Peter Tatchell – Official Biography
Peter Tatchell has been campaigning for human rights, democracy, LGBT freedom and global justice since 1967.
He was a member of the queer human rights group OutRage!, and is a member of the Green Party.
Through the Peter Tatchell Foundation, he campaigns for human rights in Britain and internationally.
A summary of his motives, morality and methods is here:
Peter’s key political inspirations are Mahatma Gandhi, Sylvia Pankurst, Martin Luther King and, to some extent, Malcolm X and Rosa Luxemburg. He has adapted many of their methods to his contemporary non-violent struggle for human rights – and invented a few of his own.
Born in Melbourne, Australia, in 1952, Peter began campaigning for human rights in 1967, aged 15. His first campaign was against the death penalty, followed by campaigns in support of Aboriginal rights and in opposition to conscription and the Australian and US war against the people of Vietnam.
In 1969, on realising that he was gay, the struggle for queer freedom became an increasing focus of his activism.
After moving to London in 1971, Peter became a leading activist in the Gay Liberation Front (GLF); organising sit-ins at pubs that refused to serve “poofs”, and protests against police harassment and the medical classification of homosexuality as an illness.
He famously disrupted Prof Hans Eysenck’s 1972 lecture which advocated electric shock aversion therapy to “cure” homosexuality.
The following year, in East Berlin, he was arrested and interrogated by the secret police – the Stasi – after staging the first ever gay rights protest in a communist country.
Throughout much of the 1970s, and beyond, he was active in anti-imperialist solidarity campaigns, supporting the national liberation struggles of the peoples of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Oman, Palestine, Western Sahara, East Timor and West Papua.
He also campaigned against the dictatorships in Franco’s Spain, Caetano’s Portugal, the Colonel’s Greece, Marcos’s Philippines, Suharto’s Indonesia, Pinochet’s Chile, Somoza’s Nicaragua, Saddam’s Iraq, the Shah’s and Khomeini’s Iran, and Brezhnev’s Soviet Union and its satellite regimes in Eastern Europe and the Baltics.
After being initially banned by the Labour leadership for his advocacy of extra-parliamentary action, Peter stood as the Labour candidate in the 1983 Bermondsey by-election. He was defeated in the dirtiest, most violent and homophobic election in modern British history.
After playing a prominent role in the London chapter of the AIDS activist group ACT UP, in 1990 he and 30 other people jointly founded the radical queer human rights direct action movement OutRage!.
Most notoriously, in 1994 Peter Tatchell and OutRage! outed 10 Church of England Bishops and called on them to “tell the truth” about their sexuality – accusing them of hypocrisy and homophobia for publicly colluding with anti-gay policies, despite their own homosexuality. This led to him being denounced in parliament and the press as a “homosexual terrorist” and “public enemy number one”.
In the same year, he and five other members of OutRage! picketed an Islamist mass rally at Wembley Arena, organised by the fundamentalist group, Hizb-ut Tahrir. They were protesting against the group’s unlawful public exhortations to kill gay people, unchaste women and Muslims who turn away from their faith. Despite the Islamists openly threatening to murder him, the police arrested Tatchell. He was convicted but the conviction was overturned on appeal.
Also in 1994, Peter authored Safer Sexy, the world’s first comprehensive guide to gay sex safely. This book included explicit images of safe gay sex, which drove a coach and horses through Britain’s strict sexual censorship laws – paving the way for a wider liberalisation of sexual imagery law and enforcement.
Two years later, in 1996, together with OutRage!, he launched his “Consent at 14” campaign, which urged a reduction in the age of consent to 14 for both gay and straight sex; arguing that consent at 16 was unrealistic and unfair because it criminalised the many young people who have sexual contact and experience before the age of 16. He suggested that the best way to protect young people is earlier, more frank sex and relationship education, to empower them with the knowledge, skills and confidence to make wise, responsible choices and to report unwanted sexual advances and abusers.
From 1994-2000, Peter helped expose the by then deceased Nazi war criminal, SS Dr Carl Vaernet, who experimented on gay prisoners in Buchenwald concentration camp; revealing how he escaped justice at the end of the Second World War with apparent Allied connivance.
Peter and his OutRage! comrades briefly and peacefully interrupted the Archbishop of Canterbury’s 1998 Easter Sermon in Canterbury Cathedral; condemning Dr Carey’s advocacy of legal discrimination against LGBT people. He was arrested and convicted under the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860 (formerly part of the Brawling Act 1551).
This is Peter’s only conviction in over 50 years of nearly 3,000 direct action and civil disobedience protests.
In 2000, he stood unsuccessfully as an independent Green Left candidate for the London Assembly.
In 2002, Peter bought an unsuccessful legal action in the British courts for the arrest of the former US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, on charges of war crimes in Vietnam and Cambodia during the 1970s.
The same year, he ambushed Mike Tyson outside his gym, just a few days before his world title fight against Lennox Lewis in Memphis, USA. Challenging Tyson over his homophobic slurs against Lewis, Tatchell persuaded Tyson to make a public statement insisting that he was not homophobic and to declare: “I oppose all discrimination against gay people.”
