BBC News

Manchester's 'radical fairy' celebrates OBE

By Chris Long
BBC News

image captionMr Martin says the LGF has "broken the mould"

In 1989, Paul Martin arrived in Manchester as "a bit of a radical fairy"; a gay man driven by his experience of loved ones dying and friends suffering discrimination to make a change for the better.

Two decades on, Mr Martin is celebrating being made an OBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List for services to equal opportunities.

Dedicating it to the team who assist him as Chief Executive of The Lesbian & Gay Foundation (LGF), he said that "although I've been recognised, the award is as much for the tireless work our staff carry out day in and day out".

Mr Martin cannot deny that he has put in his fair share of hard work too, though.

In 1994, he was a founder member of Healthy Gay Manchester, a charity dedicated to improving sexual health amongst the gay community.

When that organisation merged with Manchester Lesbian and Gay Switchboard Services in 2000 to form the LGF, Mr Martin moved with it to the new charity.

He says both charities have been "about breaking the mould".

"We've always tried to find better ways of doing things," he said.

"Why not turn a gay men's organisation into a gay and lesbian organisation or why not give Manchester the absolute best organisation in the country?

"In the early days, I was the only Chief Officer of a gay and bisexual men's charity who was contemplating broadening our remit to work with lesbian and bisexual women.

"Now, as well as sexual health information and resources, we have a range of respected services and run a variety of events for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people."

'Beach bar'

Mr Martin says there have been "too many fantastic moments for me along the way to single out just one".

"I'm not saying there can't be challenging moments, because there have been many times when I've wanted to just walk away and go and open a beach bar somewhere hot," he said.

image captionCoronation Street actor Antony Cotton fronts the LGF campaign against homophobia

Mr Martin credits his drive to what made him become involved to begin with, though he admits he has changed as a person in the time between.

"I've never forgotten experiencing people I love dying from HIV; that was a massive motivator for me in the early days of my career and that's never left me.

"Twenty-one year old Paul was a bit of a radical fairy, while the 43 year old Paul has mellowed somewhat, and recognises you need to work within the system to achieve change.

"My principles are still the same though - I don't like lesbian, gay and bisexual people being treated differently because of who we are or being told they can't have things because of who they love."

He says there is "a lot still to do" and still major challenges to face - as he points out, "homophobia is still widespread in society, especially in schools".

'Ideas, plans, dreams'

For him, the OBE symbolises how far the LGBT community has come on a journey he says will be ongoing and ever more successful, whether he is involved or not.

image captionMr Martin dedicated his award to "the tireless work our staff carry out day in and day out"

"Twenty-two years ago, members of LGBT communities couldn't begin to imagine awards like this would be made in recognition of our work in our communities.

"I think the biggest achievement is the fact that LGF is still here and has achieved so much - and we still very much want to continue being here.

"I don't tend to think too long term for myself, but in ten years, the LGF will still be here and bigger than it is now.

"We've got so many ideas, plans, dreams and aspirations, and I think that is always really important, even when we go through challenging times."

The LGF are one of the organisations involved in the Manchester Day Parade 2011, which takes place on Sunday, 19 June.