Fallen Pioneer

Stephen Holdsworth
27 Jan 1962 – 17 March 2009, Edinburgh queer activist

Stephen Holdsworth, who has died aged 47, was a long-time LGBT activist and a person of huge intellectual capacity, deep convictions and intense interests.

Born in South London, the son of an Anglican priest, Stephen had his first gay experiences in his mid-teens, but it was when he came to Edinburgh University, where he studied Divinity, that he fully formed his identity as a gay man. After a rocky start – he used to tell the story of approaching the GaySoc stall at Fresher’s Week and ostentatiously ripping up a leaflet as a public act of denial – he quickly came out and became a political activist. He was strongly drawn to Left politics, liberation theology and sexual politics, and became for a time a member of the student branch of the Communist Party of Great Britain.

Involved in the lesbian and gay movement throughout the 80s, Stephen was one of the organisers of a Lesbian and Gay Socialist conference in Edinburgh in 1984, and active in supporting the miners’ strike.

Stephen was never hide-bound, and was un-fazed by finding himself in a two-year relationship with Kate Fearnley, although many friends were startled by his bisexuality. He and Kate worked jointly as volunteer Books and Features editors for Gay Scotland magazine, interviewing Armistead Maupin, Bea Campbell and Richard Coles among others. They were instrumental in starting the Edinburgh Bisexual Group, which ran for 16 years, and created a number of flamboyant political banners, Stephen’s favourite of which was ‘Pinko Commie Queers’, the banner of the CPGB Lesbian and Gay Network, fashioned from pink net.

Stephen’s first paid job was as part-time administrator for Gay Scotland, and he later moved to the HR department at Napier University, where he qualified as a graduate member of the Institute of Personnel Development. However, just as his career looked promising, he was struck down by viral cardiomyopathy and had a heart transplant in 1998.

The anti-rejection drugs caused a series of other major health problems, including osteoporosis, kidney failure and cancer, but Stephen bore his fluctuating health with fortitude, and was grateful for the additional time the transplant gave him. When he was obliged to give up work, he enjoyed the opportunity to further indulge his great passions for classical music, building up a vast CD collection which he knew intimately, and reading, immersing himself in dense esoteric tomes.  In recent years he returned to religion, attending old St Paul’s Church when he could.  He loved travel and returned from trips to Granada, Cordoba, Venice, Sicily and Rome with an encyclopaedic knowledge of their history and architecture.

Stephen is survived by his partner of 22 years, Adam O’Brien.

This article originally appeared in BCN magazine issue 96, June 2009.

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