In early March 2003, Tatchell forced Prime Minister Tony Blair’s motorcade to halt in Piccadilly, in a protest against the impending war in Iraq. He ran out into the road and held up a placard opposing invasion and urging instead international aid to the Iraqi people to help them topple Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. Blair’s car screeched to a standstill just six inches from Tatchell’s legs. Although arrested and detained in Vine Street police station, no charges were pressed.
He participated in the attempted Moscow Gay Pride marches in 2007, in solidarity with Russian LGBT campaigners. Together with others, he was beaten up by neo-Nazis, ultra-nationalists and fundamentalist Christians; sufferingfurther brain and eye damage. The police arrested him, while his attackers were allowed to go free.
In 2009, he co-proposed a UN Global Human Rights Index, to measure and rank the human rights record of every country – with the aim of creating a human rights league table to highlight the best and worst countries and thereby incentivise governments to clean up their record and improve their human rights ranking.
He coordinated the Equal Love campaign in 2010, in a bid to overturn the twin legal bans on same-sex civil marriages and opposite-sex civil partnerships. The following year, he organised four gay couples and four heterosexual couples to file a case in the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that sexual orientation discrimination in civil marriage and civil partnership law is unlawful under Articles 8, 12 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.The case was refused, without explanation contrary to the rules of the ECHR.
In 2011, behind-the-scenes, Peter successfully lobbied the Conservative government to agree the legalisation of same-sex marriage.
Although great progress has been made in repealing anti-gay laws in the UK, he is still campaigning to complete the unfinished battle for queer equality: for an end to the ban on same-sex marriage, action against homophobic hate crimes and bullying in schools, and the enforcement of the laws against inciting homophobia violence.
He is also supporting LGBT activists in many of the more than 70 countries that still totally outlaw lesbian and gay relationships, and which punish same-sexers with maximum penalties including flogging, life imprisonment and execution. This solidarity work has included support for queer activists in South Africa, Nepal, Iraq, Nigeria, Iran, Uganda, Malawi, Russia and Zimbabwe.
More than 40 years after first beginning his human rights campaigns, Peter Tatchell continues to campaign for the independence of the Western Sahara, Palestine, Baluchistan, and West Papua. He supports the struggles for democracy and human rights in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Burma, Columbia, Somaliland, Pakistan, Zimbabwe and elsewhere.
As well as opposing the war in Iraq and the post-war occupation, he has spoken out against US threats to attack Iran.
A high-profile campaigner in British politics for three decades, he opposes ID cards, nuclear weapons and energy, the privatisation of public services and the erosion of civil liberties by draconian anti-terror laws.
Believing that climate chaos is the biggest threat faced by humanity, he proposes a switch to renewable energy and, in particular, a coordinated international scientific endeavour to develop safe, clean, sustainable fuels for cars and planes.
He supports a fairer proportional voting system; and an elected head of state and upper house; as well as a written constitution and a bill of rights.
An opponent of animal-based medical research, on both scientific and humanitarian grounds, he urges major funding for an EU-wide effort to devise more reliable, effective and cruelty-free research technologies.
A radical anti-materialist and critic of the celebrity-obsessed consumer society, he advocates quality – not quantity – of life; arguing that ever-increasing personal income and material wealth is not the key to human happiness.
A strong proponent of economic democracy, he believes in the redistribution of economic power and wealth, in order to make Britain (and the world) a more economically democratic, participatory, inclusive, transparent, just and compassionate society.
Peter’s ideas for economic democracy include a legal requirement for one-third employee and consumer directors on the boards of all private and public institutions with more than 50 staff, to defend the interests of employees and the wider public; trade union supervised administration of their members pension funds, in order to decentralise the control of capital and investment; staff rewards for increased productivity in the form of new share issues, payable into a share fund for the collective benefit of all employees; legal rights and low-cost loans to enable employees to convert businesses into cooperatives; and bonuses for frontline public and private sector staff who devise efficiency savings without damaging product and service provision. He also advocates making corporate recklessness and negligence a criminal offence, to reign in big business cowboys and to ensure more prudent economic decision-making.
From the late 1970s onwards, he called for a single, comprehensive, all-inclusive Equal Rights Act to harmonise the uneven patchwork of equality legislation, to ensure equal treatment and non-discrimination for everyone.
Peter has proposed an internationally-binding UN Human Rights Convention enforceable through both national courts and the International Criminal Court; a permanent rapid-reaction UN peace-keeping force with the authority to intervene to stop genocide and war crimes; and a global agreement to cut military spending by 10 percent to fund the eradication of hunger, disease, illiteracy, unemployment and homelessness in the developing world.
For many years, Peter Tatchell wrote regular columns for The Guardian’s Comment is Free website. Read his archived articles here:
In 2007, he hosted a weekly online TV current affairs programme, Talking With Tatchell, which has since been archived at http://www.veoh.com/search/videos/q/tatchell
He is the author of over 3,000 published articles and six books, including The Battle for Bermondsey (Heretic Books), Democratic Defence – A Non-Nuclear Alternative (Heretic Books/GMP) and We Don’t Want To March Straight – Masculinity, Queers & The Military (Cassell).