LGBTQ+ History Month profiles

Lily Parr was the first female football player to have her career recognised with a statue on display at the National Football Museum.

Born in 1905 to a working class family, Lily Parr showed an interest in football from an early age. During WW1 she was spotted playing for a local team (St Helen's Ladies), and was recruited to play for Dick Kerr Ladies Team, Preston. Known not only for her skills on the pitch, but also her large appetite and constant smoking, it is alleged that Parr requested part of her pay at the factory to be paid in cigarettes.

During her first season (aged just 14) Parr scored 43 goals for Dick Kerr Ladies Team. Dick Kerr played against both male and female teams with Parr scoring an estimated 1,000 goals, winning 758 matches out of 828 (lost 24, won 758, drew 46) during her career at Dick Kerr. Parr played in one of the earliest recognised women's internationals, against a French team in 1920, where Dick Kerr's team won 4-0. Parr finally retired from professional football in 1951 and continued with her employment as a nurse at Whittingham Mental Hospital, until she retired.

It was whilst working at the hospital that Lily met Mary and the two began a relationship as an openly gay couple. Parr lived with her partner Mary for the remainder of her life, in Goosnargh, Preston until she passed away from breast cancer 1978 aged 73.

In June 2019, Parr's football career was recognised with a statue of her on display at National Football Museum, making her the first female football player to be commemorated in such a way.


Wikipedia: Lily Parr, National Football Museum, and Fifa.

Ernest Boulton and Frederick Park were middle class Londoners who performed on stage dressed as women, where they were known as ‘Fanny and Stella’.

Boulton and Park were both homosexual and enjoyed wearing women’s clothing. Together they formed a theatrical performance duo wherein they would perform traditionally female roles in touring productions. They continued to dress in female clothing off stage and were known to go shopping, to eat in restaurants and to take in shows whilst dressed in women’s attire. It is believed that they watched the 1869 Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race in full drag.

In 1870 both were arrested on the charge of 'conspiring and inciting persons to commit an unnatural offence'. They were held on remand for months before trial and subjected to invasive physical examinations from a police surgeon. Whilst on trial the prosecution and police were unable to show that either had engaged in an 'unnatural offence' (sexual activity), furthermore the defence was able to show that neither had hidden the fact that they were dressing in woman's clothing, moreover that they had done so for entertainment purposes. At the time, cross-dressing, particularly for acting purposes, was not against the law and therefore the defendants were quickly found not guilty.

Fanny and Stella continued to perform after their trial, however it appears that they performed separately, but both appeared to have travelled as far as New York. Boulton passed away in 1904 in London from a brain tumour whilst Park passed away aged just 33 in 1881.

Their legacy lives on, with reference being made to them in Lord Arthurs Bed, a 2008 play by Martin Lewton; Fanny and Stella: The Shocking True Story, written by Glenn Chandler and performed in 2015; and Stella, by Neil Bartlett in 2016. A Blue Plaque is installed on the house where Boulton and Park lived in Bloomsbury, London.

Recent studies of the case have shown that it was a factor in the introduction of the 1885 Labouchere Amendment, making male homosexual acts punishable by up to 2 years hard labour, effectively criminalising gay men.


Wikipedia: Boulton and Park and The British Newspaper Archive

Mark Ashton was known as a young gay rights activist.

He grew up in rural Ireland, before moving to London in 1978. Between 1982 and 1984, Mark joined the Lesbian and Gay Switchboard and actively supported the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. He went on to feature in a local documentary Framed youth: The Revenge of the Teenage Perverts, filmed by the Lesbian and gay youth video project.

In 1984 he and a friend formed the Lesbian and Gays support the Miners (LGSM), during the Miners' strikes in the mid 80s. After the strikes Mark went on to become member of the Communism Party of Great Britain and also stood as a general secretary of the Youth Communism League (1985-1986).

In 1987 Mark was admitted to hospital in London, diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. He sadly passed away 12 days later from Pneumocystis Pneumonia, aged just 26.

Mark's legacy, however, lives on. The Mark Ashton Trust was set up in his memory and raised £20,000 by 2007, wherein it became the Mark Ashton Red Ribbon Fund (as part of the Terrence Higgins Trust) and has since raised over £38,000. His memory and these funds seek to raise awareness and support for those with HIV. Plaques in his memory are installed at Terrence Higgins Trust HQ and above 'Gay's the word' bookshop in London. Mark is also commemorated with a square of the HIV/AIDs memorial quilt.

