Previously published as four separate blogs, it is presented here as one compilation.
When we bought our little Victorian end terrace, ten minutes from bohemian Moseley and five minutes from the Balti Triangle, a neighbour greeted us with, “Welcome to Birmingham’s busiest quiet road.”
We never suspected how prophetic those words would prove to be.
It wasn’t long before the road started to show its vibrant colours.
Within weeks of moving in, we witnessed a dramatic raid on a house opposite, involving a dozen armed police. One particularly glamorous officer carried off her snug flack-jacket and utility belt with all the panache of Heather Locklear in TJ Hooker (If you are under the age of forty, Google it).
We enjoyed the antics of the Eastern European renters, who entertained themselves by regularly wrestling in the front bedroom in their underpants. The boyz considerately left the curtains wide open, almost although they knew they had appreciative gays ogling them from across the street.
Excitingly, a police chase came to an abrupt halt in the bay window of the corner house, when joyriders lost control and crashed through their garden wall, sadly, shattering the original Victorian road sign in the process. Just minutes later it could have been a tragedy, had the primary school at the end of the road dismissed for the day. Fortunately, no one was injured in the incident… or again when the exact same thing happened several years later. If I lived in that house, I would consider moving.
There was also that time the hot Kurdish lad from the corner shop popped up on the national news… wanted for double homicide.
Oh… and the freak tornado that felled trees, toppled chimneys and ripped roofs from houses (I’m not making this up). One row of two-up two-downs lost their top floors entirely, rendering them a row of bungalows (or just two-downs). Fortunately, our road emerged relatively unscathed, but it was the last out neighbours saw of their patio furniture. Rumour has it that a man in the kiosk outside Kings Heath’s Iceland was transported though the air, like a Kanas farmhouse, and found himself deposited on the opposite side of the carpark.
Yet all this paled into insignificance when the street found itself at the centre of a sustained campaign of anti-LGBTQ protests.
Events began when a local property developer/slum landlord arranged a meeting with the headmistress of Anderton Park Primary, Sarah Hewitt-Clarkeson, to discuss the school’s progressive stance on inclusion.
He claimed to represent parental concerns that the school’s policy of tolerance and equality be extended to the LGBTQ community. Apparently, they objected to the school’s aim of fostering an environment where there were no outsiders and everyone was respected, including children from same-sex families. Believing it contrary to their religious beliefs, parents decided that they did not want their children to know that some of their friends may go home to a house where two men or two women shared a bedroom.
This self-proclaimed spokesperson stormed into the head’s office, slammed his fists down on her desk, declared himself, “General of a war I intend to win,” and proceeded to bellow his demands in her face.
He was promptly asked to leave, and the poor mite subsequently whined to all and sundry that the school had not been prepared to mediate with him.
This opportunistic agitator spread misinformation and incorrectly claimed that a gay lifestyle was being promoted at the school. He highjacked any legitimate parental concerns and aggressively exploited them for his own agenda of distrust and division.
The following week, he began to orchestrate demonstrations outside the school gates. Every weeknight, crowds would gather to wave banners and shout about their rights to decide what aspects of modern British society they would or would not accept.
Protesters called for the Head’s resignation and chanted: “Our children, our choice”; “Let kids be kids”; “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve”; and my personal favourite, “We will not tolerate intolerance”.
May I suggest that if you do not want your innocent children to know that some people have two mummies or two daddies, then don’t turn up outside their school and start shouting about it through a megaphone.
After several evenings of disruption, a group of likeminded residents decided to retaliate by flying the rainbow flag in the front upstairs windows of our houses.
As I worked at Anderton Park School on a freelance basis, I had reservations about being seen to be heavily involved, but the morning our display of flags appeared, I strutted along the pavement, filled with pride, but determined to keep a low profile.
When I walked into the staffroom, it was a buzz with excitement about the sign of support from the street. I kept my head down and pretended to search for something in my bag.
Suddenly, a member of staff burst into the room, “Have you seen what the residents have done? I pulled up in my car and just burst into tears.”
I kept up the pretence of searching my bag for that elusive item.
“I’m so overwhelmed,” she continued. “I just want to thank them.”
I couldn’t contain myself any longer and, without glancing up, uttered a simple, “You’re welcome.”
It did not take long for news of my involvement in the subtle counter-protest to spread and by first break I had been summoned to see the Head.
I apprehensively entered her office, expecting a dressing down, but was instead greeted by a beaming deputy and enveloped in a hug.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” she gushed.
“Really? I thought that I was about to be given my marching orders.”
“We as a school couldn’t take a counter stand, but residents are free to take whatever action they want.”
“I knew that I couldn’t just stand by, with all of this blowing up on my doorstep. I have turned down a few press interviews though, as I thought that would be taking things too far,” I admitted.
