I heard today of the death of someone I was at school with. He wasn't in my form, but he was in my year group. He was disabled, and so people are queuing up to say how brave he was. I can't comment on the level of his bravery in later life, but it struck me at school that he was simply getting by with the tools that God had given him. Sometimes I think we rather patronisingly describe anyone who lives with a life-altering condition as brave, regardless of whether they're actually brave or not!
Anyway, it's very difficult for me to think about this bloke without remembering how brutally bullying he was towards me. He may have been disabled, but he hated the gays and had extraordinary upper body strength, which one day found him throwing me over a wall and into a thorny bush! It's understandable really; the bully-or-get-bullied culture in schools was so prevalent in those days that he was obviously simply being nasty to me because so many others were being nasty to him, just as I was horribly cruel to a tragic young lass called Amanda whose face was shaped like a spoon. It certainly can't have been easy to have grown up disabled in a Midlands Town and I suspect he had to overcome a huge amount of prejudice, which was possibly more hidden and subtle than what came my way because, even then, it was unacceptable to be unpleasant to disabled people... At least to their faces. We have Blue Peter to thank for that!
What is sad about all of this is that, because I ran away from the town where I grew up, largely due to incidents of this nature, it's impossible for me to know how some of these people from school developed and bloomed in adult life. I'm sure this particular lad grew into a wonderful, gracious, tolerant and genuinely brave individual. And at times like this I need to remind myself of the thing I've always argued about gay people, namely that we need to rise above the blame game. Homophobia happened. It shouldn't have, but those who gave people a hard time for being gay can't be blamed because they simply weren't given the facts. It's a marvellous thing that the UK, within my life time, has rejected and indeed reversed homophobia. In fact, one of the heads of Channel 4 said to me the other day that the film of our wedding made him feel genuinely proud to be British. Gay people, it turns out, have have a much easier ride than disabled people, to the extent that Our Gay Wedding: The Musical tanked at a recent diversity awards, largely because I think our concept of diversity these days no longer includes sexual minorities.
So I very much hope that my school chum rests in peace, and that he genuinely found peace and love in his time here on earth.