“Don’t accept the world as it is. Dream of what the world could be – and then help make it happen.”
BY NIC CROSARA, IMAGE BY PETER TATCHELL FOUNDATION
Human rights campaigner and LGBTQI rights activist Peter Tatchell turns 70 today. This means he has been campaigning for human rights, democracy, LGBTQI freedom and global justice for 55 years. It also makes him one of Britain’s best known and longest surviving LGBTQI and human rights campaigners. He shows no signs of wanting to retire either, he’s said: “I hope to carry on for another 25 years”.
Peter began his activism at just 15 years old. He campaigned against the death penalty and the execution of Ronald Ryan in his home state of Victoria, Australlia. He went on to champion indigenous Aboriginal rights and oppose Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam war.
After moving to London in 1971, Peter continued to fight for a better world. He was prominent in the Gay Liberation Front. He fought against electric shock eversian therapy to “cure homosexuality”, he helped organise the UK’s first LGBT+ Pride Parade in 1972 and the following year he staged the first LGBT+ protest in East Germany which resulted in him being arrested by the Stasi.
Peter stood as the Labour candidate in the 1983 Bermondsey by-election which made history as the most violent and homophobic election in Britain since 1945. By 1990, he was a founding member of the LGBT+ campaign group OutRage! Its activism included the most numerous and sustained direct action protests in Britain since the suffragettes.
Over the last five decades, Peter has participated in 3000 peaceful protests, has been arrested 100 times and has suffered hundreds of violent assaults by homophobes and far right extremists, including 50 attacks on his own home.
As Elton John says in the documentary, Hating Peter Tatchell, which is now streaming on Netflix: “The whole gay community owes you, because of your bravery and your courage.”
I’m honoured to get to talk to one of the biggest heroes of our time ahead of his milestone birthday. He shares stories from his life as an activist and his hopes for the coming years. I hope that all readers can be inspired by his resilient fight for a better world.
How does it feel to have been campaigning for 55 years?
PT: When I began campaigning in the late 1960s, Britain was almost a different country. It was much more bigoted than today, although we still have many battles to fight and win. It’s been a huge honour to have been part of every major LGBT+ struggle since the Stonewall Riots. I’ve witnessed and participated in so many successful campaigns, from the repeal of Section 28 to the outlawing of anti-LGBT+ discrimination and the legalisation of same-sex parenting rights.
Although I’m 70, I feel about 40. I plan to carry on as an activist for the next 25 years, to help make misogyny a hate crime and support campaigners abroad who are pushing for the decriminalisation of LGBTs worldwide.
What has been the biggest highlight for you in the last 55 years?
PT: Acting at the request of Zimbabwean human rights defenders, my two attempted citizen’s arrests of President Mugabe of Zimbabwe. The first was in London in 1999 and the second in Brussels in 2001, where I was beaten unconscious by his henchmen. It was a frightening experience and I was left with a bit of cognitive and eye damage. But it helped expose the brutality of his regime. No regrets.
What advice would you give to young up and coming campaigners and activists?
PT: Don’t accept the world as it is. Dream of what the world could be – and then help make it happen. Be a change-maker. If you watch my Netflix documentary, Hating Peter Tatchell, you will get ideas on how to do successful protests. I adapted the ideals and methods of the Suffragettes and the US Black civil rights movement. You can do the same.
What causes would you like to bring readers attention to today?
PT: I want to see sexism eliminated from sport. While it is right, for example, to have separate male and female football teams, I don’t think it is right that women and non-binary people are automatically banned from playing league football. It’s wrong that clubs fielding women footballers get fined. If a woman or non-binary person has the strength and talent to play league football, why not? They should not be legally barred and penalised.
Misogynistic abuse should become a disciplinary offence for players and fans – the same as racism and homophobia already are. This should include fines and bans from matches. There must be zero tolerance of sexism in all sports. Show misogyny the red card!
What are your plans for the coming years?
PT: We need to reclaim Pride as both a celebration and a protest, like it was originally. It’s become too corporate and commercial. We need Pride to be by and for the community with a strong human rights focus, as well as a party. It is intolerable that more than 30 Commonwealth countries still outlaw same-sex relations, with life imprisonment in seven member states and the death penalty in parts of two (Nigeria and Pakistan). This is in defiance of the Commonwealth Charter that pledges equality and human rights for all.
Feeling inspired? You can find out more about the Peter Tatchell Foundation and how you can support the organisation here.
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