“Arthur Henry Law was a powerful presence in every group and campaign he participated in. He brought big ideas, huge amounts of energy and drive to the table…….” Dani Ahrens.
ARTHUR HENRY LAW was born to Jean and Reginald Law at New Cross Hospital in Wolverhampton on May 21,1959. The youngest of four, he is succeeded his by sisters Susan and Amy. His eldest brother Christopher died from a heart attack aged just 36.
Arthur went to Wolverhampton Grammar School, then studied for a Fine Arts degree at Reading University where he achieved a first.
His mother, who he adored, had a very close loving relationship with and nursed in her final years of life, always reminded him he was conceived in glamorous San Tropez, something he was very proud of.
An attempt to commit suicide while at university as he struggled to come to terms with his identity set Arthur on the road to spending his life helping and understanding others, fighting for equality and, most importantly, demanding respect for all LGBT+ people.
A brilliant designer and wonderful baker of cakes, Arthur was a genius with a sewing needle. The banners that he designed for LGBT+ groups and campaigns over the years are works of art and his sharp eye for design was reflected in everything that crossed his desk. Woe betide anyone who sent out a poor press release or flyer from a campaign that Arthur was associated with!
In order to engage in full-time activism during the day campaigning for the rights of LGBT+ people, he worked nights in a respite care centre, helping people with learning difficulties.
Arthur had the patience of a saint, he was born to campaign and in the early 1980s was one of the few male protesters at the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp. By one of those incredible twists of fate, for a time in Wolverhampton he lived next door to Mary Whitehouse the first president of the National Viewers’ & Listeners Association, known for her strong opposition to social liberalism. Oh the irony!
Arthur’s appetite for activism blossomed during the Stop The Clause campaign, a protest against Section/Clause 28, a pernicious piece of legislation introduced by the Thatcher government which caused so much heartache and damage to LGBT+ people when, on May 24, 1988, it was incorporated into the 1986 Local Government Act. Arthur was active in the Wolverhampton campaign. As his reputation spread far and wide as an effective campaigner, Brighton activists hired a mini bus and travelled to Wolverhampton to meet him. One of those people was Tom Sargant who became his lover for the next three years and was the reason that Arthur came to live in Brighton. We have a lot to thank Tom for.
Some of the issues and campaigns Arthur worked on in the late 1980s and early 90s included:
Section 28: He was part of the core organising group, which met fortnightly at Brighton Town Hall. He made the campaign’s banner – in fact he made all the banners for all kinds of campaigns. They were beautiful works of art. He was very talented and exacting on matters of design.
Housing support: His campaigns around 1993 to get the specific housing needs of lesbians and gay men recognised and supported, both by the council and by tenant and resident associations, were pioneering.
Police and harassment of gay men: Arthur was the driving force behind the campaign to get the police to investigate crimes against gay men without invading their privacy. This resulted in Sussex Police inviting lesbians and gay men into the police station to deliver LGBT+ awareness training to police officers. He was also a vital part of the community team who conducted the early negotiations with Sussex Police and Brighton & Hove City Council about the content and structure of the bid to the Home Office which resulted in the awarding of £1.2 million pounds to establish the Anti Victimisation Initiative in Brighton & Hove in 2001.
Gay Spirit Rising campaign against Section 28: He was central to organising the protests outside the Conservative Conferences in Brighton in 1988 and in Blackpool in 1989. In 1990, he travelled with local activists to Bournemouth where they created three huge heads, representing Hate, Fear and Ignorance, out of chicken wire and papier-mache, standing outside the conference hall to reflect back at the delegates what their law meant to us.
AIDS Quilt: Arthur first had the idea for a memorial to those who had died of AIDS and worked to bring the International AIDS Quilt to Brighton.
Brighton Pride: He was part of the Pink Parasol committee who organised the second Brighton Pride in 1992, which controversially received a £5,000 grant from Brighton Borough Council. In his traditional role as a ‘big ideas’ person, he suggested that the Pride committee take over an empty shop in West Street during the week leading up to Pride, and negotiated with the council to make it happen. The building was a base for all Pride activities during the week.
Switchboard: He was chair of Brighton LGBT Switchboard and was active in setting up Switchboard’s youth project.
Lesbian & Gay Centre: As a result of his work at Switchboard, Arthur began campaigning for a permanent Lesbian & Gay Centre in Brighton, and helped set one up at Community Base in Queens Road for a short time.
Project Zorro: He was a member of the steering committee of this community-led project that exposed how ring-fenced HIV money from central government wasn’t being targeted effectively at those most at risk, gay men, by the local health authority. As a result, among other things, money was allocated annually to give LGBT/HIV organisations in the city grants to deliver HIV messages in community settings, the first time many LGBT+ groups had ever received any statutory funding.
Spectrum: Arthur worked for Spectrum, a strategic umbrella organisation for LGBT+ groups in the city funded by Brighton & Hove City Council and East Sussex Brighton & Hove Health Authority.
