Peter Tatchell: The ‘Megaphone’ of the Oppressed

  • post Type / Young Humanists International
  • Date / 5 June 2009

Peter Gary Tatchell is an Australian-born British human rights activist, who gained international celebrity for his attempted citizen’s arrest of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe in 1999 and 2001 on charges of torture and other human rights abuses.; for his harassment at the Moscow Gay Campaign of 2007; and for his disruption of the procession of the Olympic torch through London in April 2008.

Born on 25 January 1952, Tatchell was selected as Labour Party Parliamentary candidate for Bermondsey in 1981, and was denounced by party leader Michael Foot for supporting extra-parliamentary action against the Thatcher government; though the Labour Party subsequently allowed his selection, when he ran in the Bermondsey by-election in February 1983. In the 1990s, he becamea prominent gay equality and LGBT campaigner through the direct action group OutRage!, which he co-founded. He has tackled a wide variety of human rights issues, and is a frequent contributor on such subjects in print and through broadcast media authoring thousands of articles and six books. In 2006,New Statesman readers voted him sixth on their list of “Heroes of our time”. In April 2007 he became the Green Party prospective parliamentary candidate in the constituency of Oxford East.

Peter had discovered his homosexuality in 1969, and four days after arriving he spotted a sticker on a lamp-post in Oxford Street advertising a meeting of the London Gay Liberation Front (GLF). He quickly became a leading member of the group until it disintegrated in 1974. During his time in GLF Tatchell was prominent in organising sit-ins at pubs that refused to serve “poofs”, and protests against police harassment and the medical classification of homosexuality as an illness. Tatchell has also been veciferous in his call for the enforcement of the laws against incitement to violence and murder, and has organised protests outside the concerts of singers whose lyrics urge the killing of queers. A long-running target of his criticism has been reggae artists whose lyrics encourage and glorify violence, including murder, of lesbians and gay men. Tatchell’s campaign began in the early 1990s when Buju Banton’s song “Boom bye-bye” was released and has continued to date. Banton’s song urges listeners to shoot gay men in the head. He has picketed the MOBO Awards ceremony to protest at their inviting performers of what he terms “murder music”.
Tatchell opposed the Iraq war and the occupation of Iraq by the United States. For nearly three decades he supported the Iraqi Left Opposition. He supported helping them remove the government of Saddam Hussein by force because of the gross violations of human rights Saddam had committed against democrats, left-wingers, trade unionists, Shia Muslims and the Kurdish people, and because under Saddam’s dictatorship there were no opportunities for peaceful, democratic change. He advocated military and financial aid to opponents of the Saddam government in order to assist them to overthrow it; specifically suggesting that anti-Saddam organisations be given “tanks, helicopter gun-ships, fighter planes, heavy artillery and anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles”.
In May 2007, Peter Tatchell went to Moscow, Russia, to support Moscow Pride and to voice his opposition to a city-wide ban on the planned gay pride march. He went there at the invitation of Russian LGBT activists. On 27 May 2007 Tatchell and other gay rights activists were attacked by religious conservatives, neo-nazis and fascists. Tatchell was punched in the face and nearly knocked unconscious, while other demonstrators were beaten, kicked, and assaulted. A German MP, Volker Beck, and a European Parliament deputy from Italy, Marco Capatto, were similarly subjected to punches before being arrested and questioned by police. Tatchell later said “I’m not deterred one iota from coming back to protest in Moscow.”

In April 2008, Tatchell attempted to disrupt the procession of the Olympic torch through London. As a protest against China’s human rights record he stood in front of the bus carrying the torch along Oxford Street while carrying a placard calling on Beijing to “Free Tibet, Free Hu Jia” (the name of a recently jailed human rights activist). Tatchell was taken away by police but was not charged. In an interview Tatchell called on the world to boycott the opening ceremony of the Olympics, or to take other visible action. True to his words in 2007, Tatchell returned to Russia in 2009 for another Gay campaign on 16 May 2009 on the invitation of the Russian gay rights activists. Staged in Moscow in defiance of the city’s mayor Yuri Luzkhov who has long banned all gay demos and denounced them as “satanic”, Peter Tatchell was among the 32 campaigners who were arrested by police when they shouted slogans and unfurled banners urging gay human rights in Russia. The protest was staged to coincide with the final of the Eurovision Song Contest that was being held in Moscow and was widely covered by the world’s media.

It is for these ‘speaking outs’ that we have chosen to honor Peter Gary Tatchell as our Humanist Potrait for this month. We wish him many more years of these freedom imbued activities.

Aluta continua, victoria ascerta!!

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