Remembering Tony Fenwick, a ‘giant of the LGBT+ movement’ who dedicated his life to queer students and teachers

Tony Fenwick MBE

Tony Fenwick, a teacher, activist and CEO of LGBT+ History Month and Schools OUT UK, passed away on July 8, 2020 after a long bout of ill health. Sue Sanders, his colleague and friend, pays tribute to a “giant of the LGBT+ movement”.

If you are an LGBT+ person in the UK, particularly if you are under the age of 30, you will have benefitted from Tony’s work over the years, even if you didn’t know it.

He dedicated his life to education and the pursuit of justice for all. A lifelong trade unionist, for over 20 years he focused on fair play for LGBT+ students and staff in schools as a volunteer in Schools OUT UK.

He served as its CEO for over a decade, working with Sue Sanders, founder and co-chair, on LGBT+ History Month (held in February since 2005).

Tony was always busy but always had time for you. A trained and experienced English teacher, he taught in many secondary schools and over the last decade he provided individual tuition to children who were unable to attend school for medical reasons. It was a role he cherished and often talked about.

In his free time, he campaigned against oppression for years by volunteering at Schools OUT UK and by taking active roles in teachers’ unions.

He was awarded an MBE at the request of the Department for Education for his “services to equality in education” in 2016, but he did not do what he did for his own recognition, he did it for the equality of everyone.

When he was offered the MBE Tony said he was “delighted and honoured”, but regarded it as an award for all of Schools OUT UK’s volunteers.

“I have accepted the MBE as an acknowledgement that our work in education was being valued and that our work for schools was making an impact,” he said.

“But I also hope to use the gong to lobby parliament to encourage the nations of the Commonwealth to get rid of the Empire’s outdated legislation and legalise same-sex relations throughout their lands.”

The world will be a little less bright without him, but his role in the pursuit of social justice has left it a little more hopeful.

Tony represented Luton, his district, as the equality officer at the NUT (now the NEU), full conference for over 12 years. He was also on the LGBT+ sub-group for London East and South East region at the TUC.

His contributions to the unions are much celebrated. He was a founding member of the of the NUT LGBT+ structures and was a permanent feature at the Trade Union Council Annual LGBT+ Conference, often proposing motions that would have a constructive effect for LGBT+ members of all unions.

When the opportunity arose to support a fellow teacher, a bisexual man from Uganda who sought asylum here to escape persecution, he worked hard alongside our union colleagues over a protracted length of time to fight against his deportation. The case has been won.

When the news of his death got out, tributes came pouring in on Facebook.

Kevin Courtney, joint national secretary of the NEU said: “Such a lovely man and yes, he has taught a lot of us so much.

“A loyal, but thankfully, not uncritical friend. He has given so much and taught many of us that the world can be better.”

We at Schools OUT UK are grateful for the privilege of working with such a talented and patient guy. He had a dry sense of humour and was always ready with a story. He had a chequered history with train journeys, to say the least – his story of how he very nearly missed getting into Buckingham Palace to receive his MBE was only one of many.

Tony subscribed to the Guardian because of his passion for justice and his addiction to its cryptic crossword. He was a fan of Countdown and all the cooking programmes, having honed his own cooking skills in Italy where he lived for a time with a beloved.

Those of us who have worked with him cherish his memory and we miss him sorely.

He is survived by his sister Cheryl, her husband Tom Fenwick-Brown, their daughters, Ashley and Sarah, Ashley’s husband Sandeep and their son Ayush. He doted own his new great nephew, Ayush and loved spending Christmas with them in his native Newcastle.

Schools OUT UK is an organisation that works to educate out prejudice against all people, especially those in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and other related communities.

It has sponsored and supports LGBT+ History Month, an annual event held every February; The Classroom, a website that contains over 80 lesson plans that “usualise” LGBT+ issues across the curriculum for all ages; and OUTing the Past, an annual festival of LGBT+ History.

To commemorate Tony Fenwick’s life, LGBT+ History Month and Schools OUT UK have started a GoFundMe to raise money for the causes he cared so deeply about.