I spent ages trying to come up with the perfect pride/shame pun for the title of this blog post and I failed myself, so in the end I settled for quoting Heather Small, because when all else fail, there’s M People.
Why was I trying to convolute a pun about pride and shame? Because last week I watched Pride – the film about Gays and Lesbians of 1980’s London supporting striking miner’s in a small Welsh village.
The shame bit comes from the fact that I didn’t realise it was real. Or at least based on a true story. Maybe I didn’t pay enough attention to the pre-release publicity, but what bothered me more is that I should have known about it long before the film.
The LGSM were a real-life group set up by Mark Ashton and Mike Jackson (played brilliantly by Ben Schnetzer and Joe Gilgun) – part of their group was Jonathan Blake and they, along with many others, raised money for the miners, one of whom was married to the now Labour MP, Sian James.
Jonathan Blake’s story is actually pretty secondary to the story of Pride, but there he is, an important part of our history. In the film he – as played by Dominic West – declares that he is patient Number 2. The second person to be diagnosed with HIV – he’s still alive, and nobody knows why.
To this day, after all the death that has surrounded – and still does – HIV for the last thirty odd years, he’s still alive.
For a community that is so intrinsically associated with the disease, his name is one we should all know. Not only did I not know his name, the man doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page. His story should be known by us all, but when you search for him, he only comes up in association with the film.
The other names we should know are those of Mark, Mike and Sian. Together they made LGSM into a successful integration of two communities – one that reached its peak in 1985 when the group led the pride March in London.
In short, following the Pride march in 1985 – where the film ended – the Labour party put gay rights onto its agenda. It had been proposed previously, but had been defeated. This time, with the support of the miner’s, it passed.
And so, amidst 1980’s Conservatism, there was suddenly a political party that was concerned with gay rights – and the reason they were concerned with it is because their core voters, a group of miner’s, were concerned with it. This was a group of people from outside the traditional gay community.
Where we are today is not solely down to what happened between those two communities during the Miner’s strike, but it is an important part of our history and it’s something we should know.
Imagine not knowing about Emmeline Pankhurst, never having heard that name before. It’s hard for me as a 27 year old man to imagine a Great Britain where women aren’t allowed to vote.
In 2015, looking back, it may have seemed inevitable that women would be given the vote but it didn’t seem inevitable to Pankhurst, it seemed to be a massive injustice that she had to fight for.
She wasn’t the only one, and if she didn’t exist, then women would probably still have got the vote. But they might not have done.
Maybe if LGSM had never come about, gay rights would have marched on inevitably towards where we are today. But they might not have done.
It’s a crime that it took me to 2015 to learn the names Mike Jackson, Mark Ashton and Jonathan Blake. They are an integral part of this country’s modern history, and it’s one that should be taught about in schools.
We need to know where we came from and how we got where we are, but during my schooldays, History lessons started at the Egyptians and ended in 1945. I know next to nothing about the 1950’s onwards… and that’s really embarrassing.
Like many minority groups, there is still a lot of progress that needs to be made – the upcoming Marriage vote in Ireland in May proves that much – but what we can learn from ‘Pride’ and LGSM is that we can all make a difference, even with just small actions, just by showing some compassion and taking a stand for injustice.
What have you done today to make you feel proud?