Kay Collier obituary

Other lives: Advocate of LGBTQ+ rights, teacher, civil servant, union official and freelance trainer

My friend Kay Collier, who has died aged 67, was an advocate of LGBTQ+ rights, with a professional background in education.

Born in Irlam, Lancashire, she was the first child of George and Ella (nee Ross), and had a younger brother, Malcolm. Ella was a housewife; George was the editor of the Cadishead and Irlam Guardian, and from 1967 editor of the Sale and Stretford Guardian.

Kay attended Sale girls’ grammar school, went on to the University of Leeds to read English, and undertook teacher training at Goldsmith’s College in London. In 1977 she began teaching English at Ensham school for girls in Tooting, south London, where I met her.

Kay joined the Streatham branch of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality in 1977, soon serving on the committee, first as social secretary, and then as convenor from 1979. The group met considerable opposition and prejudice locally, and Kay’s many combative and erudite letters were eagerly received by the local newspaper, the South London Press.

Streatham CHE was influential, attracting speakers including Margaret Drabble, Alan Bennett, Jilly Cooper (hilariously written up in her Sunday newspaper column), Quentin Crisp, Simon Callow and Cynthia Payne. On one memorable occasion, Kay skilfully chaired a talk by the unpredictable Kenneth Williams and an audience of about 100 people.

In the early 1980s, CHE evolved into a more centralised parliamentary campaign focused on changing the age of consent (as a forerunner of Stonewall). Kay continued her support of gay rights throughout her professional career. As union branch secretary while working as an executive officer in what was then the government’s Department of Education and Science, she was instrumental in getting sexual orientation included in the department’s equal opportunities statement. As equal opportunities liaison officer at the Inner London Education Authority, she helped produce a workplace leaflet on HIV/Aids that was accessible and dispelled myths. Both of these were quite an achievement during the time of section 28 under Margaret Thatcher’s government.

Kay was subsequently employed by the London boroughs of Lambeth (in its education department) and Waltham Forest (in its governing bodies unit), and worked for other agencies on a freelance basis, training heads and school governors, while also serving as a lay housing inspector for the Audit Commission. She qualified as a homeopath in 2006.

Kay was calm and modest, but tenacious in fighting unfairness. She enjoyed swimming, walking, music and gardening, and always carried her daily copy of the Guardian, folded into readable chunks. Her real forte, though, was friendship. Her generosity, loyalty and laughter meant that most of her relationships lasted for decades.

Kay’s final years were spent in residential care, following a diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. She is survived by her nephews, Tom and Joshua.

Marilyn Clegg

The GuardianTramp

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