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Sharley McLean: In Remembrance

Feminist and lesbian campaigner, who survived Nazi fascism, has died.


We get a lot of emails sent us every day at GT, but rarely does one grab our attention like the news of Sharley McLean’s death. Sharley, who was a feminist, lesbian and a survivor of Nazi fascism, died over the weekend. Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell worked with Sharley and told GT about his friend’s amazing life:

“Born in Germany in 1923, both Sharley’s parents and many of her extended family died in the Holocaust. Her father was a socialist and her mother was Jewish. She fled to Britain as a teenage refugee from Nazi Germany in 1939, in one of the last transports of children allowed to leave Germany before the Nazis closed the borders. Her gay uncle, Kurt Bach, a left-wing activist, was arrested by the Gestapo in a gay bar in Berlin in 1937, and died in Sachsenhausen concentration camp.”

Peter praised Sharley as a wonderful woman and campaigner: “I was honoured to know her and, in the 1980s, to help publicise her remarkable personal story. She participated in my early campaigns to document and publicise the experiences of LGBT Holocaust survivors – and later to commemorate them and the service personnel who died fighting Nazi fascism.”

Until the mid-1980s, it was forbidden to lay a pink triangle wreath at the Cenotaph in remembrance of the LGBT victims of fascism and of LGBT service personnel who fought to defeat Nazism. Through a determined campaign, though, Peter, Sharley and others helped overturn the wreath ban.

Peter told GT that before the late 1990s, the Royal British Legion refused to acknowledge that gay, bi and trans people served and died in the armed forces: “It would not allow a LGBT war veterans contingent to march in the official Remembrance Day parade. Sharley worked with us to challenge this exclusion.”

“She joined and spoke at our VE Day commemorations at the Cenotaph in the 1980s and, a decade later, at the Queer Remembrance Day vigils at the Cenotaph, organised by the LGBT campaign group OutRage!”

The last vigil she spoke at was on 2 November 1997 – you can see Sharley on the right hand side in the picture above.

Sharley McLean wouldn’t let the world forget the way sexual minorities were treated by the Nazis – and now she deserves to be remembered by the world.

Words Paris Lees

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