Peter Tatchell – Official Biography
Peter Tatchell has been campaigning for human rights, democracy, LGBT+ freedom and global justice since 1967.
Among his many involvements, he was a leading activist in the Gay Liberation Front 1971-74 and in the queer human rights group OutRage! 1990-2011.
Through the Peter Tatchell Foundation, he currently 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 Pankhurst, 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!.
In the ensuing three years, he spearheaded the OutRage! campaign against police harassment of the LGBT+ community, which included pickets of police stations and exposure of undercover police entrapment operations. Faced with negative publicity, the police began their first serious negotiations with the LGBT+ community. Within a year, they agreed to most of OutRage!’s demands for a non-homophobic policing policy. By 1993, the number of gay and bisexual men convicted for consenting behaviour fell by two-thirds, the biggest fastest fall ever recorded; saving thousands of men from criminal convictions.
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, which led Tyson 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.
The following year, working in collaboration with Jamaican LGBT+ activists, he coordinated the global Stop Murder Music campaign against dancehall singers whose songs incited the murder of LGBT+ people. This campaign included concert boycotts and cancellations, which pressured the artists to eventually ditch their ‘kill the gays’ lyrics and performances.
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; suffering further 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.
After having campaigned from the 1970s for a comprehensive law to protect all citizens against discrimination, his proposals finally became a reality with the passage of the Equality Act in 2010.
Peter 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.
Nevertheless, in 2011, behind-the-scenes, he successfully lobbied the Conservative government to agree the legalisation of same-sex marriage in the UK. Marriage equality came into effect in 2014.
In 2012 (and again in 2016), Peter spoke at a side event at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, in support of the right to self-determination of the people of Balochistan; setting out a road map to end the conflict with Pakistan and secure a negotiated political settlement leading to independence.
Working with the Defend Free Speech campaign, he helped secure two important victories: the repeal in 2012 of the criminalisation of ‘insults’ by the Public Order Act, and the deletion in 2013 of the penalisation of ‘nuisance’ and ‘annoyance’ from the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill.
In 2013, he joined demonstrations against the London visit of the Indonesian President and was arrested when he tried to display a West Papua flag, in protest at Jakarta’s military occupation, as the presidential motorcade drove past.
The following year Peter proposed a plan to deescalate the war in Syria: a UN-mandated arms embargo, no-bomb zones, civilian safe havens, humanitarian aid corridors, human rights monitors and peace-keepers.
He has lobbied for reform of the Gender Recognition Act since 2015, to allow self-declaration for trans people, without having to get legal or medical approval.
In that same year, his Peter Tatchell Foundation launched its LGBT-Muslim Solidarity campaign, to build bridges between the two communities but to also challenge Muslim homophobia and support LGBT+ Muslims.
On Human Rights Day 2016, he interrupted a speech by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to protest at the way Labour, like the Conservative government, was refusing to push for humanitarian aid drops of food and medicine to besieged Syrian civilians in Aleppo and elsewhere.
In 2017, he and others won royal pardons for gay and bisexual men convicted of consenting adult same-sex acts under historic anti-gay laws. He is now pressing for these men to be granted compensation for their suffering.
Coinciding with the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in London in April 2018, Peter helped secure Theresa May’s advocacy of LGBT+ rights at the summit and her expression of regret over anti-gay laws that were imposed on British colonies in the 19th century.
That same year, Peter coordinated a ground-breaking report, The Economic Cost of Homophobia, which set out the economic disadvantages of anti-gay laws: lost tourism, lost productivity, lost foreign aid and investment and lost talent as LGBT+ people flee homophobic countries to live in more gay-friendly ones.
In June 2018, on the opening day of the World Cup, he was arrested after staging a one-man protest by Red Square in Moscow to highlight Russia’s anti-LGBT+ law and the state terrorisation of LGBT+ people in Chechnya.
Soon afterwards, as part of the Equal Civil Partnerships team, he supported the successful legal challenge in the UK Supreme Court, which saw the ban on opposite-sex civil partnerships declared unlawful. He subsequently helped secure the Prime Minister’s commitment to amend the law.
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: action against anti-LGBT hate crimes and bullying in schools, the enforcement of the laws against inciting homophobia violence, LGBT-inclusive sex and relationship education in schools and asylum rights for LGBTs fleeing persecution in other countries.
He is also supporting LGBT activists in the 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, Trinidad and Tobago, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.
More than 50 years after first beginning his human rights campaigns, Peter Tatchell continues to campaign for the independence of the Western Sahara, Palestine, Balochistan and West Papua. He supports the struggles for democracy and human rights in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Burma, Columbia, Somaliland, Russia, 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 and state surveillance of citizens, nuclear weapons and energy, the privatisation of public services and the erosion of civil liberties by draconian anti-terror laws.
Believing that climate destruction is the biggest threat faced by humanity, he proposes a switch to renewable energy and a radical programme of energy conservation; as well as a coordinated international scientific endeavour to develop safe, clean, sustainable fuels for cars and planes.
Within the UK, 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.
In acknowledgement of the huge diversity of modern relationships, and in contrast to the one-size-fits-all models of marriage and civil partnerships, Peter is proposing an alternative Civil Commitment Pact. This would end the disadvantaging of single people by allowing everyone to nominate as their next-of-kin and inheritance beneficiary any ‘significant other’ in their life. It would also permit couples to ‘pick and mix’ from a menu of rights and responsibilities to create a tailor-made partnership agreement suited to their particular needs.
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 newspaper’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 https://bit.ly/2yzRBM2
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).
Awards won by Peter Tatchell include Observer Ethical Awards Campaigner of the Year 2009, Blue Plaque 2010, Irwin Prize – Secularist of the Year 2012, Gandhi International Peace Award 2016 and Albert Medal 2016