Pride Season: How we can learn from the Stonewall Uprising, even today.

This year marks the 50th anniversary since simply being gay was no longer a crime. 

In 1967, changes in the law in the UK meant that homosexuality was at last decriminalised. In fact, it was what happened at the Stonewall uprising over in the United States that heralded in a new dawn for gay rights. Indeed, the very first Pride march took place shortly after these riots and have evolved into what we now recognise as annual gay pride. It surprises me all the time that so many people from the LGBT community have no idea of origin of pride. It’s not just a big gay knees-up. Yes, it’s great to celebrate the achievements of those before us, but we must never forget that there is still much to do. Social attitudes have changed, but more could be done. Government policy has moved forward, but not enough. Laws have been made or amendmended, but not where total equality is possible. Religious stances are evolving for the better, but at a ridiculously slow pace. In short, there is still much to be achieved, and while most see Pride as a great time to party, let us not forget why pride came about, and why we now have our freedom to love whoever we choose. Let us remember that there is still a need for activism, to better the lives of LGBT people everywhere, at home and abroad. 

“Let us remember that there is still a need for activism, to better the lives of LGBT people everywhere…”

We also need to look within ourselves. The once safe inclusivity of the community is being lost. We are quickly forgetting that it was a need for activism, because of persecution from other societal or religious groups, that brought us together as a movement in the first place. It wasn't being in cliques and ‘type categories’ that segregate us and push us apart. Much of the non-LGBTQ community is full of its very own negative stereotypes, abuse, slurs and hate towards us, without our own community adding to it – and we do. We need to remember what is important. An idealistic viewpoint is that we need to love and respect each other all over again.

We need to recognise that even today, when we feel that so much has been done for the LGBTQ community, so much more can be achieved and that there is always that call to arms, that call to fight; there is always opportunity for activism. Let your battle cry be heard!

For the most part, we’re doing great, but as my teachers often said, we “could do better.”

Finally, if you’re a reader from the non-LGBTQ community and wondering why there is no ‘Straight Pride’, remember this: gay pride was not born of a need to celebrate being gay, but our right to exist without persecution. So, instead of wondering why there isn’t a Straight Pride movement, be thankful you don’t need one.

Happy Pride Season!

If you’re interested in watching the incredible documentary on the Stonewall riots, you can watch Stonewall Uprising here:

http://www.pbs.org/video/1889649613/

(If you’re outside the USA, find a good VPN client. I recommend BetterNet, which is available free on AppStores and online.)

i from the Independent front page: Lords Wave Through Gay Marriage Bill.

Peers vote convincingly FOR same-sex marriage Bill and Wreckers routed as Lords backs gay marriage

The first gay weddings are expected in July of next year after the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill survived an attempt to wreck it following a heated two-day debate in the Lords.

A wrecking amendment was defeated by 390 votes to 148 and the measure was then given a second reading.

Opponents of the move will table amendments during the Bill’s committee stage in the Lords, in the hope of winning further safeguards for churches and public servants such as teachers and registrars who oppose same-sex marriage. But tonight’s big majority will reduce the prospects of them succeeding and jubilant supporters hope the Bill will now survive largely intact.
Lord Alli of Norbury, a gay Labour peer, welcomed “a stunning victory for equality”. He said: “There can be no doubt that the public, the House of Commons and now the House of Lords are in favour of marriage equality. Those opposed to this Bill should listen to the overwhelming voice of the majority, not just in both Houses of Parliament, but across the country.”

Ben Summerskill, chief executive of the gay equality pressure group Stonewall, said: “We’re absolutely delighted. We always expected a tough challenge in the House of Lords.” He said the rarely-used “fatal motion” tabled by opponents showed the lengths to which a minority of peers were still prepared to go to deny full equality to lesbian, gay and bisexual people. He added: “In the last 24 hours alone, opponents of equality in the Lords have compared loving, committed relationships to incest and polygamy. Britain’s 3.7m gay people don’t deserve to be second class citizens in their own country.”

But critics warned that their fight is not over. Bob Woollard, chairman of the Conservative Grassroots group, said: “We recognise that others, whilst having reservations about the Bill, were reluctant to take the unusual step of voting it down at this stage. We urge the House of Lords to fulfil its constitutional role to give full and proper scrutiny to this Bill,” he said. “There is still time for the Government to reconsider this un-Conservative proposal and we look forward to continuing to make the leadership aware of the deep reservations amongst the grassroots about the political and practical implications of this Bill.”
Tonight’s decisive vote was a boost for David Cameron, who was praised by some Labour peers for his “courage” in pressing ahead with gay marriage. The Prime Minister hopes that, now the Bill has received big majorities in both Houses of Parliament, the heat will go out of the debate. He believes that gay marriage will be accepted once it has been introduced, just as opposition to civil partnerships faded quickly after they were allowed.

