Happy 60th Birthday Peter Tatchell.
To some, Peter Tatchell is the People’s Protester, to other’s he is an annoyance, for this author he is a hero. Citing his constant campaigns for human rights, highlighting environmental issues with his role as the Green Party’s Parliamentary candidate for Oxford East, and for being the one man brave enough to twice attempt a citizen’s arrest on evil tyrant and outspoken homophobe, Robert Mugabe.
Born in Melbourne, Australia, today Peter celebrates his 60th birthday. Within this time he has dedicated much of his life to highlighting the atrocities dealt out by one human to another, exposing hypocrisies, while making us all take a moment to really stop and think.
Aged just fifteen he campaigned against the death penalty, later he turned his attention to demanding equal rights for Aborigine people. In 1971, Tatchell moved to London and joined the UK branch of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF); the origins of this group began in New York with the now legendary Stonewall Riots. By the time Tatchell joined the UK Gay Liberation Front, the national press were taking notice. The GLC ideals would have a huge influence on Tatchell, as they campaigned not only for gay rights, but for an end to the strangulation gender norms held over everybody, regardless of their sexuality.
In 1983 Tatchell stood as a labour candidate for the Labour party in the Bermondsey by-election. Looking back, many people, including those in government and the press, consider the way Tatchell was vilified at a very dark time in political history. Although Tatchell was seen as a popular candidate, the hate campaign led by the press and other political parties led to Tatchell being afraid for his life.
While the papers made up lies with headlines screaming out, ‘Tatchell: Militant Gay Rights Extremist’, four words to strike fear in to the far right readers hearts, they printed altered photos so it would appear that Tatchell was wearing black lipstick and eyeliner, (a technique Tatchell would turn on its head in his own campaigns) further appeasing to the homophobic voter. The press also claimed that Tatchell had “burst into tears”, suggesting he was weak, after being beaten up while staging a gay rights protest in East Berlin. The truth was Tatchell had been arrested and interrogated by the secret police in East Berlin while staging the first ever gay rights protest in a communist country. It doesn’t take much to see how the national press were baying for Tatchell’s blood, which goes to show just how frightened they were of this man.
Just as shocking came the homophobic tactics used by Tatchell’s political opponents. Overnight graffiti appeared all over the constituency, with the slogan: ‘Tatchell is a communist poof’. Tatchell political campaign would be further undermined with thousands of leaflets pushed through voters letterboxes depicting a picture of Tatchell and the Queen, with the headline “Which Queen Will You Vote For?” Even the Liberal Party joined in, sporting lapel stickers saying, “I’ve been kissed by Peter Tatchell”, again another attempt to gain votes from the homophobic voters.
The outcome from all of this resulted in Tatchell being inundated with hate mail, abusive phone calls, death threats and hundreds of physical, violent assaults. All this resulted in Tatchell boarding up his flat and sleeping with a fire extinguisher and rope ladder by his bed.
Tatchell would later say, although the experience was terrifying, it changed the way politicians and Trade unionist viewed gay rights. For Tatchell it also showed him the power of the press and how he could promote LGBT rights through public media stunts, many of which he is now best known for.
As well as setting up organisation UK AIDS Vigil Organisation (UKAVO) promoting issues around HIV and AIDS, he was also a prominent influence in the London-based AIDS activist group ACT UP. These two groups would subsequently lead him to launch the more radical, and in many people’s eyes the contentious protest group OutRage.
In 1994 Tatchell and OutRage ‘outed’ ten Church of England bishops, demanding they admit that they were homosexual, while hypocritically supporting anti-gay policies. Once again he came under attack from the government of and the national press labelled him a ‘homosexual terrorist’ and ‘public enemy number one.’
In 1998 Tatchell once again hit the headline when he burst in on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Easter sermon in Canterbury Cathedral. Tatchell verbally attacked the archbishop, Dr. George Carey’s advocacy of discrimination against Lesbians and gay men.
In London, on the 30th September 1999, Tatchell and three members of outrage made their first attempt to make a citizen’s arrest on Robert Mugabe, a man famous for his disgust of homosexuals, saying; “Lesbians and gays are “sexual perverts” who are “lower than dogs and pigs”. Mugabe continues to urge his people to expose anyone they think is gay or lesbian; this in turn has stirred up more hatred, causing all LGBT Zimbabwean’s to live in daily fear of their lives. It is this violation of Human rights Tatchell has used in his bid to arrest Mugabe, accusing him of “murder, torture, detention without trial, and the abuse of gay human rights”.
“Military interrogators beat both men all over their bodies with fists, wooden planks and rubber sticks, particularly on the soles of their feet, and gave them electric shocks all over the body, including the genitals. The men were also subjected to ‘the submarine’ – having their heads wrapped in plastic bags and submerged in a water tank until they suffocated”. (Amnesty International news release, 21 January 1999).
Tatchell attempted another citizen’s arrests when Mugabe was visiting Brussels in March 2001, this time he was badly beaten by Mugabe’s henchmen, but Tatchell’s actions helped highlight Mugabe’s atrocities against his own people.
Last year, Tatchell, joined international gay rights supporters Andy Thayer, Dan Choi and Louis-Georges Tin; plus Moscow Gay Pride committee member, Anna Komarova and other Russian gay activists as they attempted to march through Moscow, highlighting the right to hold a Gay Pride March. Once again they found themselves under attack from Neo-Nazis, while the Moscow police turned a blind eye.
Our suspicion is that many of the neo-Nazis were actually plainclothes police officers, who did to us what their uniformed colleagues dared not do in front of the world’s media. Either that, or the police were actively facilitating the right-wing extremists with transport to the protest. Peter Tatchell
Tatchell, along with Dennis L Carney, Vice-Chair of the Black Gay Mens Advisory Group (BGMAG) in London, campaigned and won the battle that stopped reggae stars, Beenie Man, Sizzla and Capleton from performing their songs that incited hatred towards gays and lesbians.
Whatever your thoughts on Tatchell, his commitment to highlight human right abuses, corrupt governments and LGBT equalities have been phenomenal. Happy Sixtieth Birthday Peter, I for one think you’re amazing.