The film Pride, released in 2014, dramatised the work of the LGSM in influencing politics and supporting the welsh mining community. It's believed that the London LGSM raised around £22,000 in 1984 and inspired up to 11 other LGSM branches nationally.


Wikipedia: Mark Ashton, The Guardian

Born Laura Maud Dillon, Michael (Laurence Michael Dillon) became the first person in the United Kingdom to transition by undergoing phalloplasty.

Michael studied at St Anne's College, Oxford graduating in 1936. By 1939 he was living and dressing comfortably as a man and sought medical assistance from a doctor, who prescribed testosterone pills.

As part of the prescription, however, Michael was to speak with a psychiatrist who gossiped about Michael's transition and therefore resulted in him abruptly relocating to Bristol, where he was widely accepted as a man.

Due to an underlying medical condition, Michael was admitted to hospital where he caught the attention of a plastic surgeon, who agreed to perform a double mastectomy (the first of Michael's
surgical procedures), and also put him in contact with renowned plastic surgeon Harold Gillies.

Gillies, having performed reconstructive surgery on genitalia during the war and on Intersex persons agreed to help Michael. During 1946 and 1949, whilst Michael was enrolled as a medical student
at Trinity College, Dublin, Gillies performed approximately 13 surgeries on him for sex reassignment.

After graduating as a physician in 1951, Michael's identity was questioned again after two competing genealogical guides queried his lineage. Shortly after Michael moved to India and began his spiritual journey, during which time he explored Buddhism and decided to become ordained as a Buddhist Monk. Michael became Sramanera Jivaka, however the monastery would not allow Jivaka to become fully ordained due to his transition, so Jivaka joined the Tibetan branch of
Buddhism. Once Jivaka's visa ran out, he was forced to leave the monastery, and spent his final years with declining health in Dalhousie, India where he passed away in 1962 aged 47.


Wikipedia: Michael Dillon, Tricycle and Bristol Museum

Edward Morgan Forster (born Henry Morgan Forster) was an English novelist, essayist, librettist and critic. His most notable works were A room with a View (1908), Howards End (1910) and A Passage to India (1924). He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature on
at least 13 separate occasions, however he did not win one.

His novels were noted for having a more colloquial tone and had a vein of social commentary on hierarchy, humanity, truthfulness and liberty. Between 1910 and 1913, he wrote Maurice, a novel believed to reflect his own homosexual life, which at that time was deemed illegal. The book wouldn’t be published until the 1970s after Forster had passed.

One of Forster’s most famous essays, Two cheers for democracy, later renamed What I believe, was published on the eve of WWII, and displayed his increasing prominence as a ‘Liberal Humanism’ public voice.

During his life Forster travelled extensively exploring life in Greece, Italy and stopping in Pomerania (1905) to learn German, where he wrote a short memoir describing the stay as one of the happiest times in his life. He visited Egypt, Germany and India between 1914 and 1917 and was stationed at Alexandria, Egypt assisting the British Red Cross. Whilst Forster was open with friends about his homosexuality, he remained closeted to the public.

He is believed to have had a number of lovers throughout his adult life, most notably Bob Buckingham (a married policeman) and Mattei Radev, a Bulgarian picture framer and art collector. So close was Forster’s relationship with Buckingham, that he passed away from a
stroke whilst staying with Buckingham and his wife. Forster’s and Buckingham’s ashes were ‘mingled’ and scattered.

During his time at University at King’s College, Cambridge, he became a member of the Apostles society – a discussion group, which went onto form the ‘Bloomsbury set’, a famous group of writers, intellectuals, philosophers and artists, of which he was also a member. In 1946 he was made an honorary fellow at King’s College, Cambridge and went on to spend his later years (1961+) based at the College in Cambridge, setting up residence.


Britannica: E M Forster, Wikipedia: E M Forster and British Library: E M Forster

Jackie was a news reporter, actress and lesbian rights activist, particularly during the 1960s to 1980s.

Born in London in 1926, Jackie spent her youth at a boarding school in Wycombe Abbey before moving onto St Leonards School in Fife. After school she became an actress, travelling to London to attend the Arts Theatre Club where she would perform in a variety of productions, before moving on to be a successful TV presenter and news reporter.

Whilst on a lecture tour of Northern America, Jackie embarked on her first lesbian affair, before going on to marry author Peter Forster. Their marriage was short lived.

