On April 30th 1999 a loner with a hatred for gay and coloured people planted a bomb in The Admiral Duncan pub, in Soho just after 1830 hours. The bar was packed with drinkers during a Bank Holiday weekend. The pub is in Old Compton Street in what has been the heart of London’s gay community for many years. The bomber had already made similar attacks in areas of the city frequented by ethnic minority communities.
Soho's gay community has always welcomed anyone and everyone. Among the dead from The Admiral Duncan blast, were a woman only recently married and the best man at her wedding; her husband was among those who survived with horrific injuries.
There is a tragic postscript to the bombing. David Morley, a barman at The Admiral Duncan when the bomb exploded, died after a vicious homophobic attack on London’s South Bank in the early hours of Saturday morning, October 31st 2004. He was only 37 years-old. Morley had helped many people victims of the bomb that killed three people, and injured 73. Although he escaped with minor injuries, he suffered serious trauma for years afterwards.
London is often considered a safe haven for gay people, and I dare say it is safer than many places. But let’s be clear. Homophobia and racism are alive and kicking just about everywhere; the flames of hate crime are constantly being fanned by various socio0cultural-religious elements around the world. It has to stop, and the first place of call has to be schools everywhere – including if not especially faith schools – where teachers who genuinely care that their students should become responsible adults need to raise their voices and be heard without fear of reprisal from bigoted parents, Head teachers or school governors and the like.
Over the years, many people have fallen foul of homophobia, racism, sexism and assaults on their religious beliefs (or non-belief, as the case may be). We must do our best to stamp out these prejudices once and for all. At the same time, we should always remember that prejudice works both ways and should not be tolerated by or from anyone, regardless of colour, creed, sexuality or gender. It frequently strikes me that many people nowadays are far too quick to play various socio-cultural-religious cards in a society where ‘political correctness’ is doing precious little to encourage integration or mutual respect among its members.
A PHOENIX IN SOHO
Ordinary people passing by,
like you and me, no aliens from Mars
come to threaten the planet;
some sipping coffee at a roadside café,
enjoying a chat, warm spring
sunshine on the face, trails of laughter
like wedding lace...
Suddenly, the sky turns black!
as heavens look away in despair
and ordinary people learn
the true meaning of fear;
death and destruction everywhere,
wedding lace in tatters,
ordinary people, discovering
what matters and playing their part
straight from the heart...
Smoke clears, sun reappears,
world keeps turning;
finger of blame points, charges,
Ordinary people, rising above tragedy
or the Devil win - pray we never
see the like again;
Small comfort for those left to writhe
in the throes of loss and pain
but hope for us all - as we learn
to live and love again, no matter
the colour of our skin or
creed we live by or our sexuality
Amazingly, yesterday, a complete
stranger said ‘hello’ over a cappuccino
in Soho; and there was wedding lace
in the street, ordinary people rising
above their tears and fears, bringing
hope and love for years to come...
Or what chance for peace, we children
of the millennium?
[Note: This poem has been very slightly revised from an earlier version that appears in 1st eds. of Love And Human Remains by R. N. Taber, Assembly Books, 2001; revised ed. in e-format in preparation.]