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Remembering George Montague, 'the oldest gay in the village': 'Goodbye friends, I'm going to sleep now'

Montague passed away at 98 years old, after a lifetime dedicated to empowering the LGBTQ+ community.

Remembering George Montague, 'the oldest gay in the village': 'Goodbye friends, I'm going to sleep now'
Image Source: GeorgeMontague2 / Twitter

British gay rights campaigner George Montague recently died at the age of 98. He passed away peacefully at his home on March 18 with his partner of 25 years, Somchai Phukkhlai, by his side. Affectionately known as "the oldest gay in the village," Montague played a critical role in empowering the LGBTQ+ community in Brighton, United Kingdom. He was a well-known and much-loved figure at Brighton Pride. Every year, he could be spotted in attendance on his rainbow mobility scooter. The campaigner had dedicated his life to receiving an apology from the state for a wrongful conviction of gross indecency in the 1970s, ITV News reports.

Image Source: GeorgeMontague2 / Twitter

Right before his passing, the campaigner released a statement via social media. "Dear friends and supporters, George is wishing to say goodbye," it read. "He thanks everyone who has been supporting his campaigns, [and hopes] that he might have helped a little for us to live in a better world. Everyone, please continue your good works for good causes. I shall rest now, goodbye. George, 98." Montague realized he was gay in his late twenties, and was convicted of gross indecency in the year 1974. At the time, like many gay men living in the United Kingdom when homosexuality was criminalized, he had married a woman with whom he had three children. They were together for over twenty years but eventually divorced.



 

He said of his marriage in 2013, "It was just expected that everyone got married. I didn’t know whether you could stop being homosexual or not, so I told myself I could stop and I did for four years. It’s very difficult to understand now... [My wife] could have divorced me, she could have taken me to the cleaners but she didn’t." Then, in 1997, he met his partner Phukkhlai. They entered into a civil partnership in 2006 and married in 2015 in Brighton Town Hall. While Montague had been pardoned in 2016 for the wrongful conviction along with other members of the LGTBQ+ community, he was determined to receive an apology from the government. Although the British government had decriminalized homosexuality through the Sexual Offences Act of 1967, formerly criminalized queer folks in the country had not been given their due until 2016, when they were pardoned.



 

Therefore, Montague fought tirelessly against the British government to be given his due apology. He revealed that he had been placed on a local police “queer list” of suspected practicing homosexuals and that the conviction caused him to lose his position as a senior scout commissioner. He was able to convince local journalists to keep his name out of the papers to save the embarrassment of his family and the scouts. Thus, after a tiresome struggle, he finally achieved his goal; 43 years after he was first convicted, he received a letter from the state in 2017. The moment was revolutionary as the campaigner had dedicated his life to the cause. In an interview in 2013, he noted how the climate of acceptance had changed during his lifetime. He shared, "I spent my early years ashamed of being gay and terrified of being found out and, as the climate has changed, now I want to shout it from the rooftops."



 

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