The Siege of Dennis Road

Residents didn’t know what was happening… until the first volley of eggs hit their windows.

Inhabitants of an inner-city suburb of Birmingham had endured months of protests on their doorstep (See ‘Veil of Ignorance’ – 14th June 2020). Division had crept into this diverse, but previously cohesive neighbourhood, with households taking opposing sides on the ongoing debate about LGBTQ inclusion at Anderton Park Primary School.

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 Yardley 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 he and his supporter’s behaviour became threatening and they essentially ordered her to shut up and go back into her house, like a good woman. The men didn’t like being challenged by a female, whom, in the words of one of their 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 questioned and at points could be seen literally biting his lip to control his anger. It looked like he had been advised by cohorts not to lose his cool in front of the cameras. This usually arrogant aggressor seemed uncomfortable without his megaphone and entourage. His nervous 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.

The inhabitants of Dennis Road could be forgiven for thinking that the drama on their doorstep couldn’t get any worse… until Katie Hopkins (a reviled far-right 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! Yet, even that wannabe Nazi’s sly intrusion paled into insignificance compared to the evening thirty masked thugs launched an attack on the road.

Residents didn’t know what was happening… until the first volley of eggs hit their windows.

One half of an openly gay couple living on the street, had stepped out into their back garden for a post dinner cigarette and was perplexed to hear the sound of familiar protest chants. At first, he thought that he had got so used to hearing the slogans that he was now imaging them when they weren’t there.

His partner wandered through to the front room to investigate, just as an egg exploded on the window, followed by another!

He 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 (See ‘Flying the Flag’ – 26th July 2020), while that ‘General in a war’ agitator (and spiky headed star of morning television) was orchestrating the ‘battle’ from a conveniently deniable distance.

The screams were coming from a group of women and their children who were trapped at the closed school gates by masked men. One woman had collapsed to the floor. Her colleagues were trying to help her, while the goons bellowed abuse and pelted them with more eggs.

Suddenly, the front 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 tying flags, ribbon, 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; No to Transphobia”.

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 their work.

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 Dennis Road alone, there are three openly gay men, one bi-curious individual, at least two closet cases (although as they both come from religious families, I can’t see them coming out anytime soon), one house at the T-junction that is gay owned and exclusively rented to LGBTQ tenants and a few dozen queer acquaintances and fuck buddies I could certainly introduce him to in the surrounding area.

Finally, police with dogs and riot vans arrived. The remaining hooligans skulked away, while their leader claimed that his presence was just a coincidence.

‘My friend’ stood watching the aftermath in disbelief.

A police officer approached him and asked, “Are you ok? You look shellshocked.”

“No, I’m not OK. 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.”

The officer apologised for not getting there sooner, “We are desperately under resourced and understaffed,” he feebly explained. “We didn’t have any officers in the area. We had to come over from the other side of the city.”

Eventually, things calmed down. The LGBTQ activists were escorted to safety, 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 they plan to brick any houses with flags still up 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, they took the flags down. They had been on display for several weeks. No need to court more trouble.

On the plus side, that terrible night did mark a turning point in the story. 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 of the classrooms, to a muddy grass verge… were my dog used to shit.

The anti-inclusion protests soon ran out of momentum and fizzled out. Neighbourly relations began to heal. With a little understanding, they found the perfect blend.

One of those articles in the national press had stated that the lead agitator accused the LGBTQ group as being responsible for the attacks on that Hellacious Sunday night, “They were provocative, turning up as night fell, disturbing residents and causing intimidation by putting up rainbow flags and inflammatory messages.”

No, the residents weren’t intimidated by ribbons and hearts, it was thirty masked thugs, bringing threats and violence to the road, that did that.

Birmingham Pride: Part 1 – A City Filled with Love

This bank-holiday weekend should have been Birmingham Pride. The city centre would have become one big party celebrating the LGBTQ community and rejoicing in difference and diversity.

If things had been going ahead as planned, my partner and I would have met friends for breakfast at York’s Café then strolled up Pinfold Street to Victoria Square, where we would mingle with the crowds gathering beneath the unamused gaze of the Regina’s bronze statue and watch the opening ceremony.

Last year’s opening speeches had particular resonance, as they focused on the anti-LGBTQ protests that had centred on two Birmingham primary schools (See ‘Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson’ – 10th May 2020).

