For someone who had no intention of becoming a writer, Patrick Strudwick has proven to be a formidable journalist.
“I do what I do in a kind of desperate attempt to make life better for LGBT+ people,” says Strudwick, reflecting on a journalism career spanning over a decade and a half. “I believe that by exposing what we are subjected to, in the end, we will win – by which I mean, we will be liberated, fully.”
Something of a musical prodigy, Strudwick, who played piano from the age of seven, attended Trinity College of Music London to study composition. However, it was email correspondence about jobs he hated, living in London and endless rants that prompted a friend to suggest a career in journalism. “It was a complete eureka moment. I just started emailing people about writing. Looking back now, it’s quite extraordinary the chutzpah involved. But I found that, if you have good ideas, someone will take notice of you.”
Attitude, the leading gay men’s magazines, took notice and hired him as a contributing editor. The title became the platform where he “began branching out, both in terms of what I was writing about and who I was writing for.”
In 2009, Strudwick made a decision that changed the direction and trajectory of his career. “One day, I saw there was going to be a conference in London for gay conversion therapists to learn how to cure their patients. I went undercover and was so horrified by what I was hearing that, a) I decided that I was going to embark upon a full investigation, and, b) that it would involve me being subjected to conversion therapy.”
Over a course of months, Strudwick was treated by psychotherapist Lesley Pilkington, a 60-year-old Christian who tried to pray the gay away, and psychiatrist Dr Paul Miller, a heterosexual man who had “resolved” his homosexual tendencies and who could offer cures via Skype sessions. “It was a very traumatic experience, which hardened me. You could say that it radicalised me,” says Strudwick. “I had always cared about discrimination, homophobia and LGBT+ issues, but this cemented and propelled me more than anything else.”
Pilkington tried to force the idea that there was sexual abuse in his childhood, attested God could heal HIV before even asking what his HIV status was, and also advised him to take up manlier activities like rugby (because scrumming with a team of burly men is bound to erase any homosexual inclinations). Throughout the treatment, Pilkington attempted to cure Strudwick’s homosexuality through psychological manipulation and erosion of self and will. “When you stare hatred in the face, really up close, when you really hear what hate has to say about you, you are changed.”
The story came out in The Independent, causing outcry and furore from both sides. Strudwick was victim of salacious attacks from newspaper such as The Daily Mail and received torrents of abuse. Undeterred, Strudwick embarked on a legal battle against the psychotherapist and two and a half years later, Pilkington was found guilty of professional malpractice in a hearing by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.
This investigation into reparative therapy was the catalyst that drove Strudwick’s career from celebrity interviews and entertainment releases into hard news and investigative journalism. He embarked upon the freelance lifestyle, writing for titles such as The Times, The Independent and The Guardian. His stories “became about making a difference, about highlighting injustice, about making a difference to the landscape of journalism so that LGBT+ people, stories and issues are given the importance, respect and sensitivity that they deserve.”
In 2015, Strudwick was recruited by BuzzFeed as LGBT Editor. This was the first, and remains the only, job role in mainstream British journalism for an LGBT+ specialist. At BuzzFeed, Strudwick is supported by Janine Gibson and Stuart Millar (the Pulitzer Prize winning editors who broke the Edward Snowden story). He has been given the channel to deliver ground-breaking stories that have changed the representation, understanding and legal environment for the LGBT+ community. “I am here to do what no one else is doing. There are lots of LGBT+ websites and publications rehashing other news – that’s not what I do. I am here to deliver stories that no one else can get.”
Delighted. pic.twitter.com/rIQyXkdTdd— Patrick Strudwick (@PatrickStrud) March 15, 2017
One such story is that of Marco Bulmer-Rizzi. He was on honeymoon with his husband when David suffered an accident and died. Same-sex marriage was not recognised in Australia, even same-sex marriages from overseas , meaning that David’s death certificate read ‘Never Married’.
“I broke that story one evening and it went viral, all over the world. Within 24 hours, the Premier of South Australia rang Marco to apologise and issue a new death certificate and promised to change the law. It reignited the gay marriage debate in Australia.”
