Profile: Mark Watson, Gay.com - Campaigning it up for gay rights site - Mark Watson leaves Stonewall to make Gay.com a community partner

The public might feel that some PR careers should end in prison but it is unusual for one to be launched from there. No account of Mark Watson’s career can ignore the three months spent in a high security prison in 1994. It represented the dramatic end to a promising career at the Home Office, propelling him on to a new career path that has recently seen him appointed communications and marketing director at Gay.com.

The public might feel that some PR careers should end in prison but

it is unusual for one to be launched from there. No account of Mark

Watson’s career can ignore the three months spent in a high security

prison in 1994. It represented the dramatic end to a promising career at

the Home Office, propelling him on to a new career path that has

recently seen him appointed communications and marketing director at

Gay.com.



He was jailed for abusing his position in the Home Office’s immigration

headquarters. Desperate to keep his Brazilian boyfriend in the country,

Watson simply stamped his passport.



’There was no legal way for my boyfriend to stay in the country at that

time. What was the choice? It was wrong but I don’t regret it. If you

are faced with losing someone you love or breaking the law, what do you

do? Your employer or your partner - which comes first?’



Already politically aware - he had done volunteer work in Apartheid-era

South African townships at 18 - his experience pushed him into

campaigning and lobbying. Watson set up an immigration group within gay

rights pressure group Stonewall and after a year’s voluntary work for

the charity he joined the payroll, moving up from campaigns manager to

campaigns director and finally communications director.



The election of 1997 produced a Labour Government with a massive

majority and several openly gay MPs. Gays in the military, the unequal

age of consent and the prohibition on local authorities ’promoting’

homosexuality have all been tackled by the new Government but

immigration rights for gay partners was the first - and smoothest -

legislative change.



Watson deliberately adopted a low-profile approach on this issue. ’At

the time of the Conservative government you needed a high profile to

highlight the unfairness. There is a time for shouting in the streets

and a time for talking in corridors. Under Labour we had people

listening to us so we went for dialogue. And you have to understand that

in politics everybody has to look over their shoulder.



’The reason the immigration campaign succeeded was people believed in

it. As Jennifer Saunders said in Absolutely Fabulous, real things don’t

need PR,’ he says. The secret, he says, is to believe in what you are

doing.



Which brings us nicely to the switch from a charity, the work of which

he passionately supports, to a commercial operation, the UK launch of an

US web site which is set to dominate this country’s gay internet

market.



’It is very much a natural break - a lot of the legal changes have

already been made or are close to being made. I am not saying it (the

fight for equality) is over but the next stage is about providing

information, building a sense of community. Gay.com is not only going to

offer the community support but be a community partner. The media go to

The Body Shop for comment on the environment and I would hope they could

look to us to comment on gay issues,’ he says.



He has a fairly hefty head-start in terms of building brand recognition

- the US version of the site already gets 150,000 hits a month from the

UK, more he says, than existing British gay sites put together. From his

woodfloored offices in the spiritual home of London gaydom, Soho, Watson

hopes to more than treble that figure within a year.



The emptying of closets in the last decade and programmes such as

Channel Four’s Queer as Folk has changed the PR agenda, he says.



’These days virtually everyone knows someone who is gay and it is much

harder to discriminate against someone you know. We have very many

different images of lesbians and gays now - I don’t think anybody

believes Chris Smith is like anybody in Queer as Folk for example.’



Watson counts Smith as a friend and his Stonewall work has ensured warm

relations with other gay Labour MPs such as Ben Bradshaw and Stephen

Twigg.



Bradshaw says as a lobbyist Watson was ’calm, very reasoned, very

persistent - but not in a grating way’. Like other Stonewall leaders, he

was excellent at networking, the MP says. Stonewall chief executive

Angela Mason says the organisation’s profile soared during Watson’s time

with the group and she acknowledges in particular his ’key role’ in the

immigration battle.



A radical youth par excellence with a prison record born of passion and

politics; pragmatic and quietly effective campaigning followed by a

visit to the corporate world: his story reads like that of some of his

New Labour friends but with a dash of melodrama thrown in. He even turns

his prison stint into a positive. ’It is testing yourself in a different

climate, a bit like the South African townships during the state of

emergency.’





HIGHLIGHTS



1997



Campaigns director, Stonewall



1998



Communications director, Stonewall



2000



Communications and marketing director, Gay.com.



Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in

Would you like to post a comment?

Please Sign in or register.