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Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Oppression to Liberation – The journey of Peter Tatchell


Peter Tatchell, often known as the rebel with many causes, lives up to his name. He has been called ‘a national hero’ by The Sunday Times and Elton John has praised Peter Tatchell stating he is ‘incredibly brave’’ and that Tatchell is ‘doing good work in a world where most people are too timid’.
After recently meeting Peter Tatchell at the NUS LGBT conference in Manchester I felt it was appropriate to dedicate my article to one of the leading and most influential LGBT campaigners and politicians in the world.
Who would have known that the former employee at Melbourne’s principal department store in 1969 would stage a citizen’s arrest of Robert Mugabe in 1999 and again in 2001. Peter Tatchell has said this courage and strength as a political activist is paralleled by his adrenaline-filled, risk-taking hobbies such as surfing and mountain climbing, as mentioned in a BBC radio interview.
Peter Tatchell hasn’t always been an activist for gay rights. His life of political activism began in 1967 when he was at school. He started campaigning for Aboriginal rights and for the abolition of the death penalty in his homeland of Australia, despite being accused by his head teacher of being “manipulated by communists.”
Refusing to be conscripted to fight in the Vietnam War, in 1971 Tatchell migrated to London, where he became a leading member in the Gay Liberation Front. GLF protested against homosexuality being labelled as a mental disorder and against police harassment.
Peter helped organise the first ever Gay Pride in London (1972).
It is hard to believe but Peter was denounced by homophobic NUS leaders in the early 1970’s for defending LGBT rights. Yet now the National Union of Students is one of the major groups for LGBT liberation in the UK and probably even Europe. In the same period, he was doing his A-levels part time at West London College and went on to do a degree in Sociology as a mature student.
In 1973, Peter Tatchell was arrested for holding the first ever LGBT rights in a communist country, East Germany, as it was then known.
In the early 1990s, Buju Banton released his song ‘Boom Bye Bye’. It was unfortunately quite popular and called for the killing of homosexuals. A campaign was launched, organised by Tatchell, called Stop Murder Music. This campaign was attacked by supporters of Banton who labelled it racist . However, it was also backed by Jamaica’s LGBT movement, J-Flag, and by the Black Gay Mens Advisory Group in London.
Peter Tatchell hasn’t only protested against homophobia and for LGBT freedom. In the run up to the Iraq war, Peter opposed the US-UK invasion but also strongly supported Iraqis opposed to Saddam Hussein’s tyranny. He hoped that Iraqi self-liberation would inspire democratic and left rebellions against other Arab dictators.
In 2007, Tatchell travelled to Moscow for the attempted Gay Pride parade. Together with Russian LGBT activists, he was physically beaten by neo-Nazis. “I’m not deterred one iota from coming back to protest in Moscow,” Peter Tatchell told PinkNews.co.uk. He has since returned to Moscow three times to support Russian LGBT campaigners.
Peter Tatchell has also done a lot of work opposing the Israeli Occupation of Palestine and Chinese tyranny. Despite criticisms, Tatchell has defended oppressed Muslims around the world and protested against the hanging of two Iranian youths in 2005. He has also worked with the founders of Al-Fatiha, the world’s first LGBT Muslim organisation. His motto is: “Don’t accept the world as it is. Dream of what the world could be – and then help make it happen.”
* For more information about Peter Tatchell’s LGBT and human rights campaigns: www.petertatchell.net

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