Andrew Moffat, a senior teacher at one of the schools and creator of the ‘No Outsiders’ programme on inclusivity and tolerance, had been invited to lead the Pride parade. He was welcomed to the stage by a roaring crowd of thousands. The roar of the lions… the head of the pride.

After speeches about streets filled with hate… it was time to bask in a city filled with love.

My friends and I headed off to find a suitable vantage point. As we shuffled along the packed side streets, I had my head turned by a handsome police officer, with dark brown eyes peeking from beneath the dome of his helmet.

“Excuse me.” I approached him, brandishing my camera, “Would you mind if I took a selfie with the hottest copper on the beat?”

“Sure,” grinned Officer Sexy, looking from left to right in an exaggerated manner. “Where is he?”

I re-joined my friends and we found ourselves a prime position on Bennetts Hill.

I love how the inspiring parade represents all tribes of the LGBTQ community in full debauchery and glory: gay parents, with children riding on their shoulders or in buggies, stroll side by side with drag queens and half-dressed stilt walkers; floats of spinning pole dancers follow representatives of the emergency services; leather clad clones march behind the military; same-sex ballroom couples are just one  – quick quick slow – step behind Caribbean steel-drummers and bhangra beats; corporate companies, cashing in on the kudos, are represented alongside political parties and genuine civil rights campaigners. All are represented in the colours of the rainbow.

It always heartens me that the most enthusiastic cheers of the parade tend to be reserved for the gay refugees, an unimaginably brave multi-cultural group who have fled everything and everyone they know to escape prejudice, persecution and in some countries the threat of imprisonment or even death. Well… to be totally honest the ‘most enthusiastic cheers’ are saved for the gay refugees and the fire service. Everyone loves a fireman! Hey, we’re only human. X

One fireman always catches my eye. He is short, buff, with slick hair, a prominent side parting and a cute diastema (the noticeable gap between his two upper front teeth. Google it, I just did.), which just adds to his charms.

I once saw my favourite fireman doing community outreach in Birmingham city centre. The fire department were handing out leaflets and badges to passers-by and inviting people to pose for photos in the cabin of the fire engine.

I strolled over and shook his hand, “You were at Pride this summer, weren’t you?”

“Yes,” he replied, sounding surprised. “You remember me?”

“Of course, … I thought you were hot.”

A female colleague within earshot rolled her eyes, “Oh great, that’s all we need. He’s full enough of himself as it is!”

As if to prove her right, he immediately turned to the male officers and cockily declared, “Hey fellas, this guy thinks I’m hot!”

His workmates greeted the boast with a collective ironic groan.

“Now he’s going to be even more unbearable,” one of them sighed.

Back at the Pride parade, we continued to watch the procession of queers and their allies’ march through the city centre.

As a group of burly men with ample body hair and a distinct lack of shirt buttons came into view, a lad behind me turned to his girlfriend and asked, “Why are those men wearing mouse ears?”

“They are wearing bear ears,” I interjected. “They are bears.”

“What are bears?” The girlfriend asked.

“If you are stocky, hairy and have a beard, then you are a bear.”

The lad indicated his own hairy chest and stroked his trim beard, “Would I be a bear?”

I scrutinised him for a moment then replied, “No. You are too young. You would be a cub.”

The couple beamed. This straight boy now had a whole new, hitherto unknown, gay identity and he and his girlfriend seemed delighted.

I was suddenly aware of a presence at my left shoulder. I glanced down and there was a diminutive old lady trying to squeeze through the crowd. Before I could step aside and grant her a better view, she scuttled around to the other side of me and started to elbow her way between myself and the guy stood on my right. Just as she managed to squeeze her head between us, a large pack of human pups, dressed in their rubber outfits, dog collars and masks (See ‘Puppy Love’ – 8th Feb 2020), walked, crawled (It takes some dedication to do a two hour parade on your hands and knees, even with the kneepads.) and scampered by.

I thought I would try luck with ‘call and response’, so shouted, “WHO LET THE DOGS OUT?!!”

The pack automatically responded with an enthusiastic, “WOOF…WOOF… WOOF… WOOF WOOF!”

I had become a mass pup handler.

The old lady tutted loudly and moaned, in a thick Brummie accent, “All this bother to get to Primark!!!” She then headed off, chuntering to herself, trying to find a more suitable spot to cross the road.

The stranger on my right and myself grinned gleefully at each other.

