Peter Tatchell

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Peter Gary Tatchell (born 25 January 1952) is an Australian born British human rights activist, who is known internationally for his attempts to perform a citizen's arrest of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe in 1999 and 2001, on charges of torture and other human rights abuses.

Tatchell has claimed that, for decades, he has been a voice for people throughout the post-colonial world unable to speak for themselves. He has described how “In 1977, while I was trekking in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, word spread of the presence of a white man wandering in the mountains. Through some villagers I befriended, a note was delivered to me in the middle of the night. It read: ‘Dear Peter Tatchell, Please help us.’”[1] Tatchell has described how he was personally responsible for the African National Congress (ANC)’s decision to protect gays and lesbians against discrimination in South Africa’s post-apartheid constitution. “Long before me, other people had pressured the ANC to change its homophobic stance, but none of them succeeded,” he writes of his campaign to save South African gay rights. “ … True loyalty sometimes involves saving friends from their own excesses and mistakes.” [2]

In early 2007, however, a group of twenty African lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender activists wrote an open letter to Tatchell, calling on him to "Stay out of African LGBTI issues." They criticized Tatchell for undertaking campaigns on African issues without considering the welfare of people he claimed to speak for, writing that: "You have proven that you have no respect for conveying the truth with regards to Africa or consulting African LGBTI leaders before carrying out campaigns that have severe consequences in our countries. You have betrayed our trust over and over again." The activists, including leaders of groups in South Africa, Uganda, Nigeria, Mozambique, and Kenya, urged the public "not to take part in any of Peter Tatchell or Outrage!’s campaigns regarding Africa, as they are not factually-based and are harmful to African activists." [3]

Tatchell was selected as Labour Party Parliamentary candidate for Bermondsey in 1981, and was denounced by party leader Michael Foot for supporting extra-parliamentary action against the Thatcher government; although the Labour Party subsequently allowed his selection, when he ran in the Bermondsey by-election in February 1983, he was attacked by the tabloid press, and by anti-gay graffiti in the constituency. He has since joined the Green Party[4] and is a supporter of its Green Left grouping.

In the 1990s, he became a prominent campaigner for gay equality through the direct action group OutRage!, which he co-founded; he was identified as a supporter of outing people who they believed were hypocrites and homophobes and denounced as a "homosexual terrorist" by the Daily Mail in March 1995.[5] More recently, his activism led a group of his friends to set up the Peter Tatchell Human Rights Fund to assist his campaigns against human rights abuses. More recently, he has tackled a wider variety of human rights issues, and become a frequent contributor on such subjects in print and through broadcast media. In 2006, New Statesman readers[6] voted him sixth on their list of "Heroes of our time"[7].

In April 2007, Tatchell, along with rival party activist Matt Morton, sought the nomination of the Oxfordshire Green Party to be the prospective parliamentary candidate in the constituency of Oxford East for the Green Party of England and Wales in the next United Kingdom general election.[8][9][10] He was selected to challenge incumbent MP Andrew Smith with 63 % of the vote, according to a party-internal announcement.

Tatchell had been active on green issues since the mid-1980s. He helped coordinate the two Green and Socialist conferences in the late 1980s. At around the same time, he wrote chapters in two green books, Getting There: Steps to a Green Society, and Into The Twenty-First Century. These writings variously predicted global warming and climate change, eventual resource depletion and wars for the control of diminishing resources, and advocated a red-green political alliance. He currently has a weekly internet Television programme, "Talking with Tatchell", broadcast on 18 Doughty Street. He also writes regularly for The Guardian's Comment is Free website. Peter is a Patron of Oxford Pride.

