Mark Rees is a quintessentially charming man whose greatest misfortune was to have been born in 1942 apparently female. The story of Mark’s dawning realization of his masculine identity, and the struggle to express that, is told through his autobiography, “Dear Sir or Madam”. After gender transition in 1971 Mark sought to pursue his calling – to offer himself for ordination into the Church of England. His ambition was cruelly thwarted because legally he continued to be regarded as female. This rejection prompted Mark to begin his determined fight for legal recognition in 1972. The fight took him through layers of legal process all the way to the European Court of Human Rights – requiring immense courage in his day. The court hearings spelled the end for any vestige of privacy. In the end Mark lost his single-handed battle for legal recognition at the European Court in Strasbourg in 1986. Yet his apparently fruitless fight had not gone unnoticed and sowed the seeds for other important cases to come. He was contacted by the well-known Barrister and Liberal Democrat MP, Alex (now Lord) Carlile QC – a man more recently famous for his defense of Royal Butler Paul Burrell. With the experienced Parliamentarian’s encouragement and support Mark organized a meeting for other concerned trans people at the House of Commons in 1992. The afternoon ended across the road in “Grandma Lees Tea Shoppe”, with the foundation of the trans rights campaign, “Press for Change”. From 1989 until 2001 Mark traveled the length of the UK speaking at local, regional and national Samaritan conferences. During this period and in spite of being publicly known as a trans man, Mark was elected by the people of his village to serve as a Member of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council from 1994-98. Although it had initially been a shock to be “outed” by Strasbourg, Mark says he realized that ultimately it had been a blessing, because it enabled him to undertake such tasks without fear of being exposed. It was no longer news.
Considering the immense energy and bravery required to take on such impossible-seeming odds in his day, Mark Rees has always remained a quiet and unassuming character, whose enduring ambition has been to build bridges and pursue reconciliation with the very people who prevented him from achieving his vocation. Following the passage of the Gender Recognition Act, Mark organized a Christian service of thanksgiving and reconciliation in 2005 – at a time when many trans people still feel only anger and pain at the way they have been maligned and mistreated by others claiming to be Christian. He says, “I knew that all the work the service had involved was rewarded when one of the members of the congregation wrote that she had never believed that she could have felt so accepted”. Another attendee said that, “ the church was full of love.” Although no longer actively involved with Press for Change, Mark continues (in his words) to “politely batter the church,”. In July 2004, in a letter published by the CHURCH TIMES, Mark roundly chastised some of the bishops who had opposed the Gender Recognition Bill in the House of Lords – prompting important debate within the Church and further invitations to write for reputable Christian publications. Mark epitomizes that most important virtue for all people living on the wrong side of society’s mindless prejudice — an ability to be calm and to retain one’s dignity. People are assured of recognition when they shout a lot and make a fuss. Mark Rees shows that there is another way too. In that way he deserves a leading place in trans campaigning history.