Panther House, 140-38 Mount Pleasant, London, UK
Pear Tree Cottage, King's Ln, Longcot, Faringdon SN7 7SS, UK
Charlotte Maria "Lotte" or "Sharley" Reyersbach McLean (May 26, 1923 - October 26, 2013) was a Feminist, lesbian and survivor of Nazi fascism.
She was born Lotte Reyersbach in Oldenburg, north Germany, the daughter of Franz Reyersbach and Grete Henny, and escaped to Britain on the Kindertransport in 1939. Her father, Franz, a socialist, and her Jewish mother, Grete, were both killed in the Holocaust. Her mother, after 1941, at the Riga Concentration Camp. Her father, was beaten to death in 1936 at an early concentration camp, as a member of the German Democratic Party. Her gay uncle, Kurt Bach, died, wearing a pink triangle, in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. He was a photographer and was making quite a good living at it. He had a fantastic way of developing black and white photography. He was quite well known.
During the second world war, Sharley worked as a nurse at Lewisham hospital, south London, but found herself at the receiving end of much anti-German abuse, especially when a local school was bombed. This partly explains why she got married, to Allan McLean, a leading dancer at the Anglo-Polish Ballet: a British surname helped her fit in. At the time, she had feelings for other women, but didn't have a name for this, though she realised in retrospect that several of the nurses she worked with were lesbians. When one of them told her: "You're one of us, you know," she interpreted this as meaning she could pass for British, and took it as a huge compliment.
After 1945, Sharley continued working for the NHS, and had two children. In 1950, following a breakdown and an unsuccessful attempt to take her own life, she was told by a psychologist that she was a lesbian. This came as a shock, and when she later visited the Gateways, a lesbian club in Chelsea, she felt she didn't fit in with the tweedy women she met there. But in 1953, she began a relationship with a West Indian woman, Georgina, which lasted for 24 years, although Sharley carried on living with her husband. Divorce would have meant losing her children.
Georgina's death in 1977 was a body blow; Georgina had kept her sexuality secret and her family refused to allow Sharley to attend the funeral. But she threw herself into political activism, working for the Campaign for Homosexual Equality. In 1982, she founded the Hyde Park Gays and Sapphics and gave public speeches from a rickety stepladder at Speakers' Corner every Sunday for more than 20 years. She showed great courage and enriched many lives by speaking about gay rights at a major London tourist attraction, week after week, to a largely hostile crowd. She turned a life filled with tragedy into something positive.
Sharley joined the Terrence Higgins Trust in August 1985 after a close friend had died from an AIDS-related illness. At that time, she was also working at the national headquarters of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality which, like the Trust, was based in Panther House. Sharley quickly got to know many of the clients personally, and subsequently assisted them from a wide range of other positions she held while working as a Trust volunteer. She later became been involved in the Women's Group, the Interfaith Group, the helpline and the information line, and at one stage also worked as a counsellor. In June 1997, she was still an active volunteer, helping out in the office once a week, despite being in her 74th year.
Sharley would hold regular meetings with Body Positive and Crusaid, other charities who also administered hardship funds, such as the Monument Trust, which was operated by the Cadbury family, to ensure that clients were not abusing the system by making multiple and fraudulent claims. Crusaid had been formed in 1986 as an organisation which raised funds by staging balls and theatrical galas, allowing London's high society to show its support for people living with HIV and AIDS. Body Positive had been formed in 1985, although it could not afford to offer grants to PWAs for a few years.
Sharley McLean aged 90 died on October 26, 2013 in her sleep at her daughter's home in Longcot, Oxfordshire.
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