Early life Tatchell was born in Melbourne, Australia. His father, Gordon, was a lathe operator in an engineering factory; while his mother, Mardi, was a housewife; although she later, when the children grew up, worked in a local biscuit factory. His parents divorced when he was four and his mother remarried soon afterwards. Her second husband, Edwin Nitscke, worked variously as a gardener, factory cleaner and taxi driver. Tatchell's mother was chronic asthmatic and the family finances were strained by medical bills. As a result he was unable to continue his formal education beyond a basic level, and in 1968, at age fifteen, Tatchell started work as a designer, sign-writer and window-dresser in Melbourne's principal department store, Myer. He worked all year round to develop international prize-winning animated window displays for the Christmas period. Tatchell has said that he has incorporated the theatricality of these displays into his political activism.[11]

While in Australia he began a lifelong interest in outdoor adventurous activities such as surfing, mountain climbing, which he says helped him develop the courage to be a political risk-taker in adult life. (He was speaking on BBC Radio 4's Any Questions, in the context of insurance and legal risks preventing British teachers from being willing to take their pupils on outdoor adventures.)

Political awakening His political activity had begun at Mount Waverley High School in Melbourne where, in 1967, he launched campaigns in support of the indigenous Aboriginal population. Tatchell, who was elected by fellow pupils as secretary of the Students' Representative Council and, in his final year, as School Captain, took the lead in setting up a scholarship scheme for Aboriginal pupils and led a campaign for land rights from 1968. These activities had not been popular with school authorities and led the headmaster to denounce him as having been manipulated by communists. [12] It is an issue he has returned to from 2004 in proposing the renaming of Australian capital cities with their original Aboriginal place names.

He also joined the Australian campaign against the death penalty. Prompted by the impending hanging of Ronald Ryan in 1967, Tatchell went round his local area daubing slogans against the hanging, an action which was not identified as his until he revealed it in an interview nearly 30 years later.[13]

Ryan was accused of shooting dead a prison warder during an escape from Pentridge Prison. Aged 15, Tatchell worked out that trajectory of the bullet through the warder’s body made it more or less physically impossible that Ryan could have fired the fatal shot. More likely, the warder was shot accidentally by another warder on a watch-tower. Ryan was hanged anyway. Later, in subsequent re-examinations of the case, many prominent Australians came to a similar conclusion as Tatchell, that the “magic bullet” theory that sent Ryan to the gallows was almost certainly flawed.

The following year, 1968, Tatchell began campaigning against the United States's and Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War, which he believed was a war of aggression in support of a "brutal and corrupt dictatorship in Saigon which was notorious for the torture and execution of political opponents". From 1970 he was a member of the committee of the Vietnam Moratorium Campaign; he also founded the inter-denominational anti-war group Christians for Peace and was elected its secretary, aged 18. The Victorian state government and right-wing city council attempted to suppress the anti-Vietnam War campaign by banning street leafleting and taking police action against anti-war demonstrations.

Move to London Impending conscription led him to move to London in 1971. He had discovered his homosexuality in 1969, and four days after arriving he spotted a sticker on a lamp-post in Oxford Street advertising a meeting of the London Gay Liberation Front (GLF). He quickly became a leading member of the group until it disintegrated in 1974. During his time in GLF Tatchell was prominent in organising sit-ins at pubs that refused to serve “poofs”, and protests against police harassment and the medical classification of homosexuality as an illness.

In 1973, under the aegis of the GLF, he attended the 10th World Youth Festival in East Berlin. His interventions brought out considerable opposition to gay rights within and between different groups of national delegates, including the British Communist Party and National Union of Students, which manifested itself in Tatchell being banned from conferences, having his gay rights leaflets confiscated and burned, interrogation by the secret police, the Stasi, and him being threatened and violently attacked by fellow delegates - mostly communists. Tatchell later claimed that this was the first time gay liberation politics were publicly disseminated and discussed in a communist country, although he noted that legally, in terms of decriminalisation and the age of consent, gay men had greater rights in East Germany at the time than in Britain and much of the West.[14] At the GLF disruption of the "Christian fundamentalist" Festival of Light rally at Methodist Central Hall, he was part of GLF's Youth Group which staged a kiss-in in the upper balcony in response to a statement from keynote speaker, Malcolm Muggeridge, that he did not like homosexuals.

