The residents of a nondescript backstreet in the Birmingham inner city neighbourhood of Balsall Heath were surprised, to say the least, to find themselves at the heart of a major media storm in 2019.
By the conclusion of months of anti-LGBTQ protests (See ‘Veil of Ignorance’ – 14th Jan 2020) hundreds of demonstrators had descended on the street and reporters from the major TV news outlets were in attendance, with their hi-tech transmitter vans filling the curb side.
The extent of media coverage got to a point where 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.”
The story started when the lead agitator, a local property developer/slum landlord with no children at the school, arranged a meeting with the Head of Anderton Park Primary (See ‘Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson’ – 10 May 2020) to discuss the profoundly religious community’s concerns about the school’s progressive stance on inclusion, which fostered tolerance and respect for everyone, including families that have ‘two mummies or two daddies’ and how this conflicted with the teachings of their faith.
Apparently, this self-appointed spokesperson stormed into the headteacher’s office, slammed his fists down on her desk, declared himself a ‘General in a war that he intended to win’ and proceeded to bellow his demands in her face. He was promptly asked to leave. The poor little mite subsequently whined to all and sundry that the school had not been prepared to mediate with him.
The following week, the protests at the school gates started. Every evening, as the pupils were heading home, a crowd of parents and their supporters would gather in Dennis Road to wave banners and shout about their rights to decide what aspects of modern British society their children would or would not accept. Every evening this small cul-de-sac was filled with chants of “Our Children, Our Choice,” “Head-teacher Re-sign,” and, my personal favourite, “We Will Not Tolerate Intolerance!”
After several evenings of disruption, a group of Dennis Road residents decided to show their support for the school by flying the rainbow flag in the front upstairs windows of their terrace houses.
An openly gay couple on the road, were integral in instigating the counter protest, but as one worked at Anderton Park School in a freelance capacity he had slight reservations about being seen to be too heavily involved, due to possible conflicts of interest.
The Friday morning when the show of flags first appeared, he strutted along the pavement, full of pride, but determined to keep a low profile at the school.
The staffroom was a buzz when he walked in with everyone discussing the sign of support from the street, so he kept his head down and fumbled in his bag pretending to search for something.
Suddenly, a member of staff burst into the room with tears in her eyes, “Have you seen what they have done on Dennis Road? I pulled up in my car and just started to cry.”
The resistant resistance kept up the pretence of searching his bag for that elusive item.
“I’m so overwhelmed that they are backing us,” continued the emotional member of staff. “I just want to thank them.”
The reluctant rebel couldn’t contain himself any longer and, without glancing up from his bag, acknowledged her gratitude with a simple, “You’re welcome.”
It didn’t take long for news of his involvement to spread around the school and by first break he had been summoned to see the Head. He apprehensively entered the office, expecting a dressing down, but instead was greeted by a beaming deputy and enveloped in a tight 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 you want.”
“I knew that I couldn’t just stand by passively, with all of this blowing up on my doorstep, even if it meant I would have to stop working at the school. I have turned down a few press interviews though, as I thought that would be taking things too far,” he 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.”
That evening every house on Dennis Road received a curtesy call from a police officer enquiring about how the protests where impacting residents and offering support, should it be required.
The officer had a special message for those houses flying the flag, “As a representative of West Midlands Police, I obviously cannot offer a personal 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. We are so proud of you.”
The officer then launched into an unguarded rant about the ‘General in a war’ behind the protests, his unscrupulous family and their insidious plans to manipulate parental concerns for their own agenda of division, 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 taken the wind out of their sails… for now, but drama of soap opera proportions was about to be unleased.