Although peers do not normally vote against a Bill on its second reading, Lord Dear, a crossbench peer and former Chief Constable of the West Midlands, tried to stop the measure in its tracks with his wrecking amendment. He told peers the proposal could “completely alter the concept of marriage as we know it”,saying the Bill was “ill thought through” and had no democratic legitimacy. It was so “fatally flawed” that it was incapable of sensible amendment and should be sent back to “the drawing board”, he argued.

Lord Vinson, a Tory peer, warned that same-sex marriage could create a “moral mess” by fundamentally altering the “most important social structure ever known to mankind”. He added: “Fifty years ago those who criticised Christ were persecuted; today those who promote Christ are prosecuted…. We need the sort of legal protection that was given to conscientious objectors in the last war – a war that was fought to allow the very freedoms of expressions and thought that are under attack today.”

Baroness Stowell of Beeston, a government whip and equalities spokeswoman who won praise for her speeches in the debate, said the legislation was a “force for good” which would strengthen the institution of marriage. She said that, if further changes to the Bill were necessary to make protections for religious organisations clearer, the Government would consider doing so.

Lords at war: What they said

Lord Birt: “This brave Bill brings us one historic step closer to a better world.”
Lord Mackay: “I conclude that the union… in this Bill is not the institution of marriage but a new and different institution which deserves a name of its own.”
Lord Vinson: “If we mix up values and edges are no longer defined, it is like mixing many paints together. The end result is a dull, amorphous moral mess.
Lord Collins of Highbury: “My husband and I have taken every opportunity given to us to celebrate our 16-year relationship on an equal footing in civic society.”
Lord Glenarthur: “I fear for the future of family life if this Bill is passed.”
Lord Eden: “This bill… is damaging, divisive and destructive.”
Baroness Thornton: “It is the personal testimonies, not just of those lords who faced discrimination… but all of those who have spoken of the love and strength they have found through their partners, civil partners, husbands and wives to secure our resolve.”

The Doubly-Tragic Story of How Homophobic School Bullies Ripped Paola Crouch’s Happy Family Apart


Just days after kissing another boy for a dare, 15-year-old Dominic Crouch jumped off a six-storey building. His suicide prompted his devastated parents to campaign against homophobic bullying. But, as Patrick Strudwick reports, there was further tragedy to follow

The Crouch family on holiday in Scotland in 2006

The Crouch family on holiday in Scotland in 2006

It started with a phone call from the hospital. ‘They said Dominic’s in A&E and he’s very poorly,’ recalls Paola Crouch, staring out of the window of her spick-and-span living room in Gretton, Gloucestershire. Photos of her son Dominic, her daughter Giulia and her husband Roger perch on every bookcase and windowsill. Dominic was 15 when the call came, on the afternoon of Tuesday 18 May 2010.

The nurse who spoke to Paola phoned her on Dominic’s mobile, so Paola, in shocked disbelief, decided it was a prank. ‘I sent a text back saying, “Whoever you are, give Dominic his phone back!”’ 
The hospital rang again, insistent, telling her they were sending a police car. Terrified, she phoned Roger – a manager for a young people’s charity – who dashed home and drove her and 18-year-old Giulia to the hospital.

Nurses were waiting for them outside. ‘They took us in and suddenly there were all these people everywhere – doctors, consultants, the police – and one of them started to speak. I begged, “Please don’t say it…” We were taken to see Dominic. He was in a coma. Wired up to machines. His face bashed in.’ Paola collapsed. ‘Even now I can hardly believe what happened.’

Dominic had walked out of school and jumped off a six-storey building. He landed face down. 
That weekend he had been on a school art trip and, during a game of spin the bottle, one of the children dared him to kiss another boy. Another pupil took a picture of them kissing and allegedly distributed it among his classmates. So when Dominic – or Dom as Paola calls him – came in that Tuesday morning, rumours, texts and jokes were, she believes now, already circulating.