“Please, feel free to do interviews,” the deputy insisted. She indicated the headmistress, who was visible through the internal office window, deep in conversation on the phone, “Sarah has been doing interviews all morning. She’s currently talking to Gay Times.”
The headteacher of Anderton Park Primary School, is a dynamic, progressive woman, with her own striking style (imagine Grange Hill’s Mrs McClusky with a dash of Sarah Jessica Parker) and a determined ally of the LGBTQ community, received daily threats for her progressive stance. This was not the first time she found herself the target of abuse having, several years earlier, been involved in exposing the ‘Trojan Horse’ scandal, which revealed an organised attempt to introduce a radical Islamist ethos into several schools in the area.
In retaliation, dead cats were slung into the school playground and a dog was slit from throat to groin, splayed and attached to the main gates.
On a more positive note (although, quite frankly, anything would be more positive than an eviscerated dog crucified at the entrance of a primary school), this beleaguered maverick was touched to receive an offer of support from a knight of the realm, Sir Ian McKellen. The movie star and gay activist had become her number one fan on Twitter (Gandalf reads her Tweets!) and got in contact.
Sarah and her husband were invited as honoured guests to Sir Ian’s 80th birthday party, along with the great and the gay.
“At my table alone were Derek Jacobi and Graham Norton,” Sarah told me in awe. “I was sat next to Frances Barber!”
At the end of the night Sir Ian stood up and told anecdotes, wandering amongst the tables recounting stories about his gathered friends.
“There is one person here whom I have never actually met in person, but admire greatly,” he said, indicating Sarah. “This, ladies and gentlemen, is Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson, Head of Anderton Park Scho…” but before he could complete the sentence, everyone in the room rose and gave her a standing ovation.
“I’m getting choked up,” I said to Sarah when she told me this.
“You should have seen the state of me,” she replied. “I was sobbing.”
As the night came to an end and the guests made to leave, Sir Ian found Sarah and offered, “If I can do anything to help your school, anything at all, then please do not hesitate to get in touch.”
“Well…”, I said to Sarah, as she reached the conclusion of her story and I reached for the tissues, “if he’s kept the beard from Lord of the Rings, that’s your Christmas Santa sorted!”
The evening after our rainbow flags appeared, every house on the road received a courtesy call from a police officer, enquiring about how the protests were impacting residents and offering support.
The officer had a special message for those houses flying the flag, “As a representative of West Midlands Police, I obviously cannot offer an opinion on a dispute of this nature, but we all want to say… Well done! You could have organised your own protest, but that would have only escalated matters. What you did was far more effective. The display of flags totally undermined what they are doing.”
The officer then launched into an unguarded rant about that ‘General in a war’ behind the protests and his unscrupulous family, but I will not go into any more detail about what was said, as language like that would only make you blush.
Our flags full of pride had, temporarily, taken the wind out of their sails.
The protests peaked when over 300 people descended on the school, with demonstrators ferried in on coaches from other cities and religious leaders invited to deliver vitriolic sermons, which attracted worldwide media attention.
One friend commented, “I don’t need to talk to you to find out what is happening in your life anymore, I just turn on the evening news.”
While another friend in Australia, messaged to say she had just seen my house on a TV bulletin in Darwin!
This mass gathering coincided with the arrival of our flamboyant temporary lodger, who sashayed through the throng with all the attitude of Joan Collins entering a champagne soiree. He dragged his luggage along several streets, as the Uber driver was too intimidated by the crowds to drop him at the door.
At one point in the speeches, an Imam pointed at the school and libellously spat, “There are paedophiles in there! They have a paedophile agenda!” He went on to mock the LGBT community, “They are saying that men can love men… women can love women, well that’s OK I suppose, but bisexual?! Yoyoing back an’ forth!!!” His parting shot was to resort to the oft used accusation that the gays cannot breed, so are hellbent on ‘recruiting’ children. I didn’t realise that gay numbers were in decline and we are looking to swell the ranks.
I know that there are inspirational, inclusive, moderate Imams out there, but the jumped-up little Farage that organised this event didn’t invite any of them.
There was one fabulously camp Imam, in a bold gold turban, that the media made a beeline for.
“Ho-mo-sexuality?! It’s disgusting,” he exclaimed on camera, in a fey Yorkshire accent that put me in mind of Alan Bennett. “Two men together? It’s just not right! When I think of them ho-mo-sexuals kissing and fondling and touching… with their rippling muscles and their tight clinging t-shirts, it makes me blood boil! Oooooh, I can feel me blood surging even now. I’m positively throbbing with it!!!” (I may have paraphrased).
I stepped out to watch the circus but found myself engaged in a forthright discussion with one of the religious leaders, whose style of debating was to bark rapid questions, dismiss any responses and quickly switch to another subject.
