Sue Lister and Ann Murray

Ann and Sue were the first same-sex couple in York to be joined in a Civil Partnership in the pilot scheme of 2003.

Sue was born in Leeds in 1945. Her father joined the R.A.F. and was posted to India where Sue and her mother joined him in 1946. Though the British had to leave at the partition of India in 1947, by 1953 her family was back to help with the administration. After two years they returned to Britain and continued to move home every two years due to various R.A.F. postings. This “taught me to stand up for myself,” Sue says because she had to keep on changing schools. Once in secondary school, Sue acted in every school play and worked at the Chichester Festival Theatre in the holidays. At Leeds University (1964-1967), Sue acted and directed in the theatre group. In 1967-1968 she trained as a Drama and English teacher at Bretton Hall Training College. After a year teaching 700 children a week (“a total nightmare”) at Swanley Comprehensive School, Sue resigned and emigrated to New Zealand where she lived from 1972-1977 and “had a ball.” She was artistic director of the Centrepoint Children`s Theatre for two years and business manager for three modern dance companies touring New Zealand.  

From 1977-1982 Sue was back in England where she worked in mental health and with elderly disabled Londoners. Then she emigrated again, this time to Canada where she lived from 1982 – 1996. During her time there she was a freelance drama specialist in Edmonton and artistic director of Theatre Terrific in Vancouver – a theatre company for disabled people. Sue worked with them for nine years. Theatre Terrific ran drama classes, put on Fringe productions and performed to around 2,000 children a year in schools throughout British Columbia.  

Sue came back to Britain in 1996 with her Canadian life partner, Ann. For a year she was a senior secretary at MENCAP based in Harrogate. From 1997-2002 Sue worked for the University of York as a temp secretary – she worked in various departments which was “enlightening”. From 2002-2010 Sue had a settled position as Wentworth College Administrator, responsible for the welfare of graduate students from all over the world. 

In 2010 Sue retired, though she describes it as “resurgence” because she was now free to “plough all my time and energy into my own interests.” We know how much energy Sue has and here is a list of Sue’s many contributions to York and the UK: 

York Older People`s Assembly: Sue joined in 2002 because “I could see the demographics written on the wall.”  

York 50+ Festival: Sue started this festival in 2005 to celebrate and share older people’s initiatives and coordinated it for twelve years until 2016 when she passed it on to a team of seven – www.yorkassembly.org.uk/festival 

York International Women`’s Festival: Sue is the artistic director of the Real People Theatre and has created a show from 2000. Sue coordinated the festival 2006-2014 before passing it on to a team of eight women.

Real People Theatre: this was launched by Sue and Ann in 1999 and is a women`s company. Shows are on themes of social importance such as dementia, LGBT issues, our relationship to animals, death & dying and ageing without children (AWOC). Audience participation is encouraged (and forthcoming – speaking from personal experience!) – www.realpeopletheatre.co.uk 

York LGBT Forum: Sue has been on the committee since it started in 2006. The charity raises LGBT awareness in schools and care homes, runs bisexual groups and transgender workshops, and focuses on health & wellbeing as well as hate crime and international issues.  Sue is coordinator of Free to Be Me in Care and Free to be Me in the Workplace which have, since 2016, provided training given by four volunteer presenters to care homes and many other workplaces. In 2018 a video was made for online training. www.yorklgbtforum.org.uk 

AWOC York: Sue and her partner, Ann, started this local group in 2016. There are monthly meetings for those who are ageing without the support of nearby children and who want to put this issue on the national and local agenda. It’s part of the loneliness and isolation picture – millions ageing alone without family support. 

City of York Council Equality Advisory Group: Sue has been part of the group since 2006. In 2017 the title changed to Community Voices. They represent the protected characteristics groups across the city. 

Dementia Champion: since 2014 Sue and Ann have given information sessions to, for example, West Yorkshire Police, Halifax Bank, Skipton Building Society, Virgin East Coast Rail, Age UK York, the W.I., Costcutter and the Monks Cross Shopping Centre. 

Dignity in Dying Yorkshire – Sue joined in 2014. 