Yet everything seemed fine on Dom’s last morning. The last words Paola said to him were, ‘Ooh, you smell nice’, as she gave him a kiss on the cheek. Giulia had driven Dominic to school and later said he had chatted normally and asked to be picked up later.  But Dominic walked out of school at about 1.15pm, made his way up on to a nearby block of flats, and texted 999: ‘Im about to commit suicide im on top of a council housing estate nxt 2 st Edwards senior school.’ Two minutes later he received an automated response. ‘You texted 999. No emergency service has been alerted. You must be registered to use this service.’ His plea unheard, lying on top of the flats, Dominic started writing.

Dominic
Dominic with Dad
Dominic

Dominic texted desperate messages to his family just before he took his life

Paola leans forward and passes me a piece of paper. It is his suicide note. The handwriting is hurried, irregular. ‘Dear Family I’m so so sorry for what i’m about to do. I hav been bullied alot recantly and had alot of shit! made up about me that aint true. I’m sorry for what I have done and what has happened This led me to commit suicide. Love Dominic Crouch’

Dom suffered massive internal injuries, including fractures to his pelvis, legs, arms and skull. His family kept vigil beside him for five hours. ‘Giulia talked to him,’ says Paola quietly. ‘I couldn’t talk. 
I couldn’t breathe. The shock as he died was…

I couldn’t take it in. When he died Roger just absolutely wailed. You could hear him for miles…’ Her voice cuts off, strangled. At Dom’s funeral, the whole of his school year came. ‘It was packed out,’ says Paola proudly. ‘Roger gave the most amazing eulogy and spoke about bullying issues.’ Paola shows me a printout of Roger’s speech, pointing to the line: ‘Sadly, we all know people in this world who so lack real self-esteem that they have to steal itfrom others, too often from people like Dom…’

Paola looks up from the piece of paper. ‘I was buoyed by the love that seemed to be there at 
the funeral,’ she says. ‘It was only afterwards I thought, “Are there people in this room who 
bullied Dom?”’

‘Roger got to a point where the grief was too much…he became consumed by the fact that he hadn’t been able to protect his son’

After the funeral, the 52-year-old crashed. ‘I lay down for three months,’ she says. ‘I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t do anything.’ Up until Dom’s death, Paola worked as a teacher for special-needs children, but took three months off to deal with her grief. Roger took early retirement.

Roger, above with Paola, became an anti-bullying campaigner, and was named Hero of the Year by the charity Stonewall

Roger, above with Paola, became an anti-bullying campaigner, and was named Hero of the Year by the charity Stonewall

What kind of a boy was Dom? ‘He was a sweet cherub,’ she says, smiling. ‘He was very laid back, chatty…happy.

He loved rugby and The Lord of the Rings and The Inbetweeners.’
He was also, Paola believes, not gay, although he had not yet had any girlfriends. ‘It wouldn’t have mattered to me or Roger whether he was gay or straight, but I could see by the way he looked at girls that he was interested in them,’ she says.

‘We found out after he died that he had asked out a girl and she had said no. That might have affected his confidence.’Many schoolchildren who are bullied forbeing gay are in fact heterosexual but are simply perceived to be gay by other youngsters.

Some are called gay because many young people use the word as a general term to mean anything thatis bad, ugly, useless, weak, or different. A 2007 report by Stonewall, the gay equality charity, suggests that most schoolchildren have heard 
the phrases ‘You’re so gay’ or ‘That’s so gay’ used as an insult.

Dominic was indeed different; he was dyslexic, so Roger and Paola, whose parents are Italian, had sent him to St Edward’s – an £11,000-a-year Catholic private school in nearby Cheltenham – because they thought the smaller class sizes would help. 

‘But he was struggling,’ she says. ‘There were other indicators [that make her think he was being bullied]: a few times I would get a phone call saying, “Dom’s got a headache and wants to come home,” and one time his bag was kicked around in the classroom. 

He didn’t appear to be miserable though. He didn’t even seem unhappy that last morning. He 
had come back from the trip elated, but I think in that moment, on that day, he felt completely isolated and pushed out of the group.’

St Edward’s denies Dominic was being bullied. After his death, they sent the school chaplain Father Basil Postlethwaite to see the Crouches. ‘He said, “When people become suicidal there’s nothing you can do about it; it’s their own decision.” He was putting the blame on Dom.

‘We went [to the school] once and all the children had left tributes to Dom in the chapel. They had left flowers and cards. That school has a number of gay children – they came and told me! Stonewall offered to go into the school and do some work with them about homophobic bullying, but they didn’t take up the offer.’

At the inquest, one of Dom’s classmates said he was ‘the butt of some jokes’. Lucy Evans, a school helper on the trip, wrote to the coroner: ‘Apparently there were rumours that Dom was gay and this [spin-the-bottle game] might have fuelled them.’