Count Me In Too: Arthur was one of the principle people involved in delivering the awarding winning Count Me In Too, a piece of research about the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people in Brighton and Hove.
Lunch Positive: More recently he was a volunteer at Lunch Positive, the HIV lunch club, and volunteered with the refugee project Brighton Voices in Exile.
Rainbow Fund: In 2016-17 he was invited to sit on the Rainbow Fund independent grants panel where his experience of community development was invaluable to the other committee members on the panel.
In recent years Arthur met an Egyptian national Rafaie Ahmed, but was unsuccessful in navigating the complexities of UK immigration rules and was unable to arrange for him to come and join him in this country.
Community tributes to Arthur:
Dani Ahrens, activist in the late 1980s says: “I remember Arthur as an essential ingredient in the special recipe that made Brighton’s queer politics what it was in the late 1980s and early 90s. He could be infuriating, but he was also visionary and determined, and was a key part of what enabled us to achieve so much in such a short time, with such panache and style.”
Kate Wildblood, activist, DJ and journalist, says: “He took haberdashery and made it political, creating the most beautiful of protest banners. I was always proud to march alongside him as we fought for equality in the early 1990s and protested against Section 28 and I will forever miss his marching queer boots.”
Daniel Cheesman, CEO Switchboard, says: “Arthur’s contribution to the LGBT+ communities in Brighton & Hove was exceptional and he had a significant role to play with Switchboard, or Gay & Lesbian Switchboard as it was known at the time of his involvement. Arthur was linked to Switchboard in the late 1990s and the legacy of his work with Switchboard, and later Spectrum, lives on through the various LGBT+ organisations in the city today, including Switchboard’s Health & Inclusion Project (HIP). We’re so grateful to Arthur for his work and dedication.”
Jess Wood, CEO of Allsorts Youth Project, says: “Arthur wasn’t afraid to take on the statutory authorities for the sake of our communities. When he was active as Chair of Switchboard, and then as a paid worker for Spectrum, he tirelessly argued for the need for specialist services. He got LGBT+ issues onto their agenda years before the Equality Act 2010 forced them to. In his work for Spectrum, Arthur showed his amazing capacity to facilitate and empower marginalised groups within our own communities and he pioneered ‘inclusion’ before we even used that word. In other words, he was ahead of his time. Like many creative people, he could occasionally forge a path without bringing others along with him but he was also warm and open and I will always remember his honesty and humility when challenged. This highlighted to me what I experienced as his greatest quality – his hunger and determination to do the right thing.”
Kath Browne, Professor of Geographies of Sexualities & Genders, Maynooth University and researcher on Count Me In Too, says: “I admired and respected Arthur from the moment we met. He was a central figure in Count Me In Too and ensured the integrity of the project at every stage. His uncompromising approach drove us all to do and be better. He leaves an outstanding legacy, and a huge hole. It was an honour to know him. Rest In Power.”
Gary Pargeter, Service Manager at Lunch Positive, says: “Arthur came in and out of my life in differing ways over many years. First, 25 years ago, following the traumatic death of my partner from AIDS dementia. At a time when most of our friends and lovers were very unwell, struggling and dying, and hope often felt very thin on the ground, Arthur showed empathy, interest, immense kindness and support in helping me connect with local support. Several years later, I took part in his recording of testimonials from many local people who were HIV positive and had been bereaved through AIDS related deaths. We talked for over 12 hours, and although tiring and often highly emotional, it was a wonderfully cathartic experience. Arthur later volunteered at Lunch Positive, bringing all of the highest ideals and personal values I had known him to possess to the life of our project. His personal investment in our work was unquestionable, and I so enjoyed talking with someone so experienced, about all things: equality, gay, community development and, of course HIV. Although Arthur wasn’t always easily in contact, we’re so much richer for having known him, and knowing he was there. His legacy is so very diverse and significant.”
Helen Jones, CEO at MindOut, says: “The MindOut team are very sad to hear that Arthur has died. He was a passionate, inspiring campaigner for LGBT+ mental health, as well as many other issues, and he was instrumental in developing what became MindOut. He was one of our founders 20 years ago, spurring us on to develop our services, particularly group work. He went on to work in the group work service and many people will remember him as a group facilitator.
“Arthur was very committed to suicide prevention and helped us to create the first LGBT+ Suicide Prevention Strategy in the country. His was a loud voice: representing community needs and community development, he was a great community activist. We really wouldn’t be where we are today without him. I’m very grateful to have had the privilege of working with him, as are many colleagues and clients.”
Eric Page, activist in the 90s and now LGBT Community Safety Officer at Brighton & Hove City Council, says: “I worked with Arthur on the first Pride Centre in West Street, a crazy summer of queer wonder. He was an inspiration; a hard-working, determined activist, and extremely talented. He also had a very sweet and gentle side that most folk didn’t experience. I’ll always remember him for his beautiful and exquisite embroidery. He made banners for the city’s queer and LGBT+ groups that were fit for royalty and came from a long line of miner and union banners he created over the years. In true working class tradition he ensured that when we raised our flags and banners they were of breathtaking quality, they did us proud and made us feel proud of who and what we are. Arthur taught me to never underestimate the power of an well-embroidered sequin. I shall miss him.”
