Finding the words for the man who always found space for mine isn’t easy. Finding the words for a man who always entertained mine, no matter what the subject, daydream or occasional rant, isn’t what I ever wanted to do. But here I am, with you, paying tribute to James Ledward. The scaffold for so much of my writing and campaigning life, the foundations for our city’s LGBTQI community.
Queenie and I first found ourselves on the pages of GScene in 2001 when Paul Lillie interviewed us. We were, as we have been ever since, thankful for the support James and the GScene team gave our DJ adventures (and occasional disco dramas) even if he would often greet us with the words “those bloody lesbians are at it again”. Which to be honest we usually were.
2002 saw me join the magazine as a contributor and soon James was allowing me to do more than wax lyrical about my favoured 12” but on subjects and editorial themes as broad-ranging as hobbies, aging, racism, fashion, trans issues, bears, sport, civil partnerships, HIV & AIDs, recreational drug use in gay clubland and the joys of winter (it’s all about those mittens on elastic don’t you know). He also gave this Asperger’s lass years before my diagnosis in 2016 the space to write, often a little too honestly, about my struggles with mental health. Be it living with chronic depression or the Queenie drawn tales of my life with BPD, James provided me alongside so many others the opportunity to be real, to tell our stories. To bring out the lives behind the headlines regardless of trending topics, 240 character limits and baffling hashtags and allowing us to connect in-depth to our community. A community he changed forever when co-founding The Brighton Rainbow Fund. A fund so many, including myself, have benefited directly from through the services of Blueprint 22 Youth Project, Brighton GEMS, Clare Project, Lunch Positive, MindOut, Older & Out, Peer Action, RadioReverb, Rainbow Families, Sussex Beacon, Trans Alliance and many more voluntary sector community groups across our glorious city.
A community connection he ensured was more than just personal as he embraced campaign after campaign, be it local, national or international. It was James that gave Queen Josephine’s Ouch House 200 a chance to fundraise for The Sussex Beacon, who encouraged us to keep it Decent, and who, alongside Paul Kemp at Brighton Pride, encouraged and supported Karol Michalec and I as we took our Brighton Supports LGBT Russia blog and artwork to a national level in 2013, as he gently persuaded local businesses (with his usual Ledward insistence) to finance a Brighton Community Pride Parade placard campaign. And of course, it was James who ensured Pride was held to account during its mid-life crisis years, demanding transparency, a return to a fundraising ethos and community diversity inclusion. Pivotal in ensuring Pride became a Pride with purpose again, without James Brighton Pride would never have shone so bright, raised so much for The Rainbow Fund or had the sustainable future it now enjoys.
And for those of us determined to put the past in the present, James was an unrivalled archive. Not only of gossip (oh how I loved the tales he could tell) but of unique documentary and photographic evidence. Whilst not the tidiest or most understandable of bibliographic records (thanks to Michele for the translations) when you dug deep into James’ collection of GScene issues and photographs his content ensured the exhibitions I curated including BrightonPride25 and Strike A Brighton Pose where a joy for all to enjoy. A gossip jolting, storytelling joy. Just weeks before his untimely death last year plans were being made for our latest historical queer adventure as we look to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Brighton Pride. The course may still be set for 2020 but as we continue sailing those seas of past Pride glories the journey will be a lonelier one without him.
As I write this tribute to the man I am still unable to believe I will never bump into again, I picture this. Somewhere up there in the ultimate nightclub called Heaven sits Mr Ledward, with Bessie and his beloved four-legged family by his side, best floral shirt displayed, a favourite drink in hand. It’s the Glory Be Golden Handbags and he is the guest of honour. The combined LGBTQ+ choirs of Brighton & Hove (84,000 members and counting apparently) are singing his favourite Eurovision medley, a drag cabaret of lifelong friends are telling his favourite filthy jokes and the fundraiser is totalling a world record amount. Finally, after a long queue of well-wishers, I’ve managed to grab a moment with him. He looks at me with that twinkle you knew only meant mischief, and once again calls and Queenie and me “those bloody lesbians.” Two bloody lesbians who will be forever proud to call themselves friends of James Ledward.
For many more tributes from our LGBTQIA community check out gscene.com