An ever-growing crowd of his supporters encircled me as we talked, sneering and disparaging my comments.
“We are not homophobic people,” I was told, just as two men bellowed threats and gay slurs from their passing car.
Faced with a barrage of arguments and abuse, I calmly explained that I could only comment from my own personal experience.
“See,” the Imam announced in a mocking tone, “he can’t even answer my questions!”
“I can’t comment on every aspect of the gay community just because I am a gay man, any more than you can discuss every aspect of multifaith theology, just because you represent one religion,” … was what I would have replied had he not abruptly jumped to a whole new topic.
“It is a fact that there is a high proportion of mental health problems amongst the gay community,” the Imam snapped. “Is that because it is God’s punishment?”
“NO…” I furiously responded, before he could draw breath and charge into another aspect of the debate. I flung my arms out to indicate the sea of protestors, “It is because of things like this! There are children in that school that know they are different. Every day for the past six months they have been greeted at the school gates by members of their own family telling them that it is not OK to be themselves, that they will not be accepted by their community and that their parent’s love is not unconditional! THIS… HERE… NOW…. is why there is a high degree of mental health issues in the gay community!!!”
I had finally managed to get a word in and was determined to make the most of it, “Every person in this crowd has a member of the LGBTQ community in their family, but because of ignorance and intolerance it has to remain hidden. Everyone here will have a brother, sister, cousin, child, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, parent, or grandparent who is either L…G…B…T… or Q, but they are forced to live a lie. These protests are hurting your own families!”
This revelation clearly rattled the Imam, as he purposely turned the questioning to intimate aspects of my own sex life, so I made a decision to answer every question he asked me… in excruciating detail. I countered his inevitable opening gambit about how revolting he found the idea of anal sex, by explaining the practicalities of douching. It was a joy to watch his entourage squirm as they were compelled to listen, because their respected community leader had instigated the topic.
“It’s still disgusting,” I was told. “The anus is where excrement comes from!”
“The hole that you use is where a woman menstruates from,” I countered.
“We do not have sex with our wives during that period of the month.”
“It is also a region associated with urination… and we have already established that your wife doesn’t douche.”
“My wife is a clean woman!”
I had managed to turn the tables on him. This revered figure was now openly sharing intimate details and discussing his wife’s lady-parts in the street… with an audience!
“I hope that you return the favour by cleaning yourself thoroughly before your wife performs oral sex,” I said, with my most charming smile.
“My wife and I do not engage in that act!”
“Oh, I am sorry,” I offered sympathetically. “It sounds as though you have a very dull sex life. I hope, at the very least, she gives you a good tit-wank.”
With this parting shot, I departed.
Touché… should that be ‘douché’?
Won that battle, but open warfare was about to erupt on the road.
The months of protests had caused division in our diverse, but previously cohesive neighbourhood, with households taking opposing sides on the debate on LGBTQ inclusion.
Whilst relations between actual neighbours remained cordial, there had been several heated clashes with protestors from the wider area and any discussion with the lead agitator inevitably resulted in him engaging his standard tactic of aggressively dismissing any opinion that contradicted him.
His antagonistic approach to debate was clearly in evidence during a widely broadcast exchange between he and MP Jess Philips, where he shouted over her at length then immediately accused her of being hostile when she was forced to raise her voice to be heard.
An earlier exchange between a female neighbour and the head protester, resulted in the police being called, when his behaviour became threatening and he essentially ordered her to shut up and go back inside… like a good woman. He didn’t like being challenged by a female, whom, in the words of one of his mob, was ‘created for man’s pleasure’ and nothing more.
It was amusing to witness Sparkhill’s poster boy for fundamentalism damper his bullishness, during a showdown with Holly and Phil on ITV’s This Morning. He was clearly unhappy having his views challenged and at points could be seen literally biting his lip to control himself. It looked like he had been advised by cohorts not to lose his cool on camera. This usually arrogant aggressor seemed uncomfortable without his megaphone and entourage. His demeanour wasn’t helped by the fresh haircut he had got especially for his appearance on national television. The unfortunate style choice of teasing every strand into gravity defying spikes, standing straight up from his head, only served to make him look even more scared, like something from a cartoon.
Residents could be forgiven for thinking that the drama on their doorstep couldn’t get any worse… until Katie Hopkins, a reviled far-ring media parasite, turned up for a sneak photo opportunity on school grounds (Staff didn’t even know that she had been there until the images appeared on social media), but even that wannabe Nazi’s sly intrusion paled into insignificance, compared to the thirty masked thugs launched an attack on the road. We didn’t know what was happening… until the first volley of eggs hit our windows.
My partner had stepped into our back garden for a post dinner cigarette and was perplexed to hear familiar protest chants from the front of the house. At first, he thought that he had got so used to hearing the slogans that he was now imaging them.