Sue campaigns on many issues including climate change and renewable energy, human and animal rights, plastic and peace, and has kept a daily diary since she was thirteen so has been able to tell me all this and more. 

Ann Murray                          

Ann’s Life Before Coming to York 

Ann was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada in 1940. She was adopted at six weeks old and was brought up in a caring household. As her adopted brother was eight and a half years older she was virtually an only child. Ann says she was born with gifts. One is a gift for sport – she can ‘read the ball’.  However she is also a strong swimmer, ice skater and skier. At eleven years old she won her first badminton match. Her other gifts are musicality and a sense of humour. She attended the University of Manitoba    reading five subjects: French, German, Latin, Philosophy and Sociology. After graduating she taught French and P.E. from 1963 to 1966. She married in 1966, moved to Vancouver and, as was expected at that time, she became a full-time mother to her three children. 

Some of Ann’s sporting achievements will be included later. 

In 1985 Ann started acting lessons in Vancouver.  In February of 1986 Ann auditioned for a play directed by Sue, and was given the leading role. The four women and one man ensemble went on to win ‘best ensemble acting’ at the British Columbia Drama Festival.  

In 1991 she gained her professional driver’s licence and worked for the equivalent of Dial-and-Ride taking people with disabilities all over the Lower Mainland of Vancouver. 

She and her husband decided to separate in 1989. Sue and Ann worked together in theatre and toured schools throughout BC with Theatre Terrific, a theatre company for people with disabilities, performing for 2,500 children each year. 

Moving to one of York’s villages 

In 1996 Ann and Sue moved to Dunnington. Sue was born in England but Ann’s Canadian passport was taken away and she was given a six-month visitor permit. She couldn’t take on paid work though she did teach English as a Foreign Language to a cosmopolitan group which included Russians, Thais, South Koreans, Spaniards and Turks. When Labour won the 1997 General Election, the policy on same-gender partners was changed and in 1999 Ann was given ‘indefinite leave to remain’ in the United Kingdom. Ann and Sue were the first couple in York to be joined in a Civil Partnership in the pilot scheme of 2003 and were interviewed by press and media. Ann gave learning support at York College from 1998 to 2005. She is a good friend to older neighbours and drives them to appointments, coffee mornings and food shopping. Also she volunteers at Dunnington Library.  

Apart from sport Ann’s biggest contribution to York is her work with Sue. Sue says that she couldn’t achieve all she does without Ann. In 1999 they founded the Real People Theatre (www.realpeopletheatre.co.uk). Sue is the Artistic Director and Ann assists and performs in every production. The subjects include mental health, death & dying, dementia, and LGBT issues. Apart from performing during York International Women’s Week and in the York 50+ Festival, they go to care homes throughout the country and give presentations which illustrate these issues. They also work with the York LGBT Forum (www.yorklgbtforum.org.uk) and present ‘Free To Be Me in Care’ LGBT awareness training which focuses on elderly gay people who go back into the closest when in need of care for fear of prejudice and discrimination. 

AWOC York, Ageing Without Children, is another group which Ann and Sue have started together. This is a branch of the national organisation (www.awoc.org.uk) but York is the strongest group in the country with monthly meetings, speakers and plenty of discussion – www.awocyork.org.uk

Ann’s Sporting Life 

Ann has played badminton at international level. The list of her trophies starts in 1952 and continues through to 2007 and covers three sides of A4 paper! Here are a few examples: she was the Junior Canadian Badminton Champion for 4 consecutive years (an unbeaten record); 1960 – Manitoba Outstanding Junior Athlete; 1992 – American Nationals Doubles (Badminton); 1998 – British National Badminton Champion. She has played badminton for Yorkshire and represented England in 2002 in the World Masters` Games in Melbourne.  In fact, she’s been singles and doubles winner in badminton championships for years! 

From 1997 to 2007 she played badminton at the Railway Institute and helped to coach tennis in Dunnington. At 78 she plays competitive tennis in the York League – 36 games each Saturday in the summer season. Though she’s one of the oldest in the League she won the most games in her division last year – 212!  Ann is a valuable ‘adopted’ citizen of York. 

Source: Interviews by Rose Berl with Sue and Ann.

Written by Rose Berl.