On reflection, Jackie said: “I didn’t see myself as being a lesbian, or her, because I didn’t look as I imagined they did, and nor did she. We weren’t short back and sides and natty gent’s suiting. I got the image from The Well of Loneliness, like we all did. There were drug stores around the states, with these pulp books, lurid stories about lesbians who smoked cigars and had orgies with young girls. I thought, where are these women? We never met anyone we knew who were lesbians. There were no other books that I found about lesbians, no films that we ever saw: nothing at all.” 

In 1964 she returned to Britain to work for Border Television. In the 1960s Forster joined the Minorities Research group and wrote for their journal Arena Three and promoted the group and magazine at the Gateways Club, a lesbian nightclub in Chelsea, London. 

In 1969 Forster came out publicly and joined the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE), going on to serve on the executive committee. Forster also took part in the first Gay Pride in 1971, and the following year went on to found Sappho – a social group and publication. The publication ran from 1972 until 1981, however the group continued regularly for years more. Forster went on to become a member of the Greater London Council’s Women’s committee, and between 1992 and her passing in 1998 she was an active member of the Lesbian Archive and Information Centre Management Committee.

In 1997 the BBC made a programme about her life as part of its The Day That Changed My Life series. The Independent has created a more in-depth look of Jackie’s Life and impact on the LGBTQ+ Community, which is available on their website.


From the Closet to the Screen, by Jill Gardiner, 2003; Wikipedia: Jackie Forster and British Library: Jackie Forster remembers the founding of Sappho

Born Mary Louise Edith Weston, Mark was born with atypical genitals due to Disorder of Sex Development (DSD), and was assigned female at birth and initially raised as a girl. 

Mark was given the nickname ‘The Devonshire Wonder’ due to his skills on the athletics field, most notably in javelin, discus and shot put, throughout the 1920s. Mark was the 1929 National Champion for Javelin and Discus throw, and won the National Champion Title for Shot Put in 1925, 1928 and 1929.

In 1936, Mark underwent sex reassignment surgery at Charing Cross Hospital and changed his name to Mark. After his surgery in 1936, Mark retired from competitive sport and began work as a masseur. He married Alberta Bray and they went on to have three children. Mark’s older brother Harry, born Hilda, also transitioned during the 1930s, however sadly Harry died of suicide in 1942.

Since Mark’s passing in 1978, he has inspired articles, studies and discussions about the ‘sex changeability’ in 1930s Britain, but also the masculinity of sports women. Previously medics and academics in the 1930s felt that athleticism and an interest in sport were male characteristics, and that muscles developed through sport were signs of male sex characteristics. More information about this can be found in the research paper The Spectre of 'Man-Woman Athlete’: Mark Weston, Zdenek Koubek, the 1936 Olympics and the uncertainty of sex by Clare Tebbutt.


Wikipedia, Canterbury Christ Church University Library, People Pill and ResearchGate


Robert Graves was a renowned poet and writer, writing more than 120 books during his lifetime. Most notably ‘I, Claudius’ (1934) and an autobiographical classic on World War I, ‘Good-Bye to All That’ (1929).

Graves began his literary career during his school days at Charterhouse School, London, and continued to write and exchange poetry with friends and lovers throughout his military service in WWI. Graves would continue to write and publish a number of works throughout his life, working with other writers such as ‘T.E. Lawrence’ a respected archaeologists, writer and diplomat. Much of Graves work would be influenced by mythology, classics and science fiction. In 2012, it was revealed that Graves had rejected a CBE award in 1957.

During his life, Graves had both male and female lovers, describing some of his amorous attachments as ‘Pseudo-homosexual’, he also admired women with more masculine traits and went on to marry Nancy Nicholson. Whilst married Graves developed an intense relationship with Laura Riding and the three formed a relationship titled ‘the trinity’ increasing to ‘the holy circle’ to include Geoffrey Phibbs, whom Riding also had a romantic/sexual relationship with.

After this relationship deteriorated, Graves married Beryl Hodge, which caused some issue as he was still married to Nicholson. Graves continued to take on young lovers and muses during his marriage to Hodge.

Graves passed away from heart failure in 1985, aged 90. He was buried in Deia, Majorca, where he resided for many years, however a blue plaque is installed on three of his former homes, in Wimbledon, Brixham and Islip.


Britannica website: Robert Graves and Wikipedia: Robert Graves.

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