I wandered through to the front room to investigate, just as an egg exploded on the window, followed by another!
I dashed out of the front door, to be confronted by mayhem.
There were shouts and screams coming from far end of the street, vehicles screeching into the cul-de-sac, and masked men were yelling insults and hurling eggs at the houses and cars of those that dared display the rainbow flag, while that ‘General in a war’ agitator (and spikey headed star of morning television) was observing events from a conveniently deniable distance.
The screams were coming from a group of women and their children who were cornered at the school gates by masked men. One woman had collapsed to the floor, while the goons bellowed abuse and pelted them with more eggs.
Suddenly, the door of a house close to the school burst open and a neighbour dashed out. This diminutive, mild mannered woman, with a mop of grey hair, launched herself at the assailants, slapping, punching and pulling them away from their victims. If they hadn’t been wearing balaclavas, I am sure she would have had them by their ears, like naughty children. The gang didn’t know what had hit them and took flight. They didn’t know how to react to this tiny Tasmanian devil at their heels. It was like their mother and all their ‘aunties’ were after them.
Apparently, a group of activists from an LGBTQ organisation had volunteered to decorate the school gates in preparation for a VIP visit on Monday morning. They had been trying flags, ribbons, artwork, banners and posters in support of the besieged school, that bore messages such as “Love is the Answer” and “Love Unites Us”. One heart-shaped motto read: “No to Islamophobia; No to Homophobia”.
The masked men, or ‘just the boys’ as a sympathiser later described them to the press, had received a tip off that the LGBTQ activists were on the street and stormed in to intimidate and destroy.
One of the men shouted, “This is for coming into OUR area,” a sentiment stated by their ‘General’ several weeks earlier, when he had pointed out every Pakistani owned house on the road and boasted, “We own that one and that one and that one etc.”
He should turn on Grindr and see just how many gay profiles pop up within 200 meters. On our road alone, there are three openly gays men, one bi-curious individual, at least two possible closet cases, one house at the T-junction that is gay owned and exclusively rented to LGBTQ tenants and a few dozen queer acquaintances that I could certainly introduce him to in the surrounding area.
Eventually, riot vans with dogs arrived. The remaining hooligans skulked away, while their leader claimed that his presence was just a coincidence.
I stood watching the aftermath in disbelief.
A police officer approached and asked, “Are you ok? You look shellshocked.”
“No, I’m not OK,” I replied. “I feel like I’m in a soap opera. I’m expecting a tram to come crashing off the viaduct at any moment… If we had trams… or a viaduct for that matter.”
Eventually, things calmed down. The LGBTQ activists were escorted to safely, damage was cleared up and residents drifted back into their homes.
The police had one last task to perform before they left. They knocked on every house with a rainbow flag in their window and warned the occupants that there may be further reprisals, “We have heard that they plan to brick any houses with flags, after we leave. We can’t tell you what to do, but only advise that it may be in your best interests to remove them. I’m so sorry.”
With heavy hearts, we took the flags down. They had done their job. No need to court more trouble.
That terrible night did mark a turning point. The situation had gone from peaceful protests to violent attacks. National papers ran prominent articles on the incident and local authorities could no longer watch impotently. Within weeks the courts had imposed an exclusion zone around the school and the protesters were banished to the outskirts of the neighbourhood, out of sight and earshot, to a muddy verge… were my dog used to shit!
The anti-inclusion protests soon ran out of momentum and fizzled out. Neighbourly relations began to heal and… with a little understanding, we found the perfect blend.
One of those articles in the national press stated that the leader agitator blamed the LGBTQ group for the attacks that occurred on that Heluations evening, “They provocatively turning up as night fell, disturbing residents and causing intimidation by putting up rainbow flags and inflammatory messages,” he claimed.
No, the residents were not intimidated by ribbons, hearts and flags… it was the thirty masked cunts, bringing threats and violence to the road, that did that.
Our neighbourhood was under siege for months, all because the local school dared acknowledge the existence of alternative lifestyles.
I saw this inclusive policy, that parent’s were so opposed to, in practice one afternoon in a year 6 class.
One form teacher had a routine of ending the school day by bringing up current news stories on the class’s interactive whiteboard, from an appropriate children’s news source.
On the occasion I witnessed, the stories were: The New Zealand Prime Minister’s response to the terrible attack on a mosque in Christchurch; and a same-sex marriage on Peppa Pig (a popular pre-school cartoon series), between two male aardvarks.
The children knew all about both news items and objectively chatted about them, as (ironically) protest chants drifted in through the open windows.
No child was scandalised: No child spontaneously developed gayness; The world did not end.
A class of children casually discussed topical issues, unencumbered by the veil of intolerance that shrouds their parents.