills of people like Ben Schnetzer (Mark Ashton) make it feel like you’re seeing the person, my friend who died.

“It has made me cry and cry and cry.

“The really wonderful thing is the film has brought us all together again after 30 years. The first screening we were back together with people from Wales – there were more tears. What a fantastic journey this has been. Our history was there and nobody knew about it but credit to Stephen for seeing and telling it. Seven of us have died since and I worried that all of this would get lost when I went too.”

Stephen Beresford said that he first got the idea for the film 20 years ago when he was in Manchester for the Pride festival.

He said: “I thought it was incredible but I didn’t believe it was true.

“It took me a long time but I really started to piece the story together and I found out it was true.”

When Mark died on February 11, 1987, many of the Welsh miners came to his funeral to pay their respects.

Mark’s obituary ran to 18 columns in ‘Capital Gay’ and highlighted how this local man had learnt some of the lessons of history and had played a part in shaping and changing the world.