Obituary: Barry Jackson

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The Independent Culture
BARRY JACKSON combined a high-profile career in public affairs with ceaseless voluntary work in the arts, and in lesbian and gay campaigning. He was instrumental in establishing the UK's response to Aids and HIV in the early Eighties, and played a important part in reorganising and refocusing Gay Pride.

Born in Greenwich, Jackson grew up in south London and went to Sussex University in 1966 to study mathematics, throwing himself immediately into student politics. He was sabbatical secretary of the students' union from 1968 to 1969 and his level-headedness was able to calm many a fraught situation - not least when a visiting US diplomat was covered in paint and the American flag burnt by angry protesters.

He left Sussex without taking up his degree but having gained an extensive journalistic experience on the university's student television service, "In Camera", and on the campus newspaper Wine Press. His first job was as marketing officer for British Student Travel in London, followed by a stint as marketing manager for National Travel. But in 1975 he moved to Manchester to work for North West Arts and began a career in the arts that would take him eventually to the role of development director for the Arts Council of Great Britain.

It was in Manchester that he first came into contact with the fledgling Campaign for Homosexual Equality, the first national pressure group to push for lesbian and gay rights. The partial decriminalisation of homosexual acts had taken place in 1967, but gay men and women still faced enormous prejudice and intolerance. Jackson proved a forceful campaigner for CHE and he became the organisation's national treasurer.

In 1978 he moved back to London to take up a job at Greater London Arts and to become first administrator of the experimental theatre group Gay Sweatshop. The Gay Pride marches had been taking place annually in London since 1972, but they were still attracting only a few hundred marchers and were met with hostility both from anti-gay observers and from some gay men themselves who felt it was unwise, as they saw it, to rock the boat. Other activists were arguing for a more confrontational approach. Jackson favoured an even course between these two extremes. He believed in greater visibility for gay men and women and in the benefit the Pride marches would bring. But he also cultivated influential people in politics with a view to changing both the law and attitudes to homosexuality.

In 1980 he joined the Arts Council as public relations director and volunteered for London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard which was, at the time, the only 24-hour telephone advice service for lesbians and gay men in the world. Among the countless other organisations he would volunteer and fund-raise for, Switchboard took pride of place. The organisation, at its peak, was taking 250,000 calls a year despite being staffed entirely by volunteers and running on an annual budget of pounds 25,000.

By the early Eighties, an increasing number of men on both sides of the Atlantic were dying from Aids-related illnesses and, in 1983, Jackson helped set up the UK's first national conference on Aids, an event that was to lead to the re-establishment of the Terrence Higgins Trust, which had been set up on a less formal footing the previous year. At the time, Aids was little understood either by medical specialists or by the wider population and Jackson was instrumental in setting up the National Aids Helpline which, along with Switchboard and the Terrence Higgins Trust, became a primary source of Aids-related information and advice.

In 1991, just after he took over as development director at the University of Westminster, Jackson's closest friend Mike Rhodes died and he helped set up the Mike Rhodes Trust which makes an annual award to an individual who has "contributed most to promoting an understanding of lesbian and gay life". In many ways, Switchboard and the Mike Rhodes Trust sum up Jackson's approach to campaigning - quiet but assertive; founded on the dedication of volunteers rather than relying on a paid staff; and focused on the individual rather than committees or pressure groups.

Jackson continued to build on his interests in higher education and, in 1993, took up the post of corporate affairs director for the higher education lobbying group the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals. At the same time he became a European trustee of the Council for Advancement and Support for Education. His support of the arts never wavered, however, and, in 1994, he joined the board of the internationally renowned Actors Touring Company and became its chair a year later. One of his proudest moments was travelling with ATC to Greece where the company was touring simultaneous productions of Euripides' Ion in English and Greek.

By the late Nineties, the London Gay Pride festivities, although attracting up to 250,000 people, had lost sight of their original political purpose and Jackson became involved in a movement to replicate Sydney's famous Mardi Gras celebrations in London. For him, the Sydney Mardi Gras represented the only way forward for Gay Pride: it was fully integrated into the life of the city; it carried a political message; it was fun; and it was profitable. Only weeks before his death, he was liaising with the organisers of the Sydney event.

Barry Jackson, public affairs manager and gay rights campaigner: born London 17 October 1946; Publicity Manager, Greater London Arts 1978-80; Public Relations Director, Arts Council of Great Britain 1980-85, Development Director 1985-90; Development Director, University of Westminster 1990-93; Corporate Affairs Director, Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals 1993-99; died London 25 October 1999.