The Lewisham man who helped change gay marriage law from his living room

Pic: Chelsea Bruce Lockhart

James-J Walsh, on the left, with his partner Calum, talks about his experience running LGBT campaigns Pic: Chelsea Bruce Lockhart

The nation will soon celebrate the second anniversary of the first same-sex marriages in England and Wales. That change is in part down to James-J Walsh – he did it from his living room.

Aged just 31, Walsh was campaigns director for the Out4Marriage political campaign which fought over years for same-sex marriage. For this he was listed as one of the ten most influential LGBTs in the Independent’s Pink List 2013. He has spent nearly two years as the associate director of Pride London and more than three years managing projects for the Consortium of Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Voluntary and Community Organisations UK. Walsh was born in Lewisham and attended St Dustan’s College, an independent Christian school in Lewisham. He is currently a Lewisham Labour councillor representing the Rushey Green ward, which covers most of Catford.

Walsh spoke to Eastlondonlines about LGBT equality, making it clear how passionate he is about the subject. On the success of the Out4Marriage campaign, said: “People don’t realise that the whole initiative was run out of my living room.

“We operated with zero budget, communicating by skype and relying completely on the charity of our network of friends.

“I would get home from work at five thirty in the evening, have dinner and then start working on the Out4Marriage campaign from seven o’clock to around two in the morning; writing press releases, editing promotional videos, writing emails…”

Walsh believed the success of the Out4Marriage campaign was born largely from the “LobbyALord” initiative – an online platform which allowed members of the public to send bespoke messages directly to House of Lords representatives, without being filtered from their inboxes. Walsh modestly admitted that this was his own idea.

As a notoriously difficult set of people for lobbyists to access, at one point in the Out4Marriage campaign it seemed the biggest uncertainty was how the House of Lords members would vote. “In the end we got more votes from the House of Lords than the House of Commons.”

Since Out4Marriage, life has changed a little for Walsh. In May 2014 he took was elected as a Labour councillor in Lewisham. Walsh was quick to point out that, now, rather than openly expressing his own views and fighting more personal battles, he has a responsibility to make decisions which represent the needs of his community.

“Despite having one of the highest LGBT populations in the capital, there is not as much conversation about LGBT rights in Lewisham compared to other areas of the city. In fact, Lewisham has fewer LGBT services in than anywhere else in London,” Walsh asserted.

When asked about his biggest concerns for the local LGBT community a clear answer came in response: “Youth.”

“Particularly in the new digital age, young LGBTs are very vulnerable.

“The first place a curious teenager will turn to for answers and support is the internet. Most likely, the first things they will find are relationship sites and hook-up apps which could very quickly lead them into situations they are not emotionally ready for.”

Walsh readily expressed his fear that this could result in increased domestic violence, child exploitation and a spread of Sexually Transmitted Diseases.

“Youth worker achievements are just outstanding but there are so few of them.

“With such drastic cuts to funding, rather than maintaining targeted support, youth work may end up being merged with other services to become an ‘open-to-all’ youth service. But a blanket service will be much less approachable,” Walsh cautioned.

According to Walsh, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays has been an incredibly useful initiative to encourage parental support for LGBT youth. “But, unlike a discriminatory issue such as racism, support is not so fluidly passed on inter-generationally. Local authorities therefore have a responsibility to intervene before young LGBTs are diverted to the wrong type of digital media.”

“We need to assess the specific needs of young LGBTs, not just adults. LGBT youth need tailored support services and this should be statutory.”

Aside, from his professional qualities, Walsh has a light, friendly and patient manner.  Readers can expect to see him leading the fight against cuts on all fronts in 2016, working into the night from his living room as usual, as well as from his elected position as a councillor in Lewisham.

Follow Chelsea Bruce Lockhart on Twitter: @C_BruceLockhart

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