A CRUCIFER, Brent Marriner, who has Down’s syndrome has become an unlikely star on social media, after a Twitter account dedicated to his life went viral.
Mr Marriner, who is 27, lives with his foster mother, the Revd Jacqui Tyson, in Sunderland. The pair started the Twitter account — @Being_Brent — several years ago, as a way of giving online updates and pictures of their life together.
The account began garnering large numbers of followers last autumn, when a tweet about Mr Marriner collecting the family’s Chinese takeaway by himself went viral. It received more than 10,000 likes and retweets.
Ms Tyson, who is an Assistant Curate of Sunderland Minster, explained that she helped Mr Marriner to type messages, and also tweeted in her own voice to “celebrate” his life.
“I wanted to show people that I can do lots of things,” Mr Marriner said. “It’s a good life with Down’s syndrome. Mam and family and friends help if I need it. It’s just ordinary.”
JACQUI TYSONBrent Marriner, with his foster mother, the Revd Jacqui Tyson
The response online has been positive. Tweets about Mr Marriner’s part-time job at a café, pictures of him carrying the processional cross in the nave of the Minster, or stories about his making Ms Tyson a special meal often provoke much good will.
Several well-known church figures, including the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, and the BBC Radio 4 presenter and Vicar of Finedon, the Revd Richard Coles, are also fans of the account.
Other people with Down’s syndrome have been inspired to start their own Twitter profiles. Ms Tyson said that she was regularly contacted by parents with younger children who also had the condition, who say that they are encouraged to see how full and independent Mr Marriner’s life is.
Some of their followers, however, believe that he and his foster mother should be more vocal in advocating on behalf of people with Down’s syndrome, and should comment on contentious topics such as abortion and prenatal testing.
JACQUI TYSONA photo of Mr Marriner putting the laundry away, which sparked interest on Twitter
“People sometimes try to drag us into the abortion debate, and we just won’t. It’s not about that,” Ms Tyson said. “No, no,” Mr Marriner agreed.
“Brent’s not worth more because he can do more than his friend who doesn’t speak and uses a wheelchair,” Ms Tyson said. “You’re worth it because you’re a human being made in God’s image, whatever you look like and whatever you can do.”
Ms Tyson said that the Twitter profile was supposed to be a softer kind of “activism by example. . . It’s important to be out there saying this is who Brent is, and he says what he likes to do.”
But even this can backfire. On several occasions, tweets from Mr Marriner about his small victories in independence, such as putting the laundry away by himself, have prompted criticism from people who have not realised that he has Down’s syndrome and accuse him of sexism, or worse.
In one case, thousands of Mr Marriner’s followers hounded one such critical voice off Twitter entirely, even though she had apologised for her mistake.
JACQUI TYSONBrent Marriner receives a birthday cake from Ms Tyson
Although incidents such as these have not stopped, Mr Marriner and his mother still enjoy going online, although they are now more cautious. “I made the decision at the beginning not to use his account as a platform,” Ms Tyson said. “It’s his, it’s not mine. A lot of people who follow Brent say they like his account because it’s like an oasis of niceness and positivity in the mire of Twitter.”
Despite the good that has come from social media, Ms Tyson was reluctant to describe the account as a form of public ministry, working to change attitudes towards disability. “It wasn’t intended that way, really. It was just Brent, to boast about all the fab things that [he does].
“I think God works for the good in everything. I’m not a great fan of the model of the micro-manager God. I would say that God takes opportunities where they are presented, rather than the big finger: ‘I’m sending you to Twitter.’”