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Peter Tatchell at 70: 'I regret not using outing earlier and against more homophobes'

The veteran LGBTQ and human rights campaigner speaks exclusively to Attitude as he celebrates his 70th birthday.

2022-01-25

Words: Alastair James; pictures: The Peter Tatchell Foundation

As he turns 70, Peter Tatchell tells Attitude that the moment that pushed him into activism was the bombing of a Black church in Birmingham, Alabama almost 60 years ago - in 1963, when Peter was 11.

Four young girls his age died, which Peter says "enraged" him.

"Ever since that bombing, I embraced the ideals, values, and methods of Dr. Martin Luther King and have applied them to LGBTQ and other human rights struggles." 

Over 55 years of work Peter has faced many opponents and systems of oppression. These struggles have seen him branded such names as "homosexual terrorist" and "public enemy number one".

Peter says he takes these names "as a backhanded compliment," adding, "If I was not effective, my critics would ignore me. The abuse is a sign that they see me as a threat who has to be discredited."

Peter at Trans Pride, 2021

The key to his fight all these years, according to Peter is that he's never taken no as an answer and let people get away with injustice. Reflecting on what more he could have done, Peter wishes he'd kicked up more of a fuss about how the police handled the gay victims of serial killers Dennis Nilsen in the 1970s, Michael Lupo in the 1980s, Colin Ireland in the 1990s, and most recently Stephen Port.

"After the third young gay man was found dead in Barking in 2014," he says of Port's case, "I was 95% certain that a serial killer was on the loose."

In the 1990s, the group that Tatchell helped to co-found, OutRage!, ellicited criticism for its tactic of outing bishops and politicians who were members of anti-gay churches or parties while remaining silent - or actively working against - LGBTQ equality.

"I regret not using outing earlier and against more homophobes", Peter says. "It proved very effective to stop them in their tracks. After OutRage! wrote to anti-gay MPs in the 1990s, most ceased voting against equality. We should have used that tactic much sooner."

In a 55 year career in campaigning there have been a lot of wins that Tatchell has helped secure.

Asked if he can name one he is most proud of Peter picks OutRage!'s campaign against police harassment in 1990. With negotiations going nowhere OutRage! resorted to picketing and interrupting press conferences, as well as exposing undercover operations against gay men.

"Within three months the police began to change. By the end of the year, they’d agreed to most of our demands for a non-homophobic policing policy. In three years, the number of men convicted for consenting behaviour fell by two-thirds – the biggest, fastest fall ever recorded. We saved thousands of men from getting criminal convictions," says Peter.

Peter at Belgrade Pride, 2015

Looking at where we are now and what's left to do Peter urged people to think globally, reminding us there are 69 countries criminalising same-sex relations in 2022. 12 have the death penalty.

On whether he thinks the fight will ever be over Peter says, "Not in my lifetime. Even in the UK, there is still a hardcore of about 16 percent of the British public - primarily religious and right-wing people - who believe that homosexuality is mostly or always wrong.

"Reported anti-LGBT+ hate crimes are on the rise and trans people face an onslaught of abuse and denial. The fight for liberation isn't over yet."