Photography by Jake Edwards & Katie O'Neill
Carl Austin-Behan OBE DL is a community activist who currently serves as LGBTQ+ adviser to the Mayor of Greater Manchester.
Carl was born and raised in Crumpsall, North Manchester. After leaving school, aged 19 he joined the Royal Airforce as a firefighter. During active service Carl received several awards and recognition, he received the British Humane Bronze Award for bravery after rescuing a pilot from a burning Hawk Aircraft and was mentioned in the Queens Birthday Honours List in 1996 with a commander in Chief’s Commendation. In 1997 Carl was dismissed from the RAF, as it was deemed that his homosexuality was ‘incompatible with service life’. This was a defining moment, since then Carl has dedicated himself to actively engaging diverse LGBTQ+ communities to ensure that all voices are heard and amplified. Carl believes that different identities and sexual orientations should be respected and celebrated: in Greater Manchester and nationally.
Carl at the Beacon of Hope statue in Sackville Gardens
After moving back to Manchester, he spent a year working for ADSA before joining Greater Manchester Fire & Rescue Service in 1998. Realising “it wasn’t for him” in 1999 he set up a promotions company and then a specialist cleaning company with a business partner. In 2001, he entered and won the national competition, Mr Gay UK.
Living back in Manchester City Centre, Carl developed an interest in politics, seeing a route to making a difference and inciting change. He moved to Burnage and in 2011 was elected Labour Member for Burnage Ward. Passionately active in the community and proud to represent the residents, Carl sat on the Neighbourhood Scrutiny Committee and was a member of the Licensing Panel, as well as Lead Member for Gay Men and Lead Member for Cycling.
Carl during his time in the RAF as a firefighter
Mr Gay UK, 2001
In 2016 he was elected to the office of Lord Mayor of Manchester: the youngest in the city’s history, and the first openly gay Lord Mayor. During his time in office, Carl raised public awareness and promoted the diversity, contribution and achievements of the LGBTQ+ community, as well as highlighting issues faced by individuals. He helped raise more than half-a-million pounds for the Lord Mayor’s Charity during his time in office.
At an early age Carl was always active in the community, volunteering at Northern Air Hospital Radio, a member of The Boy’s Brigade and a founding supporter of Gaydio - an LGBT radio station. Two charity treks in Malawi raised over 100,000 for children with HIV, and a trek to Everest Base Camp in 2013 raised £25,000 for the Alzheimer’s Society, a charity he regularly supports.
Carl married his long-term partner, Simon in 2015, and they have a daughter, Willow.
Carl at Windsor Castle to receive his OBE in 2021
Lord Mayor of Manchester - Carl on the steps of the Town Hall
Carl with husband Simon & daughter Willow
Other titles Carl holds include: Ambassador of The Running Bee, Patron of Manchester Lesbian Gay Chorus, Patron of The Friends of Crumpsall Church and Community Hall (where Carl spent many of his childhood days), on the board of governors for University of Bolton and a member of the governors at Burnage Academy for Boys, works with various LGBTQ+ Charities across the UK and also Greater Manchester’s 10 boroughs with their “Pride Events”.
After leaving Manchester City Council in 2018, Carl has been constantly embarking on new challenges and opportunities. In 2018 Carl was awarded by The University of Bolton with an Honorary Degree of Doctor of the University in recognition of his outstanding contribution to LGBTQ+ Equality across Greater Manchester.
Since 2020 Carl has been working with the Charity (as a founder trustee) 'Fighting With Pride' – The LGBT+ Military Charity that supports the health, welfare and wellbeing of LGBT+ Veterans.
In November 2019 Carl was appointed as a Deputy Lieutenant of Greater Manchester and more recently he received an OBE in the 2020 New Years Honours List for services to Charity, LGBTQ+ Equality and Communities.
THE SHOOT: The Gay Village
Sackville Gardens; The Bee in the City; Beacon of Hope; Alan Turing statue & Canal Street
Student reflection: Jake Edwards
This was my first Greater Mancunians shoot and I didn’t quite know what to expect. We met Carl on a cold but bright winter's morning in Sackville Gardens, he was very friendly and down to earth.
We started by photographing Carl next to the ‘Bee in the City’ statue where we struggled to balance our camera exposure between the strong light and dark shadows. From that point onwards we used a photo reflector to bounce light into to the darker areas. Carl was very relaxed and easy to work with and happy to suggest poses. As we walked from location to location he told us about his early life in North Manchester and his passion for his work representing the LGBTQ+ community. Carl picked up litter and stopped to say hello and wave to a number of people as we walked along Canal Street. His love for the Gay Village and the people who frequent it was clear to see.
We finished the shoot by photographing Carl against a bee mural and in a rainbow painted doorway before going canal-side to capture him against the backdrop of the Village.
I have to say I am very pleased with the results of the shoot - even with the challenging light. It was a pleasure to meet Carl and experience his passion and love for the city, the Village and its people.