Peter Tatchell: A life of protest and activism
Peter Tatchell made headlines in the last week after being arrested in Moscow whilst protesting the Russian Government’s disgusting treatment of its LGBT citizen. Tatchell has a long history of provocative protesting, he first came to prominence in the 1970’s and his activism has made him one of the UK’s most fierce proponents of LGBT liberation. His approach and style have not always made him popular and in the early years did not necessarily gain him many friends, but this is a man that deserves our admiration.
Tatchell was a leading member of the Gay Liberation Front, an organisation set up in 1970 to fight homophobia. Homosexuality had only been decriminalised between consenting adults over the age of 21 years old 3 years earlier and homophobia was rife throughout British life. The GLF would involve itself in pub sit ins where the landlords would refuse to serve people they deemed to be ‘poofs’ and Tatchell was vocal in his opposition to the police who harassed LGBT people on a near daily basis. The goal of the organisation was not equality within the status quo but was a rallying cry to say that the world should be free of homophobia. The GLF fell apart in 1974 as different factions splintered away to form their own groups, many of which Tatchell would remain involved with.
Tatchell joined the Labour Party in 1978 and in 1983 became the candidate for the Bermondsey byelection. This byelection would end up being one of most nasty and dirty electoral campaigns in UK history with Tatchell attacked in the street due to his homosexuality. The Labour Party were not fast to defend Tatchell and the campaign was a messy one, his ultra-left-wing beliefs didn’t help garner support from the party or the electorate, Tatchell would in the end be beaten into a very distant second as the Liberal candidate would win the seat with nearly 10,000 votes separating first and second.
Despite not winning the seat Tatchell would go onto to head many campaigns seeking to support the LGBT community in Britain. The 1980’s were dark years for the gay community with HIV/AIDS ravaging the community and the Thatcher Government enacting Section 28 of the Local Authorities Act which made it illegal to discuss homosexuality in schools. Tatchell set up ‘OutRage’ in 1990 which would go onto campaign for LGBT equality for 21 years. It was at the forefront of demanding equal age of consent and pushing the Labour Party to support progressive LGBT policy. Tatchell is a huge advocate of direct action, in his years of campaigning he disrupted events organised by morality commander in chief, Mary Whitehouse and he has continued to so over the decades. In 1999 he attempted a citizen’s arrest of Robert Mugabe, the human rights abusing dictator of Zimbabwe. Tatchell was left badly beaten after the attempted arrest.
It is no surprise therefore that Tatchell should find himself in Moscow for the 2018 Football World Cup. Russia is one of the most homophobic places on earth, even before the hated Propaganda Law that was passed in 2013. Tatchell has previously been attacked in the Russian capital for protesting the treatment of LGBT citizens in the country. His most recent actions demonstrate two undeniable facts, that freedom of expression is non-existent in Russia and that the law will not protect LGBT people in the country. If the eyes of the world were not on Russia right now I expect Tatchell would have received far more heavy-handed treatment, but I suspect Vladimir Putin wants to avoid all potential embarrassment when he is wishing to promote his country to the world.
His activism in the UK is still ongoing and he has recently been campaigning for straight couples to have the right to have access to civil partnerships. Many of the battles that needed to be fought in the UK have been won, whilst there is certainly work to be done to secure a safe environment for trans people Tatchell continues to look to the wider world. LGBT people have seen a far greater enhancement of our rights in the UK than we could have ever expected 20 years ago. This is obviously not the case in places like Russia, Zimbabwe and Iran to name just a few. Sexual liberation and freedoms for LGBT people must be achieved the world over. Whilst there are still gay people being stoned or hanged for being gay there is still work to do.
Despite what you might think of Peter Tatchell’s activism, his politics or his style of protest, there is one thing can be said for Tatchell. He is consistent. He has been fighting for LGBT rights for decades, this is a man who has been beaten to the point where he has brain injuries, he has been arrested for daring to protest state promoted homophobia and attacked in the street. Some people would turn and run when faced with such adversity, but this is a man who does not run away. Peter Tatchell embodies what it means to be a human rights champion and whilst I might not always agree with him I say thank you to Mr Tatchell for doing the right thing by our community and campaigning to ensure that every single gay person on the planet can experience freedom.
Daniel Carter for Canal St Online