MARCH 1st was the third anniversary of the first meeting of the Michael Causer Foundation.
Michael Causer, from Whiston, Merseyside, died on 2nd August 2008 aged just 18 after being brutally assaulted and left for dead eight days earlier. The parents of the murdered gay teenager have set up a Foundation in his name to provide housing and support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) young people at risk in north-west England.
Much work has been done behind the scenes to prepare MCF to achieve its Vision, Mission and Values, and 2013 looks set to be an exciting year for the Foundation.
I have been involved as a volunteer trustee of MCF since the beginning. Why do I volunteer for another LGBT youth organisation when I already run Liverpool’s LGBT youth group?
Providing a safe, supportive social space for LGBT youth to meet and make friends, receive support and guidance is great – it does my heart good to watch them grow in confidence, self-acceptance and empowerment to challenge those who dare to say that they should be anything less than true to themselves.
But it does not go far enough. MCF’s vision is:
We want a society where LGBT young people feel:
- safe, happy and understood
- at home in their communities
- supported and empowered to achieve their full potential.
And it has set out three key aims to achieve this:
Key Aim 1: Educate: To advance education in LGBT awareness and all aspects of discrimination in relation to LGBT people, especially the extent and impact of hate crime.
Key Aim 2: Accommodate: To provide emergency accommodation for vulnerable LGBT young people, and support for the victims of LGBT hate crime and their families to enable them to remain in their own homes where possible.
Key Aim 3: Motivate: To support and empower LGBT young people in the North West of England to achieve their full potential with the best possible life chances.
All three are essential to ensure that tragedies like the death of Michael Causer because of homophobia among teenagers need never happen again.
- Educate: If children and young people learn in schools and youth groups that being LGBT is just one of many ways to be human, to understand and celebrate diversity in an age-appropriate way, the chances of them reaching maturity with prejudice and fear of difference decrease dramatically.
- Accommodate: If young people at risk of homelessness or without a place to call home because of rejection by family (or fear of rejection which drives them to leave) find a safe place to stay and get support to move towards independent living, they will be much less at risk of falling further into unsafe situations.
- Motivate: If LGBT young people have positive role models, and opportunities to achieve in spite of the prejudice they face because of their difference, they are more likely to become informed and active citizens who can assert themselves and advocate for others, in turn becoming role models for others.
MCF’s aims go beyond the support of a youth group (as valuable as that is):
- to promote cultural change in the communities where LGBT children and young people live, learn and love
- to help LGBT young people stay in their homes wherever possible, or to find safe alternatives where it is not
- to help them engage with their families, communities and careers to reduce potential risks , and promote resilience so they become the best they can be, for their own good and the benefit of others.
Today I attended an event to launch a new youth and community centre in Liverpool dedicated to Joseph Lappin, a 16 year old army cadet who died after being stabbed in an attack by a gang of teenagers less than three months after Michael’s murder.
Joseph was not gay, and his death was not a ‘hate crime’, but it was no less a tragedy. I was there in solidarity with his family and community as they celebrated the opening of the Joseph Lappin Centre, with a phoenix painted on the wall, and children and young people helping to make a mosaic portrait of Joseph to display in the hall. It was a poignant occasion.
There were stalls for community groups to promote their services, and I was there with a colleague to represent the LGBT youth group I run. Also on our stall I had some postcards and badges promoting MCF. While I was busy talking to a visitor to the stall, some children came and took a badge each. My colleague asked them if they knew who Michael was. A boy of around eight said he didn’t know. Before my colleague could answer, a girl aged nine or ten said:
He was killed because he loved another boy.
I was deeply moved by the innocence and openness of the child’s response. Telling the story to my partner this evening, I found myself almost unable to say the words as my voice choked with emotion, both because of the sadness of Michael’s death, and the hope for the future of children so young showing they can understand how wrong prejudice and violence are for any reason, but especially because of the way someone loves.
When I tweeted the child’s words about Michael, I got a response from Paola Crouch, another mother who has suffered the tragedy of her child’s untimely death. Her son Dom, 15, did not identify himself as gay but became a target of homophobic bullying after he kissed a boy during a game of spin the bottle on a school trip. Within days of returning to school, Dom committed suicide by jumping off the roof of a six-storey block of flats near his school in Cheltenham. The note he left said:
I have been bullied a lot recently and had a lot
of shit made up about me that ain’t true.
His suicide galvanised his father Roger to campaign against homophobic bullying, for which he won a Stonewall Hero of the Year Award in 2011. Within weeks of the award ceremony, Roger also took his own life, unable to go on without his son. He was 55. You can read their story here.
Here is the Twitter conversation:
MichaelCauserFn: A child explains to another who Michael Causer was: ‘He was killed because he loved another boy’
CrouchPaola: It’s so sad, cuts me to the core.
MichaelCauserFn: True, Paola. But hearing a little girl explain to a little boy why Michael died gave hope that their generation may know better.
MichaelCauserFn: We work hard to ensure that Dom and Michael did not die in vain, telling their stories so others learn not to hate and bully x
CrouchPaola: Thank you.
MichaelCauserFn: Please let us know if there is ever anything we could do to help – Kieran, MCF Secretary
Children are not born with prejudice and hate. They learn it from the example of those around them, and continue to develop it if it is unchallenged or reinforced. Challenging prejudice and hate crime against people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity is not just the business of the LGBT community. Dom’s story shows that you don’t have to be gay to experience homophobia, and that it’s not just the victim who suffers as a result. Anyone who is perceived as different from the gender stereotypes of their peers can become a target.
So we all have a choice – by our action or inaction, are we part of the problem of prejudice against LGBT people, especially the young, when great damage to identity and self-esteem can occur, or are we part of the solution?
MCF aims to be part of the solution, and to enable others to be too. Chair of MCF Gerry Proctor, who was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours for services to the voluntary and community sector in Liverpool, said in MCF’s first annual report:
My deepest thanks to all who are part of MCF and who work
with us to be the legacy of which Michael was deprived.