Mum whose son took own life after devastating homophobic attack wants his story to help save others
The mother of a gay man who died by suicide following a homophobic attack is sharing his story as a warning to help families like hers.
This week marks two years since the death of Tommy Thwaites, who took his own life on 16 November, 2019. He was just 25 years old.
He was one of four children, “a colourful character” that the “whole family was drawn to.” He came out at age 16.
At the time of his death Thwaites had been struggling with his mental health for four years, after being the victim of a brutal homophobic attack in a nightclub.
He was glassed in the face and stabbed in the stomach and back at Dusk2Dawn nightclub in Maidstone in June 2015, simply because of his sexuality. He was left with severe PTSD, persistent flashbacks and night terrors.
“The attack stripped my son of who he was. He completely changed and wanted to die,” said Claire Fry, Thwaites’ mum, in an interview with the Daily Star.
“Before he was happy with his life and sexuality. He came out at 16 and was proud of himself but he completely changed after that attack and was never the same again.
“He said he wished he was someone else so he could fit into society. I told him people are just cruel and he said he wasn’t strong enough to take it anymore.
“He survived the attack but my Tommy as I knew him died that day. Just before he killed himself he told me he wasn’t proud to be gay.”
Homophobic attacks are increasing in Britain
In the two years since Thwaites’ passing, homophobic attacks have only risen in the UK. In England and Wales there were 17,135 reported hate crimes based on sexual orientation in 2020/21. This is double the amount in 2016/17 when there were 8,569 reported cases.
“Something really needs to change and more needs to be done,” warned Fry. “People can’t get away with homophobic attacks and there needs to be stricter sentencing.
“Some people think it’s acceptable but it’s a hate crime for a reason.”
Nobody was charged after the attack due to a lack of evidence.
Just weeks later, Thwaites was referred for mental health support after taking an overdose. After a four year struggle, he took his own life.
“I genuinely can’t believe it’s been two years,” said Fry. “I don’t get it. Sometimes if I sit and overthink it I go into a deep depression and won’t get out of bed.
“Other times I think he’s still alive and I think that’s because of the charity.”
Tommy’s Rainbow Charity Trust offers help to LGBT+ people with mental health concerns
Just three months after the attack, Fry, a qualified criminologist, set up Tommy’s Rainbow Charity Trust in Maidstone, which offers support to people within the LGBT+ community suffering from mental health issues.
“The truth is that Tommy was failed by the system,” Fry told PinkNews. She set up the charity to help prevent “other mums from going through what I did”, after seeing the issues Thwaites experienced trying to get appropriate help.
The charity acts as a go-between for different health services, and, Fry stressed, is a “dual diagnosis” organisation that deals with both mental health and substance misuse problems.
The charity now has its own building and over 2,000 patients, including “children as young as six.” They will soon be changing to a charitable incorporated organisation (CIO) and have secured funding from Golding Homes for next year. They are actively seeking funding or “donations of any kind”.
Fry told the Daily Star: “We set it up in December and already we have saved lives. It’s the missing gap in the system. One man contacted me on a Thursday and by Tuesday we had him in therapy. We are a voice to people. He has said his life has now changed.”
“We just want to save lives in memory of Tommy.”
Suicide is preventable. Readers who are affected by the issues raised in this story are encouraged to contact Samaritans on 116 123 (www.samaritans.org), or Mind on 0300 123 3393 (www.mind.org.uk). Readers in the US are encouraged to contact the National Suicide Prevention Line on 1-800-273-8255.