20 years of challenging hate #2: Canon Mark Oakley

Posted on

20 years of challenging hate: LGBT – showing respect for all and working together.

Canon Mark Oakley (with introduction by Claire Tabert)

Just a few months into my role as a Stakeholder Relationships Coordinator with Stop Hate UK I have met a number of people from different organisations, participated in panel discussions, attended training sessions, delivered training and helped promote a new helpline service for LGB and T people who have experienced some form of Hate Crime. I’m working with, and meeting, some really fantastic, interesting people who are all committed to supporting people who have experienced Hate Crime. One such person, is Canon Mark Oakley, the Chancellor at St. Paul’s Cathedral who talked about his participation in National Hate Crime Awareness Week and shared some thoughts about the retention of one’s dignity and respecting others. He said

“Three years ago I was part of a small team that planned a short, reflective service in St Paul’s to mark the beginning of Hate Crime Awareness Week. I knew that many of the people attending would be wondering whether the church was on their side or not. Members of the Jewish and Muslim communities came, as did LGBT folk, men and women from ethnic minorities as well as people living with disability. I had been very keen to shape up such a time together in the cathedral to highlight the effects of hate crime and the persistent need to combat it. But the stories I heard from people that evening shocked me more than I would ever have imagined – and fired me up more to do all I can with groups such as Stop Hate UK can to ensure better education on the relevant issues as well as encouraging the reporting of such crime to bring it to justice. I can still see now the man in the wheelchair crying as he told me how he had been tipped out of his chair in the street three times over 12 months by groups of drunk men telling him to ‘stand up for yourself’.

I am pleased that the service has continued to take place each year since. Sadly such events are needed even more in the current climate not least to remember the hate crimes that continue to be committed against LGBT people. Yesterday the Albert Kennedy Trust published its LGBT Youth Homelessness national survey which reports that around a quarter of homeless young people in the UK are LGBT. Tim Sigsworth, the CEO of the Trust, said that ‘after 25 years witnessing the rejection and abuse of LGBT youth just for being brave enough to come out to their peers and family, this report is a much needed call for government, housing providers and everyone concerned with young peoples’ wellbeing’. The report makes important recommendations to government and local authorities and the Trust contributes its own assistance to the situation through its excellent Purple Door housing projects in London and Manchester designed to take LGBT young people out of danger and off the streets. They stay in a safe house for approximately 21 days whilst specialist workers provide a bespoke intervention which covers longer-term accommodation, support, mentoring, advocacy and therapeutic care. Such safe, positive spaces are needed for them to regain their self-esteem and autonomy.

This survey also reminds us that hate can first be experienced in the home. For Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered people one of the issues we have to face in life is shame, because we grow up intuiting or being told from all angles that we are not right, or not loveable, or not acceptable – sometimes by our parents or siblings, often in the playground, maybe by our friends, then later – colleagues, politicians, priests. Many of us struggle with this shame. Shame is not guilt. Guilt is I have done something wrong. Shame is I am something wrong. One of the reasons I believe the church should be leading the way against hate crime against LGBT men and women is because it has helped to contribute to that sense of shame born in hatred in the first place. Many Christians have given the world a language with which to hate LGBT people, with words such as ‘abomination’ and the idea of unnaturalness and perversity. It is therefore vital that the church passionately seeks to undo what it has helped to create by admitting its past errors and developing a more authentic spirituality of speaking up for others, particularly the scape-goated, vulnerable and members of various minorities. Christians must uphold the dignity of each and every person without apology and at whatever the cost. That is why I am honoured to be working alongside Stop Hate UK, Tell MAMA, the Human Dignity Trust and 17-24-30 No to Hate campaign and I’m pleased that so many other Christians and people of faith are also working hard in differing ways to end hate based on discrimination in homes, schools, workplaces, faith communities and localities. It was excellent to see the Archbishop of Canterbury refer to anti-semitism recently as a blasphemy because like all hate crimes it violates the divine image in each and every human being.

In my welcome to the Hate Crime Awareness Week service last year I finished by telling people about the Dean of St Alban’s:

‘His name is Jeffrey John and if you have heard of him you will know that he is someone who has borne a lot of hate and discrimination for being gay, as has his partner Grant. Jeffrey once spoke on the radio and said this: “I have a memory from my schooldays that still haunts me. One year we had a boy in our class – I’ll call him David. He was a pathetic kid, weedy and rather effeminate. And his life was hell. Children can be incredibly cruel to anyone who’s different, and David was a brilliant target. He was beaten up, he got his lunch thrown away, he got called girl’s names, and he always sat on his own. I can hardly think of the misery that kid must have gone through. Now I never beat him up, I never called him names; the fact it was happening used to churn my stomach. But I never said or did a thing to help him. Because of course I was terrified that if I did, they’d turn on me too, and I’d get the same treatment. And of course that’s how it works, in so many bad situations in the world – and yes, in the Church too. We know what’s happening is wrong, but we keep our heads down, and hope someone else will do the martyr bit and face down the bullies with the truth”. To face down the bullies with the truth – the truth of each one of us here and those we love and represent – the truth that we are here, wanting to live our lives, wanting to love and work and engage and socialize in freedom and peace. That’s why we come together and why a candle will burn here throughout this week, challenging hate with light’.”

Canon Mark’s words have given me cause to reflect; they serve as a daily reminder that every time hate-motivated words and actions are directed at people, the impact on that person/group of people can be devastating and sometimes last a lifetime. With hate incidents being reported in the news on a weekly basis and numerous calls being made to our helpline it is more important than ever that we work together with other organisations on commemorative events to remember those who have suffered, promote our support services such as the new LGB&T helpline- 0808 801 0661 – and identify new ways of working innovatively and collaboratively so that anyone who is subjected to hate can access support, information and advice easily and in a timely way.