Paul Martin, East Sussex, Brighton & Hove Health Authority HIV manager and Facilitator and Founding Member of Spectrum, 2000-2003, says: “Arthur, a driven and committed man, held us to account and spoke truth to power, which is a difficult role to play.”
The volunteers from Lunch Positive, say: “Arthur volunteered as a cook for three years at Lunch Positive. He was a good friend and colleague within the volunteer team, and with many members. Far beyond the wonderful vegetarian food and indulgent cakes which he prepared with love and an artful flair, he had a long and enduring association with our local HIV communities. Arthur possessed an informed and insightful understanding of our strengths, needs, and history; and his community engagement and equalities work over previous decades continued to impact positively. Arthur brought humour, affection, enthusiasm, commitment, personal integrity and strongly held values to his work, friends, colleagues, and our members. We are so sad to have lost him, and we will miss Arthur greatly in very many ways. Over decades, and still, our communities have been made stronger because he cared so very deeply. Thank you Arthur.”
The following was written by Arthur about the ground breaking, award-winning Count Me In Too research project he was involved in and published in the book Ordinary in Brighton? LGBT, Activisms and the City by Kath Browne and Leela Bakshi.
Looking Back to Count Me In by Arthur Law
We started on this journey together because we wanted to make a real difference. Some of us started off thinking we knew what needed to change and why:
• We wanted the proof of a prosecutor wanting to press charges in court.
• Some of us anticipated we would find awkward things that didn’t fit: or find incriminating stuff that people would want to use against us.
• Some of us were tired of not being heard or always being misheard: we just wanted to find a voice.
• Some of us spoke because we were invited to speak: the injustices we face are so routine that we do not notice them.
• Some of us were interested in what was over the garden wall and who our neighbours were: we were wanting to know what was and wasn’t going on.
• Some of us neither got the invitation, or it was buried in junk mail and spam, couldn’t cope, didn’t have the party frock we assumed was needed, or just didn’t make it.
• Some of us, despite our best plans, were still unreachable.
Enough of us made it. Enough of us spoke. Enough of us were counted. So did we make the difference? Maybe we are the difference? Did we create an ‘us’ that was expanded beyond those who had already staked their flag in the rainbow city? Did we manage to arrange the room well enough so that everyone could find a welcome and a space? Did the leaders, planners and chiefs feel welcome at our table and did they leave wanting to come back to talk further or negotiate peace? You decide.
So what did we find? We found the courage to tell it how it is. We found painful, challenging, heart-breaking and inspiring stories; voices that spoke from the heart, and from the bitter, broken truth of it and from a shared space of belonging and love. We found a yearning and, yes, passion to redefine the shapes and edges of our worlds and for unity. We found different ways in which we fit and don’t fit. We found we need each other and help to reach out to each other in new ways. We found the Argus and Daily Mail too distracted to point fingers of judgement or ridicule.
We found a way to share a dialogue about an ‘us’ which included ‘them’. We found tools for breaking rocks, laying tracks and others that look at clouds and out at the horizon. We found evidence alone does not change the world. We found far more questions than answers. Some of us still weren’t able to be heard. Some of us found ourselves. Some of us found each other. Some of us found an us.
These were very important findings because, without a sense of who we are and where we want to go, there can be little progress.
James Ledward, editor of Gscene, says: “When I started Gscene in 1992 I quickly realised that Arthur Law was the most effective LGBT+ activist in Brighton. He was a giant in a city were closeted LGBT+ people in positions of power and influence held back the effective progress of an equalities agenda. Decision makers and enforcers didn’t understand what made him tick, were intimidated by his intellect and at times treated him shamefully.
In negotiations Arthur could be infuriating, but he was rarely wrong in his overall assessment of an issue. He was visionary, selfless and understood the needs of all LGBT+ communities like no one else I ever encountered in the 25 years I have edited this magazine.
After one particular bruising encounter with the lawyers at Brighton & Hove City Council I asked him if I could do anything to help.“Tell them to show us some respect,” he replied. I was never able to deliver that for him, it’s just not possible, but I never lost faith in Arthur’s humanity, his integrity, his honesty, or his ability to cut through the nonsense and give a precise analysis of what was actually going on.
In the words of his lover Tom Sargant, who Arthur came to Brighton to be with in 1988, “He was a human comet who won’t be repeated’.”
By James Ledward with thanks to Dani Ahrens
Friends, colleagues and the Rainbow Chorus will celebrate Arthur Law’s life with a Memorial Service at St George’s Church, 93 St George’s Rd, Brighton BN2 1DW on Sunday, July 15 starting at 3pm. If you would like to speak or make a contribution, email: firstname.lastname@example.org