But the coroner, Tom Osbourn, said, ‘There is no evidence that Dominic was a desperate young man. There is a suggestion that a game of spin-the-bottle was played. But there wasn’t any evidence that it affected Dominic to the extent that he took his own life.’ All three suicide notes Dom wrote – two to his family and one to the school – cited bullying as the cause.

Four weeks after Dom’s death, no longer at his job and struggling to cope, Roger took an overdose. Paola found him, phoned an ambulance and he was saved. ‘Five months before Dom died, Roger’s sister also died,’ explains Paola. ‘He wasn’t well. He was suffering mightily.’

‘Giulia is strong and her boyfriend is very supportive. I’m amazingly proud of her’

Despite this, Roger became a fervent anti-bullying campaigner, giving talks in schools, speaking at conferences, telling pupils and MPs what happened to his son. Stonewall honoured him with their Hero of the Year award in November 2011, but he was spiralling downwards. ‘He got to a point where the grief was too much,’says Paola, breathing in deeply. ‘He’d been bullied himself at school but couldn’t pass on any wisdom to Dom about how to deal with it because he didn’t know it was happening to him. He became consumed by the fact that he hadn’t been able to protect his son.’ Despite being under the care of a psychiatrist, Roger had been unable to sleep and started drinking heavily. ‘He needed something to dampen the pain,’ explains Paola.

Three weeks after the awards ceremony, Paola went to bed early, exhausted. Roger stayed downstairs. ‘I knew he was down,’ she says. ‘He was listening to really sad music. After about an hour, the music stopped. I came downstairsand the dog was agitated, as if to say, “He’s not here.” His computer was still on so I looked on Facebook and saw the message he’d posted:“Au Revoir, so long – or maybe à bientôt.”’

It was then that Paola saw the light was on in the garage. ‘I was so scared,’ she says, but she knew she had to go in there. ‘He seemed to be looking in the loft. I couldn’t make sense of what I was seeing. Then I realised his feet weren’t on the ladder.’ 

He’d hanged himself. He was 55.

Paola had to break the news to Giulia, who was away at universityin Leeds. ‘I phoned her and said simply, “Dad is dead, the police are coming to get you – they will bring you home.”’ She also phoned Giulia’s boyfriend Olly and asked him to accompany Giulia on the journey. As the police drove Giulia back to her childhood home in the middle of the night, a doctor came out to visit Paola.

‘I remember saying to him, “I should have stayed downstairs.” But I knew Roger couldn’t take one minute more. He couldn’t bear life without Dom. I just wish he hadn’t hurt himself like that. It broke my heart.’ But she isn’t angry he left her. ‘How could you be angry with someone who was in that much pain?’ 

Giulia has coped admirably. ‘She’s strong and her boyfriend is very supportive. I’m amazingly proud of her.’

Paola is now alone in the house, with only their cat and their beloved dalmatian for company. They bought him shortly after Dom’s death for some comfort. Paola just tries to get through each day. ‘I sleep a lot of the time,’ she says. ‘It’s my coping mechanism. Ordinary things emotionally exhaust me – I can’t bear going to Tesco but I have to because the cat’s hungry. I have to carry on and do all these everyday things but they’re very painful. Roger and Dom took the joy with them. I’m frightened I’m never going to feel joy again. I’m changed for ever. I hurt all the time.’

With this, Paola lets out a gasp and the tears fall. ‘Life used to seem so short and now it seems so very, very long, stretching out in front of me. I couldn’t ever abandon my daughter, not in a million years. But…if I went to sleep and didn’t wake up I wouldn’t complain.’

Paola still desperately wants to tackle homophobic bullying, to save other children from Dominic’s experience. ‘There’s an organisation called Diversity Role Models which goes into schools and speaks to children so they see that gay people are just people. Teachers need to feel they can come out too, so children have positive role models. And parents need to talk to their children about being gay – to tell them that homophobic bullying affects everyone.’

Paola desperately wants other things too. ‘You wish the impossible,’ she says, looking down at the dalmatian sitting by her feet. ‘I just wish we could all be back together again, eating spaghetti and meatballs.’

Related Links:

Dominic Crouch: ‘I’m so, so sorry for what I’m about to do’:

http://guardian.co.uk/society/2012/feb/19/dominic-crouch-homophobic-bullying-…

Roger Crouch: Double tragedy as father hangs himself months after his sons suicide:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2068532/Roger-Crouch-father-bullied-b…