Though the fight continues for same-sex marriage in Australia, the foreign office in the UK made two major policy changes following Strudwick’s story. The first change enables any British citizen who dies anywhere in the world to get a British death certificate – meaning that any same sex couple can have their marriage recognised on the death certificate. The second change introduced a policy whereby same-sex couples can get a next-of-kin letter so that if they go travelling, they can show it to the authorities. And as promised, the Premier of South Australia changed the law and passed a bill recognising same-sex marriage.
In 2016, Strudwick released an investigation into a major historical sexual abuse case. Speaking to one of the victims, David, the article probed into the original police operation and raised questions about its competence. Lincolnshire police have since reopened the case. “That story took the best part of a year. The case being reopened is an incredible victory. But I can’t have my dessert just yet – I’m only really on the starters.”
One man's 30-year fight for justice. An exclusive interview and investigation. https://t.co/tl7ODrlIl9— Patrick Strudwick (@PatrickStrud) May 7, 2016
He also delved into the collapse of Broken Rainbow, the LGBT+ domestic abuse charity funded by the Home Office, after a whistle blower granted him access to their accounts. He became privy to thousands of files that documented the demise of the organisation and spent uncountable hours trawling through receipts, expense claims, bills and profit and loss sheets to uncover the truth and expose the mismanagement. When the story broke, the National Audit Office followed his example.
But Strudwick isn’t just concerned with legal battles and criminal activities. He is equally, if not more so, passionate about representing LGBT+ life and people, and the issues that course through the community.
As a journalist of LGBT+ issues, Strudwick is fearless in his delivery of difficult topics, distressing stories and challenging issues.
He recently published a story about people who were told they were dying of AIDS in the 80s and 90s but were then saved by the introduction of anti-viral medication and given their lives back. And during the Stephen Port trial – who was convicted of murdering four gay men by overdosing them with the drug GHB – Strudwick wrote a viral article that gave unprecedented first person accounts of the chemsex scene and its effect on the men involved. “No one had ever quite written about the full extent of the horrors involved in that world.”
“I am often quite affected by what I’m doing. Managing that is not easy,” admits Strudwick. “When I wrote the story of survivors of AIDS, I was at university twenty years ago – I had friends who nearly died, I was infatuated with a man who had been given an AIDS diagnosis. Writing about things like that, you really have to do these people and their stories justice. Sometimes, the responsibility overwhelms me. Sometimes the subject matter is so dark that it lives with me and it lingers. The sexual abuse story I found emotionally very difficult. The conversion therapy investigation drove me to the edge of mental wellness.”
Writing about things like that, you really have to do these people and their stories justice. Sometimes, the responsibility overwhelms me. Sometimes the subject matter is so dark that it lives with me and it lingers. The sexual abuse story I found emotionally very difficult. The conversion therapy investigation drove me to the edge of mental wellness.”
When it comes at such emotional, and sometimes physical, expense of his own wellness, you can’t help but wonder what drives Strudwick. “I was thinking today about what it is that I have more than anything else and it comes down to one thing: determination. A raging determination,” he attests. “The strength of it frightens me sometimes because it feels out of my control; it’s a bit like having a crazed demon on my back. Other people recognise it too. People know that if I’m investigating a particular story, they know that once I get my teeth into something, I will never let go. The idea of backing out or backing down is an anathema to me as heterosexuality. I do not recognise obstacles because they are not helpful. I will always find a way round or through things because there are just bigger things at stake.”
When speaking with Strudwick, hearing the voracity with which he tackles his stories and his passion for LGBT+ stories and lives, you get the sense that he will never stop working, that this is a man so committed to the cause of equality and liberation that it will consume him till his last breath.
“You can’t stop. You have to keep going,” he says enthusiastically. “There’s so much more out there. I’m constantly frustrated that I don’t have more time. There are so many more things I would like to do and I’m aware that no one is really in the same position to do what I do. That makes me more focused and energised. When I no longer hear of people having to come out, when kids no longer get bullied in the playground, when I and no one else ever thinks twice about holding their partner’s hand in public, then I’ll retire.”