Tireless campaigner George Montague, the ‘oldest gay in the village’, dies aged 98

George Montague

Gay rights campaigner George Montague, the self-titled  “oldest gay in the village”, has passed away at the age of 98.

Montague, a famous fixture of Brighton Pride who joined the parade year after year on his rainbow mobility scooter, tirelessly fought to receive an apology from the government for a conviction for gross indecency in the 1970s. His mission, though ultimately successful, took 43 years.

The 98-year-old passed away peacefully at home on Friday (18 March), with his husband Somchai Phukkhlai by his side.

Shortly before he died, he 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.”

George Montague was charged with gross indecency by ‘homophobic police’

George Montague realised he was gay when he was in his 20s, and was convicted of gross indecency in 1974.

He told The Argus that he was placed on a “queer list” by local police, and in his memoir, titled The Oldest Gay in the Village, he recalled: “Under Gross Indecency law, we were arrested and charged enthusiastically by homophobic police, assisted by provocateurs and informers.” When he was convicted, he lost his position as a senior scout commissioner.

Like many gay men living in the UK when homosexuality was criminalised, Montague married a woman, and had three children.

They were together for more than 20 years, and he previously said: “I was always convinced my wife knew I was gay when she married me but it wasn’t discussed.

“She could have divorced me, she could have taken me to the cleaners but she didn’t.”

Eventually they did divorce, and Montague met his partner Somchai Phukkhlai in 1997. They entered into a civil partnership in 2006 and married in 2015 at Brighton Town Hall.

In 2016, the government pardoned thousands of gay and bisexual men who were convicted under historic anti-gay laws, but Montague campaigned for a full apology as a pardon “accepts that you were guilty”.

Thousands signed a petition in which Montague urged the government to give him “an apology before I die”, and he delivered it to Downing Street with his husband.

Finally, in 2017, he received an “abject apology” in a letter from the Home Office.

It read: “Understand that we offer this full apology. Their treatment was entirely unfair. What happened to these men is a matter of the greatest regret and it should be so to all of us.”

He told BBC Radio 4’s World at One at the time: “It really made my day, I was over the moon.

“The wording is so wonderful and so explicit. An ‘abject apology’ from the government!”

Montague previously told The Argus that he was thrilled to have lived to see society become more accepting of LGBT+ folk.

He said: “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.”