Mark Ashton was killed by HIV at 5am on Wednesday 11 February 1987. He was only 26 when he died, and he had packed so much into his short life: Irishman, catering college student, squatter, drag queen, communist, hotel worker, reader, Switchboard volunteer, writer, agitator, outrageous dresser, organiser, gay rights activist, wonderful friend and a very warm and human human being. They all fitted together, but his gayness was fundamental.
In an article in 7 Days in 1986, he described what it was like to be gay. "Up to now our problems - discrimination, repression, guilt, violence, anxiety and ridicule - have been surmountable, either through excesses of bravado or retreat into camp .... But Aids. This is frightening because unlike all the other threats, trials and tribulations which are part and parcel of our daily lives - we aren't yet sure how to respond. We could be infected by the virus from our lovers; should we be infected we could go on to develop Aids, and if we develop Aids we will probably die."
On 30 January 1987 Aids was diagnosed. That evening Mark sat up in bed at Guy's Hospital in London, holding court, entertaining his friends, and generally camping it up. By the following afternoon he was too ill to see any visitors. Eleven days later he was dead. Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia or PCP.
His obituary in Capital Gay ran to 18.75 column inches. Gay Times gave him 26.5 column inches. Lesbian and Gay Socialist's tribute measured 21 inches; his obit in 7 Days was 14.5 inches long. Why so many column inches? Because Mark had learnt some of the lessons of history and had played his part in shaping and changing the world.
Mark was a gay activist who saw the need to forge links between the gay community and other communities. During the 1984-85 miners' strike he and Mike Jackson set up Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners and raised an amazing £22,000 for the mining families of the Dulais Valley pit in South Wales. Not only that, the contacts and frienships they made broke down massive amounts of prejudice. Miners from Dulais were at Mark's funeral and on subsequent Gay Pride marches.
Mark helped destroy homophobia among miners and increased understanding of the miners' struggle among lesbians and gays. He broke down barriers. That was his contribution to history. He was a wonderful man in so very many ways. He was much loved and is greatly missed. Chris Birch