Student days and selection as Labour candidate After doing his A levels at evening classes at West London College, 1972-74, Tatchell continued his education at the Polytechnic of North London. On his graduation with a 2:1 B.Sc. (Hons) in Sociology, he became, and remains, the first and only member of his Tatchell family to have ever secured a degree. At UNL / PNL he was a member of the National Union of Students Gay Rights Campaign. On graduating he became a freelance journalist specialising in foreign stories, during which he exposed scandals including the child labour on British-owned tea farms in Malawi.[15] A 1973 attempt to join the Labour Party got no response. His later application to join the Labour Party was accepted in Hornsey in 1978, shortly before he moved to a hard-to-let council flat on the Rockingham Estate in Bermondsey, south-east London.

OutRage! LGBT rights

Increasingly Tatchell took part in gay rights campaigning over issues such as Section 28. Following the murder of actor Michael Boothe on 10 May 1990, Tatchell was one of thirty founding members of the radical queer rights non-violent direct action group OutRage! and has remained a leading member. The group fuses theatrical performance styles with queer political protest. As the most prominent OutRage! member, Tatchell is frequently taken to be the leader of the group, but he has never claimed this title and rejects it, saying he is one among equals. Indeed, the few histories of the group published demonstrate that he is not described by himself or by other group members as the leader. [19]

In 1991, a small group of OutRage! members covertly formed a separate group to engage in a campaign of 'outing' public figures who were homophobic in public but homosexual in private. The group took the name 'FROCS' (Faggots Rooting Out Closeted Sexuality) and Tatchell agreed to act as the group's go-between with the press, forwarding their news statements to his extensive media contacts. Considerable publicity and public debate followed FROCS's threat to out 200 leading public personalities from the world of politics, religion, business and sport. With Tatchell's assistance, members of FROCS eventually called a press conference to tell the world that their campaign was a hoax intended to demonstrate the hypocrisy of those newspapers which had condemned their campaign despite having themselves outed celebrities and politicians. [20]

Some of the activities of OutRage! have been highly controversial. In 1994 it unveiled placards inviting ten Church of England bishops to "tell the truth" about their homosexuality; accusing them of condemning gay sexuality in public while themselves leading secret gay lives. It was their hypocrisy and homophobia that prompted them being targeted. Shortly afterwards the group wrote to twenty closeted homophobic UK MPs, condemning their support for anti-gay laws and threatening to out them if they did not stop attacking the gay community and voting for discriminatory legislation. The MP Sir James Kilfedder, one such opponent of gay equality[citation needed], who had received one of the letters[citation needed], died two months later of a sudden heart attack on the day one of the Belfast newspapers planned to out him[citation needed]. Although no definite connection could be proved, Tatchell was widely denounced in the press for having caused the death. In a comment in The Independent in October 2003, Tatchell identified the OutRage! action against the Bishops as his greatest mistake because he under-estimated how it would be misrepresented by the media and the church (as an invasion of privacy, rather than as an exposure of homophobic and hypocritical bishops). He admits it allowed an important campaign against the Anglican Church's opposition to gay human rights to be derailed by putting the focus on OutRage!'s actions.

On April 12, 1998, Tatchell led an OutRage! protest which disrupted the Easter sermon by the Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, with Tatchell mounting the pulpit to denounce Carey's stance on lesbian and gay people. The protest had a high media profile, and led to Tatchell's prosecution under the little-used Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860 (formerly part of the Brawling Act 1551) which prohibits any form of disruption or protest in a Church. Tatchell was thwarted in his attempt to summon Carey as a witness, and convicted, but the Judge fined him only the token amount of £18.60, which most commentators assumed was a wry allusion to the year of the statute used to convict him.

Some in the "gay" press have dubbed him "Saint Peter Tatchell" following further OutRage! campaigns involving religion,[21] and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence inducted him as one of their "Saints" in the mid-1990s. OutRage! protested against the ban on same-sex marriage on the occasion of the wedding between Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles. Tatchell was detained by the police under the Terrorism Act after displaying a banner reading "Charles can marry twice! Gays can't marry once."