“Oh my God, that was straight out of Victoria Wood,” I laughed. “In fact, I’m not entirely sure that wasn’t Julie Walters.”

Her timing and delivery were so perfect, that I still suspect that she may have been a professional street performer.

After two colourful hours, the parade trickled to an end. It was time to head to Hurst Street and the awaiting shenanigans in and around the gay village.

To be continued…

Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson

I am proud to have Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson’s number in my phone.

The majority are now thinking, Who the hell is Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson? or maybe a softer, Where do I know that name from? Others will be thinking, Was she on TOWIE? or Did she have an affair with Arthur Fowler? But some will recognise her name as the Headmistress of Anderton Park School, one of the two Birmingham schools that found themselves besieged by anti-LGBTQ protests last year.

Sarah is a vibrant, dynamic, caring, progressive, determined woman, with her own striking style. Imagine Mrs McClusky with a dash of Sue Pollard. No, not Sue Pollard that sounds like an insult. Janet Street-Porter? Christ no, that is even worse! Vivian Westwood? Dame Zandra Rhodes? Again, no. Both fabulous, but too extreme. Sarah Jessica Parker? Oooooh, that could work. ‘Mrs McClusky with a dash of Sarah Jessica Parker’. She would love that, and their names even have a similar ring to them.

Last year, two primary schools in Birmingham became the focus of a prolonged campaign protesting their policies of tolerance and equality. Children, as young as three were being educated and nurtured in an environment that recognized difference and diversity. Children were told that there were no outsiders, everyone was respected.

Unfortunately, the strongly religious parents at both schools, located in majority Muslim areas of the city, objected to the fact this policy of tolerance should be extended to the LGBTQ community. The parents did not like the idea that their children were being told, if the subject came up, that there were many different family units out there, including some households where children had two mummies or two daddies.

Parents decided that they didn’t 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. They would get confused, the parents claimed.

Demonstrations began to take place outside both schools. Every weeknight, crowds would gather (usually several dozen, but culminating in over three hundred on one occasion) to wave banners, chant slogans and call for the Head’s resignation! Parents would holler, “Our children. Our choice”, “Let Kids Be Kids”, “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” and accuse the Headmistress of having a paedophile agenda (May I suggest that, if you don’t want your innocent children to know that queers exist, don’t turn up outside their primary school, just before home time, and start shouting about it through a megaphone!).

Mind you, this was not the first time Sarah had found herself the target of abuse. Several years earlier, she had been involved in exposing, what the national press christened the ‘Trojan Horse’ scandal, which revealed there was an organised attempt to introduce a radical Islamist ethos into several schools in the area.

In retaliation for her involvement, dead cats were slung into the school playground and a dog was slit from throat to groin, splayed and attached to the main gates, like something from a canine version of Hellraiser.

On a more positive note, although to be honest anything would be more positive than an eviscerated dog corpse crucified at the entrance of a primary school, Sir Ian McKellen, movie star and gay activist, has become Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson’s number one fan on Twitter. Gandalf reads her Tweets!

Sarah was even invited to Sir Ian’s surprise 80th birthday party, which was organised by Baron Michael Cashman (Yes, Colin from Eastenders).

Eighty guests had been invited to signify the birthday boy’s age. Sarah and her husband found themselves sat at one of the eight tables of ten, surrounded by the great and the gay. “At my table alone were Derek Jacobi and Graham Norton. I was sat next to Frances Barber!” Sarah told me.

At the end of the night, Ian McKellen (I can’t keep calling him ‘Sir Ian’, it just sounds so pretentious and far too Downton), stood up and told anecdotes about various friends in attendance. He wandered from table to table, incorporating stories about his gathered friends.

He concluded, “There is one person here, whom I have never actually met in person, but I admire greatly.” Turning to Sarah, he introduced her to the room, “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 to their feet and gave her a standing ovation.

“I’m getting choked up,” I told Sarah when she told me this.

“You should have seen the state of me,” she replied. “I was sobbing. I had make-up running down my face!”

As the night came to an end and the guests made a move to leave, Sir Ian (I’ve slipped back into that again) made a point of finding Sarah and her husband to thank them for coming.

“If I can do anything to help you and your school, anything at all, then please do not hesitate to get in touch,” he told her.

How lovely.

“Well…”, I said to Sarah, as she reached the conclusion of her story and I wiped a tear from my eye, “if he’s kept the beard from Lord of the Rings, that’s your Christmas Santa sorted.”