May 2015        

Films

Communist and gay rights activist celebrated

Jenny Farrell

Solidarity lies at the heart of the film Pride. It is a film about the seemingly unlikely alliance between a mining community in Wales and the London Lesbian and Gay group “Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners.” This is a true story, and the hero of this film is Mark Ashton, a communist from Co. Antrim.
     Pride is a tremendous film—historically true, passionate, and funny. The writer, Stephen Beresford, said about the significance of choosing this moment in history as the subject of the film: “The mining communities are like the last bulwark in the industrial working class. They represent a group that is being eradicated by the new world, and this is the last stand-off.”
     It is a historical fact that the charismatic Ashton was joint founder of the first LGSM group, from which sprang a total of eleven groups in Britain. It is also true that these groups raised an amazing £20,000 for the strikers. LGSM was the greatest single financial supporter of the miners during this longest strike in the history of the British working class; and they did so at a time when Thatcher’s government had sequestered the funds of the miners’ union so that the strikers would not get their strike pay, having described the miners’ families as “the enemy within.”
     Donations could no longer be sent through the union’s national office, so Ashton’s London LGSM group twinned with the village of Onllwyn in the Dulais Valley. They visited the miners and their families in solidarity and to deliver food, money, and other supplies. And they made friends with them.
     Ashton was one of the first to recognise the common cause between the two communities, both under attack from Thatcher, her subservient police force, and Murdoch’s homophobic and anti-union press. “Mining communities are being bullied, like we are, being harassed by the police, just as we are. One community should give solidarity to another. It is really illogical to say, ‘I’m gay and I defend the gay community but I don’t care about anything else.’”
     Mark Ashton’s insight was what set the whole LGSM movement in motion.
     The miners understood this gesture of solidarity. Their community’s representative, Dai Donovan, who was sent to London to collect the first donation, spoke at the spectacular “Pits and Perverts” benefit concert for the miners. He reiterated Ashton’s stance from the miners’ viewpoint. “You have worn our badge, Coal, not dole, and you know what harassment means, as we do. Now we will pin your badge on us; we will support you. It won’t change overnight, but now 140,000 miners know that there are other causes and other problems. We know about blacks and gays and nuclear disarmament. And we will never be the same.”
     An older miner with wide cultural interests uses the image of the Great Atlantic Fault, the “dark artery” of coal that runs from south Wales to Pennsylvania, to express connections that exist below the surface.
     Most of the characters in the film are based on real people. When Stephen Beresford began his research for Pride he tried to make contact with survivors of this time. He found a documentary, All Out! Dancing in Dulais, which LGSM made for the miners. This became an important source and inspiration for the characters.
     The real people then also became involved with the film and have unanimously pronounced it to be a true reflection of the spirit of those times. Some took part in the re-creation of pivotal events in the film: the “Pits and Perverts” benefit concert and the 1985 Gay Pride parade in London, where they walk behind the actors. In 1985, buses of miners joined the parade. And even after the strike had been defeated, the miners and their union continued to champion gay rights. Solidarity really went both ways.
     Pride does more than just relate the facts: it celebrates this moment in history with charisma, passion, and a tremendous sense of humour. It demonstrates in the lives of those involved at the time the potential for solidarity to transform people. The film salutes the courage and dignity of the oppressed, those who resist even in the face of an overwhelming enemy. The script celebrates the potential for humour as a source of strength and resistance. It uses dance as a galvanising force. It is a truly wonderful film.
     I should not finish on a somewhat disappointed note, but I will. The fact that Mark Ashton was a communist is played down in the film. This is a shame. He was a communist from Ireland and general secretary of the Young Communist League from 1985 until shortly before his death from AIDS-related illness in February 1987, aged only twenty-six. If the film does not state this clearly enough, we do so on these pages, with Pride.

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