LGBT campaigner and Holocaust survivor Sharley McLean dies aged 90

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Tributes are being paid to the radical lesbian feminist and campaigner Sharley McLean, who died at the weekend.

Born Lotte Reyersbach in Germany in 1923, her socialist father and Jewish mother both died in the Holocaust. Sharley fled to Britain as a teenage refugee from Nazi Germany in 1939, in one of the last transports of children allowed to leave Germany before the Nazis closed the borders. Her gay uncle, Kurt Bach, a left-wing activist, was arrested by the Gestapo in a gay bar in Berlin in 1937, and died in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp.

During the war Sharley worked as a nurse at Lewisham hospital. She carried on working in the NHS until she retired, and later became involved with the HIV charity the Terrence Higgins Trust in the 1980s.

Sharley was also a long-time activist in the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CRE).

Peter Scott-Presland of CHE said: “Sharley was a wonderfully self-effacing woman who had buckets of courage as well.”

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell also paid tribute to her.

Sharley was a wonderful woman. I was honoured to know her and, in the 1980s, to help publicise her remarkable personal story. She participated in my early campaigns to document and publicise the experiences of LGBT Holocaust survivors – and later to commemorate them and the service personnel who died fighting Nazi fascism.

Until the mid-1980s, it was forbidden to lay a pink triangle wreath at the Cenotaph in remembrance of the LGBT victims of fascism and of LGBT service personnel who fought to defeat Nazism. The wreaths we laid were swiftly removed. She helped me and others overturn the wreath ban.

Prior to the late 1990s, the Royal British Legion refused to acknowledge that LGBT people had served and died in the armed forces. It would not allow a LGBT war veterans contingent to march in the official Remembrance Day parade. Sharley worked with us to challenge this exclusion.

She joined and spoke at our V-E (Victory in Europe) Day commemorations at the Cenotaph in the 1980 and, a decade later, at the OutRage! Queer Remembrance Day vigils at the Cenotaph. The last one she spoke at was on 2 November 1997.

Sharley was a long-time activist in the Campaign for Homosexual Equality, and was a volunteer with the Terrence Higgins Trust in the 1980s. She was a passionate supporter of the Gay & Lesbian Humanist Association.

She will be long remembered with admiration and appreciation.

Sharley McLean died on Saturday 26 October 2013, aged 90.