Words: Steve Brown
An English Heritage Blue Plaque has been unveiled to commemorate gay filmmaker, author and LGBTQ activist Derek Jarman on the 25th anniversary of his death.
For a generation Jarman was a hugely influential, high-profile figure at a time when there were very few famous out gay men.
His art was an extension of his social and personal life and he used his platform as a campaigner and created a unique body of inspiring work.
He founded the organisation at the London Lesbian and Gay Centre at Cowcross Street, attending meetings and making contributions.
Jarman participated in some of the most best-known protests including the march on Parliament in 1992.
In 1986, he was diagnosed as HIV-positive and discussed his condition in public. In 1994, he died of an Aids-related illness in London, aged 52, 25 years ago to the day.
He died the day before a key vote on the age of consent in the House of Commons, which he campaigned for an equal age for both gay and straight sex. The Commons reduced the age to 18 rather than 16.
At the unveiling of the plaque, LGBTQ activist Peter Tatchell said: “Derek was a personal friend and I worked with him for many years.
“He was a strong supporter of the LGBT+ direct action group OutRage! and was arrested in 1992 when we tried to march on Parliament to demand the repeal of anti-gay laws.
“As he often reminded people, he spent most of his life as a criminal under legislation that outlawed homosexuality.
“He gave me and other OutRage! members a cameo part in his film Edward II, to highlight the parallels between Edward’s violent demise and contemporary anti-LBGT violence.
“Derek was the first UK public figure to come out as HIV-positive, at the Aids & Human Rights conference that I organised to parallel the World Health Minister’s first summit on Aids in 1988.
“He was a trailblazer in every aspect of his life and work - a fierce critic of everything conventional and orthodox. A true innovator.
“One of his favourite quips was from Dorothy Parker: ‘Heterosexuality is not normal. It’s just common.’ I was honoured to have Derek as a friend and comrade.”
English Heritage trustee and Blue Plaques panel member, David Olysoga continued: “Jarman was a major cultural figure of the last quarter of the twentieth century.
“He was a unique voice in cinema, an important campaigner for gay rights, a painter and a gardener.
“He brought a creative and disruptive energy to everything he did, at a time when it was urgently needed.
“We are delighted to honour him here on the South Bank, where he began to create his Super 8 universe.”
The unveiling was performed by the actor and director Dexter Fletcher and took place at Butlers Wharf Building, 36 Shad Thames, SE1 2YE, where Jarman once lived and worked.
You can read our piece on Derek Jarman in Attitude's March Style Issue, out now.