LGBT+ CAMDEN: ‘I don't know if we'd been able to have our daughter without political change'

Camden councillor Angela Mason was formerly the director Stonewall

Friday, 4th February — By Isabelle Stanley

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Angela Mason enjoys Pride back in 2019

SHE has served as a director of Stonewall, the government’s Women and Equality Unit, a chair of the Fawcett Society and a councillor at the Town Hall. Angela Mason has seen it all… including Sir Ian McKellen with his trousers down.

Camden’s education chief has been a leading LGBTQ campaigner since the 1970s, when she first joined the women’s liberation movement and then the fight for gay rights.

Reflecting on what she is most proud of as LGBT History Month began, she said: “My time at Stonewall and all of the reforms we got through.

“We had a list where we just went through and ticked things off: we did everything from changing the age of consent to lifting the ban on gay people in our armed forces and discrimination in employment, and adoption.”

She joined Stonewall a few years after it had been formed and was quickly appointed its director.

“It was such great fun,” she said. “The first time I met Ian McKellen I came back to our very rickety old offices and he was standing there in a meeting room with his trousers down. It turned out he’d been getting changed.”

Her role included working closely with political heavyweights such as Tony Blair – who she said “is not so popular now but he was a great support” – and meeting “all the big names” at regular events with Sir Elton John, Boy George and George Michael. She said: “I went from being a rather humble solicitor, to suddenly moving in this star-studded atmosphere.”

But it wasn’t all glitz and glamour. Growing up, Cllr Mason faced many difficulties.

She said: “It was very hard at school to meet other people like you at all. So there was this big, big thing about yourself that you couldn’t talk about. And there were awful stereotypes for lesbians – even worse than the stereotypes for gay men.”

Cllr Mason in full flow in the council chamber

Cllr Mason, who is stepping down from the Town Hall in May, said: “It used to be like being in a secret club – and indeed there were many secret clubs where you could go to meet people.”

She believes it was in many ways easier for gay men than lesbians.

“They had more clubs, and homosexua­lity was not unknown in the English upper classes and within English institutions like the army and parliament,” she said.

“Whereas being a lesbian was much more secret, and lesbians didn’t conform to any of the stereotypes about what a woman should be.”

For her, the fight for liberation has always been a deeply personal one. She said she was “saved” by the women’s liberation movement and then the Gay Liberation Front. Now, she lives with her long-term lesbian partner and their daughter.

She said: “I once wrote an article about my daughter and I called it ‘the scientific baby’ because when I went home to tell my mum I was pregnant, she was confused and she said: ‘Oh, I see, it’s a scientific baby.’

“But actually I would call her a political baby because it’s hard to know whether, without our political change, my partner and I would have been able to be together or have a child. I’ve been able to lead a much better life, and a much freer life, along with many others.”

To the campaigners of today, she said: “The controversy has sort of passed on to issues around trans rights, rather than lesbians and gay men. The more
far-thinking people think one of the advantages of Britain is that we have developed a very diverse society. So that’s something we can all be proud of.”

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