Ashton was born in Oldham, and later moved to Portrush, County Antrim. He studied at the former Northern Ireland Hotel and Catering College in Portrush, before moving to London in 1978. Richard Coles wrote about this period:
- "Mark also worked for a while as a barman at the Conservative Club in King's Cross, or, rather, as a barmaid, in drag, with a blonde beehive wig. I was never sure if the patrons worked out that he was really a man".
In 1982 he spent three months in Bangladesh visiting his parents, where his father was working for the textile machinery industry. On his return, he volunteered with the London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard, supported the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and joined the Young Communist League. In 1983 he featured in the Lesbian and Gay Youth Video Project film Framed Youth: The Revenge of the Teenage Perverts, an early documentary that won the Grierson Award 1984 for Best Documentary.
After LGSM, he became involved in the Red Wedge collective and became the General Secretary of the Young Communist League from 1985 to 1986.
Diagnosed with HIV, Ashton was admitted to Guy's Hospital on 30 January 1987 and died 12 days later of Pneumocystis pneumonia. His death prompted a significant response from the gay community, particularly in publication and attendance at his funeral at Lambeth Cemetery.
LegacyHIV, and as of 2007 it had raised £20,000. Since 2008, the Terrence Higgins Trust has included the Mark Ashton Red Ribbon Fund, which had collected more than £21,000 as of 2015.
Mark Ashton is also remembered on a panel on the UK AIDS Memorial Quilt and has been memorialised in May 2014 on a plaque at the entrance to the London headquarters of the Terrence Higgins Trust.
The ballad "For a Friend" in the album Red from the The Communards was written in his memory. Mark Ashton was a friend of Jimmy Somerville and Richard Coles. Mark Hooper of The Rough Guide to Rock writes that this cut may be Somerville's "most impassioned moment". For a Friend reached number 28 on the British charts.
The LGSM's activities were dramatised in Pride, a film released in September 2014 featuring Ben Schnetzer as Ashton. Ashton's role in the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners group was recalled in a series of interviews with some of its other members prior to the film's release. However, Ashton's membership of the Young Communist League was not mentioned in the film to avoid alienating American audiences. Despite Schnetzer being American, he excelled in the role and was nominated for two British Independent Film Awards.
Based on the Wikipedia article of the same name.
- http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/sep/21/mark-ashton-gay-pride-film Jamie Doward, "The real-life triumphs of the gay communist behind hit movie Pride". The Guardian, 21 September 2014.
- Chris Birch, My Life: The Caribbean, Communism, Budapest 1956, journalism, HIV/Aids, London Lighthouse, Diana’s funeral, Westminster Abbey, Chelsea and Westminster Hospital and much more, St Christopher Press, 2010 ISBN 978-0-9545721-1-2
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- https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=F_RmSjy3K0EC&printsec=frontcover&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false Lucy Robinson, Gay men and the left in post-war Britain: how the personal got political. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 20007. ISBN 978-0-7190-7434-9.
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- http://www.webarchive.org.uk/wayback/archive/20090111232511/http://www.positivenation.co.uk/issue123/regulars/positiveeye/positiveeye123.htm David G Taylor, Jon Keay (June 2006). "Mark Ashton remembered". Positive Nation. Archived from the original on 11 January 2009.
- http://mark.ashton.muchloved.com/ Chris Birch, The Mark Ashton Red Ribbon Fund
- http://www.ght.org.uk/news_and_views_insight_article/1297 "HIV Quilt Comes Out in May" George House Trust, 21 February 2007. Archived at http://web.archive.org/web/20080621104918/http://www.ght.org.uk/news_and_views_insight_article/1297 21 June 2008}}
- http://web.archive.org/web/20120210200529/http://www.aidsquilt.org.uk/gallery.asp?quilt=13&panel=69 Chris Birch. "Mark Ashton - Panel No: 69". AIDSquilt.org.uk, April 1994. Archived from the original on 10 February 2012.
- Chris Birch. "The Mark Ashton Red Ribbon Fund". Red Ribbon Fund Newsletter Terrence Higgins Trust, 2014 (5).
- Mark Hooper, Peter Buckley, ed. The Rough Guide to Rock (3rd ed.). Rough Guides, 2003. ISBN 978-1-84353-105-0.
- http://www.allmusic.com/album/red-r4400/review Andy Kellman, "Review: Red", Allmusic
- https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=ib4MyAIpe3MC&pg=PT213&redir_esc=y Neil Warwick, Jon Kutner, Tony Brown. The Complete Book of the British charts: Singles & Albums. Omnibus Press, 2004, p. 256. ISBN 978-1-84449-058-5.
- http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2075224/ Jean Genet Is Dead at the Internet Movie Database
- Raymond Murray. Images in the Dark: An Encyclopedia of Gay and Lesbian Film and Video. Titan Books, 1998. ISBN 978-1-84023-033-8. p. 56
- http://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/aug/31/pride-film-gay-activists-miners-strike-interview Kate Kellaway, "When miners and gay activists united: the real story of the film Pride". The Guardian, 31 August 2014.