Other campaigns In 1996 Tatchell led an OutRage! campaign to reduce the age of consent to 14, with a proviso that there should be no prosecution at all if the difference between the ages of the sexual partners was no more than three years - and providing it is backed up by earlier, more effective sex education in schools, to empower young people with the knowledge, skills and confidence to make wise, responsible sexual choices. He was quoted in the OutRage! press release as saying "Young people have a right to accept or reject sex, according to what they feel is appropriate for them".[36] Leo McKinstry, in The Sun called it "a perverts' charter".[37] In the early 1990s, Tatchell supported a relaxation in the then strict laws against pornography, arguing that porn can have some social benefits, and he has criticised the body-shame phobia against nudism, suggesting that nudity is natural and may even be healthy for society.[38][39]

Music industry Tatchell has called for the enforcement of the laws against incitement to violence and murder, and has organised protests outside the concerts of singers whose lyrics urge the killing of queers. A long-running target of his criticism has been reggae artists whose lyrics encourage and glorify violence, including murder, of lesbians and gay men. Tatchell's campaign began in the early 1990s when Buju Banton's song "Boom bye-bye" was released and has continued to date. Banton's song urges listeners to shoot gay men in the head. He has picketed the MOBO Awards ceremony to protest at their inviting performers of what he terms "murder music".[40] Tatchell received death threats and was labelled a racist. Tatchell defended himself by noting that the campaign was at the behest of the Jamaican gay rights group J-Flag, and the UK-based Black Gay Mens Advisory Group, with which he works closely. He also pointed to a life's work campaigning against racism and apartheid, and stated that his campaigns against "murder music" and state-sanctioned homophobic violence in Jamaica were endorsed by black Jamaican gay rights activists, and by many straight human rights activists in Jamaica.

Tatchell has also campaigned against the homophobia and racism of Guns n Roses and Marky Mark; as well as the rapper Eminem, commenting that "it's not hard to imagine Eminem as a woman-hating, self-loathing, repressed gay man" on the basis of his appearance and "obsession" with gay sex.[41] In December 2005, UK singer Robbie Williams won £200,000 damages from The People newspaper and the magazines Star and Hot Stars after they published false claims that he was secretly homosexual. Tatchell commented publicly that "[Williams'] legal action has created the impression he thinks it is shameful to be gay".[42]

In December 2007, Tatchell has also agreed with the BBC Radio 1 censoring of the Pogues' 1987 Christmas hit Fairytale. "The word faggot is being sung as an insult, alongside scumbag and maggot. In this abusive context it is unacceptable. It is shameful that BBC Radio 2 and other radio and TV stations are continuing to play the full version with the word faggot included. It shows that they don't take homophobic language as seriously as racist language".[43] Radio 1 subsequently backed down on the "Pogues row", and said they would allow the Pogues' Fairytale of New York to be played on the station uncut, after widespread criticism of the decision to censor it.[44]

Muslims and gay rights Tatchell wrote in the Guardian that certain Muslim leaders, whom Tatchell describes as appearing "to be representative of the majority of British Muslim opinion", of having "intolerance" to gay people. He said people such as Hizb ut-Tahrir were extreme fundamentalists who had an "agenda for clerical fascism,"[52] He notes that its constitution explicitly rejects democracy (non-Islamic parties would be banned) and human rights (non-Muslims would have fewer rights and freedoms). Tatchell further claims that "The suppression of critics within the Muslim community is already excessive", adding "the MCB went out its way to expose Irshad Manji as a lesbian in a seedy bid to discredit her ideas." Tatchell had himself previously outed religious figures he viewed as hypocritical and homophobic, but he felt that Manji was neither hypocritical nor homophobic, so the MCB's action in drawing attention to her sexuality was, he said, unjustified.(see above)

Bibliography Safer Sexy: The Guide to Gay Sex Safely (with Robert Taylor), Cassell, 1994 Europe in the Pink, GMP Publishers (April 1992), ISBN 0-854-49158-9 Democratic Defence, Heretic Books 31 December 1985 Battle for Bermondsey, Heretic Books 1983 AIDS: A Guide to Survival, 1986, 1987 and 1990 We Don't Want to March Straight: Masculinity, Queers and the Military Cassell, Listen Up! series, 1995

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