Peter Gary Tatchell is a British human rights campaigner, originally from Australia, best known for his work with LGBT social movements.
One Love, All Equal: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us, it is greatly appreciated. Can you give us a little background on yourself?
Peter Tatchell: I was born in Melbourne, Australia, in 1952 and have been campaigning since 1967 on issues of human rights, democracy, civil liberties, LGBT equality and global justice. My human rights inspirations include Mahatma Gandhi, Sylvia Pankhurst and Martin Luther King.
I coordinated the Equal Love campaign from 2010, in a bid to challenge the UK’s twin legal bans on same-sex civil marriages and opposite-sex civil partnerships. The following year, I 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. Sadly, the court refused to consider the case. But we eventually persuaded MPs to legislate same-sex marriage in 2013.
I have 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.
OLAE: What has compelled you to dedicate your life to activism?
PT: I love other people and love freedom, justice and equality. Human rights abuses only prevail because too many people look the other way. Mindful of the Holocaust and the cry ‘Never Again’, I was determined to do my bit to challenge oppression. I was just 15, and still at a school, when I took my first foray into campaigning. It was 1967 in Australia. A prisoner, Ronald Ryan, was due to be hanged for allegedly shooting dead a warder while trying to escape from jail. I read the autopsy report in a newspaper and worked out it would have been almost impossible for him to have fired the fatal bullet. But Ryan was hanged anyway. That destroyed my trust and confidence in authority – in the government, the police and the courts. It made me a lifelong skeptic of authority and led me to campaign against other abuses, like the mistreatment of the Aboriginal people and Australia’s role in the immoral, unjust Vietnam war. Later, when I was 17 in 1969, I realised I was gay and began campaigning for LGBTI rights too.
OLAE: The first thing that catches your eye on the Peter Tatchell Foundation webpage is the slogan “Speaking out for Human Rights.” Why do you think there is still, in the 21st century, such raging inequality in the world?
PT: The political and economic elites that rule the world are driven by money and power. For them, human rights are secondary. The global system of free market capitalism has put profits before people and consumers before citizens. The end result is continuing poverty and exclusion for two-thirds of the world’s people. These power elites are also predominantly male and heterosexual and have traditionally held down women and LGBTIs. Rooted in centuries of patriarchy and heterosexism, they’ve been encouraged and supported by organised religion, which is the single greatest global threat to women’s and LGBTI human rights.
OLAE: One of the facets of your foundation is aimed at educating people on what human rights truly are. How do you get these teachings across?
PT: We know that young people are not born bigoted. They become bigoted because of the bad influences of peers and adults around them. Education in equality and diversity is the key to tackling not only homophobic hate crime and bullying in schools but also racism and misogyny, to create a kinder, gentler, more compassionate society for everyone. To this end, we do talks on human rights at schools and universities. Our team also participates in public and media debates to promote human rights values and policies.
OLAE: Can you give up a bit of background as to how and why OutRage! was conceived?
PT: OutRage! was jointly formed by 30 of us in 1990. We were prompted by intense police harassment of the LGBTI community and by a rising wave of queer-bashing violence, which the police were often failing to investigate properly. OutRage! was a radical LGBTI direct action movement. One of our tactics was to out, and threaten to out, homophobic LGBTI public figures who abused their power to speak and vote against LGBTI equality. We were targeting their hypocrisy and homophobia, not their homosexuality. Outing worked. Most of them stopped supporting anti-LGBTI discrimination.
OLAE: What is next on the Peter Tatchell Foundation agenda?
PT: Much of the work of OutRage! is now being pursued through the Peter Tatchell Foundation, which works on both LGBTI and broader human rights issues. Our current and upcoming initiatives include the LGBT-Muslim Solidarity campaign, which seeks to build bridges between the Muslim and LGBTI communities to fight all hate. We are continuing to press for the Commonwealth to decriminalise homosexuality in the 40 out of 53 member states that still outlaw same-sex relations. We are also doing a lot of work to defend free speech, oppose Islamism and the far right, resist the way the ‘war on terror’ is being used to justify restrictions on civil liberties, and to support democracy movements in Iran, Russia, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
OLAE: Many people are of the belief that as one person they cannot make a difference. What do you say to those who share this thought?
PT: One person alone cannot change the world, but we can all make a small contribution that collectively adds up to a big and powerful movement. I’m one small cog. We are many. Together, we can make a positive difference.
OLAE: You have been campaigning for decades and have been witness to the changing rhetoric and behaviour towards the LGBT community. How does the situation in 2016 compare to what you experienced in the past?
PT: Britain today is a very different country in terms of laws and attitudes concerning LGBTI rights and people, compared to 20 years ago – never mind 49 years ago when I began campaigning. The UK is not perfect but we’ve achieved great progress. Until 1999, Britain had, by volume, the largest number of anti-gay laws in the world, many of them dating back centuries. Today, we have some of the best legislation. Public attitudes have improved too. Two-thirds now support LGBTI equality, whereas two-thirds opposed equal rights 30 years ago. But 28% continue to believe that homosexuality is either “always” or “mostly” wrong. Furthermore, one-third of LGBTI people have been victims of homophobic hate crime and half of young LGBTIs are bullied at school. So there is much more work to do.
OLAE: Is there any additional message or words that you would like to share with our readers?
PT: Don’t accept the world as it is. Dream of what the world could be – and then help make it happen
OLAE: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to speak with us Peter.
PT: My pleasure. Warmest wishes to you and your readers.