Profile: Peter Tatchell

Peter Tatchell has been campaigning for human rights, democracy, LGBT freedom and global justice since 1967.

He is a member of the queer human rights group OutRage!, and the left-wing of the Green Party.

Peter’s key political inspirations are Mahatma Gandhi, Sylvia Pankurst, Martin Luther King and, to some extent, Malcolm X and Rosa Luxemberg. 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. 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, he 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 Professor 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.

In early 1987, Tatchell launched the world’s first organisation dedicated to defending the human rights of people with HIV, the UK AIDS Vigil Organisation. 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 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 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.

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 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.

Through the Peter Tatchell Foundation, he continues to campaign for human rights in Britain and internationally.

Peter will be giving his Penny Lecture, The Unfinished Battle for LGBTI Rights in the UK on Thursday 26 February. Doors will open at 18:00 with the lecture starting promptly at 18:30.

Our February Penny Lecture speaker is Peter Tatchell, a campaigner for human rights, democracy, LGBT freedom and global justice. Find out more about him.

— []

Sign up for the email newsletter

Keep up to date with news from Morley College