LGBT and human rights activist and campaigner
It’s my personal belief that Peter Tatchell is a bit mental. By which I mean, he doesn’t see the world in quite the same way as everyone else: he sees it as it should be, not just as it is, and has dedicated his time, his health and in some cases risked his life trying to make the world better than it is for people like us.
Tatchell self-defined as gay at age 17, which was a brave thing to do in 1969: homosexuality wouldn’t become legal in his native Australia for another 20 years. He moved to London to avoid conscription into the Australian army by the time he was 20. and within a week of his feet touching British soil, he attended his first Gay Liberation Front (GLF) meeting and soon became a prominent member of the organisation. He helped to organise the first Gay Pride march in London the following year and, along with the other members of the GLF, campaigned to revoke the classification of homosexuality as a disease. Together, they organised sit-ins in bars that refused to serve gay men; it’s worth noting at this point that there was nothing illegal in refusing to serve gay men at this time, so as well as a kicking from the bar’s other patrons and staff, arrest was also a strong possibility.
In 1971 Tatchell set his sights on TV’s prudish Mary Whitehouse and the ‘Batchelor Boy’ performer Cliff Richard by disrupting the Festival of Light Christian rally in London. He has also faced down authoritarian regimes, having been arrested and interrogated by the Stasi and beaten up by Robert Mugabe’s bodyguards; in trying to arrest Mugabe twice for human rights violations, he suffered brain damage – yet still he fights on.
Tatchell was one of the founding members of OutRage!, a radical LGBT rights movement that threatened to ‘out’ high-profile individuals who were outspokenly anti-gay in public whilst living a closeted gay life behind closed doors. He admits today that this might have been going a bit far, but OutRage! continues its work today, alongside the more peaceful, lobbying-based protests of Stonewall and other LGBT rights groups. Most recently, Tatchell helped organise last year’s Protest The Pope march through central London, which many of the So So Gay team attended.
Certainly we all are happy to sign petitions, donate a bit of money, even march with all our friends at Pride events and rallies; but to actually put ourselves in harm’s way in order to stand up for what we believe isn’t something that we do very often, if at all. The world is a better place for having Peter Tatchell and courageous people like him in it. He has spent more than 45 years of his life taking light into dark places, pointing out inequalities and discrimination and doing everything in his power to change things for the better at great personal risk. I’d even go as far as to say that I hope history remembers him as something of a gay Emmeline Pankhurst (and if you don’t know who she was, go and read the statue of her next to the Houses of Parliament before I hunt you down).
That’s why Peter Tatchell is my LGBT Hero; I wish I were half the man he is.