Peter Tatchell - The Duracell Activist
Publish Date: 20/01/2012
Born in Melbourne in 1952 into a Christian family, Peter Tatchell first become politically active in the 1960’s feeling the need to challenge injustice and with hopes for a better and fairer world.
Peter didn’t realise he was gay until he was 17 years of age. Although he was called ‘Poofta Pete’ in high school he was voted the most popular boy despite the ‘good natured homophobic banter’ he experienced. He didn’t tell his parents initially as he feared their reaction. ‘I even thought they might ‘dob’ me in to the police because they were pretty fundamentalist.’
“At that time homosexuality was illegal in the state of Victoria, punishable by several years imprisonment and in extreme circumstances by enforced psychiatric treatment, it was a pretty difficult time to grow up to be gay, made even worse by the fact that there were no gay organisations in Melbourne. I was lucky to meet someone I fell in love with soon after I realised I was gay and that protected me from the pitfalls of gay life.”
Peter’s first campaigns began from the age of 15. His strict religious upbringing brought a strong sense of responsibility, ethics and the importance of caring about other people, although he didn’t share the religious dogma of his parents, the feeling of wanting the same human rights for people all over the world is something that has stayed with him.
At 19 Peter moved to London, partly because he wanted to travel and partly because of his objections to Australia joining the Americans in the war against Vietnam.
Outrage in London
On moving to London in 1971 he became active in the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) “I remember that I saw a sticker on a lamp post advertising meetings for the GLF . I was very excited as there was nothing like this in Australia. Discovering a whole movement with thousands of people campaigning for LGBT human rights meant that I was at my first meeting within 5 days of arriving in the UK. Within a month I was helping to organise many of their feisty, irreverent protests.”
Twenty years later, Peter helped to form the group Outrage.
“It came about because we were very angry that the police were spending huge amounts of time arresting gay and bisexual men for entirely consenting victimless behaviour while at the same time doing virtually nothing to challenge the horrific scale of homophobic violence and murder.”
“It was radical direct action. Challenging the perpetrators of homophobic abuse to their face, whether they are religious fundamentalists, newspaper editors, judges, police chiefs, government ministers, we took them on and we were fearless. We were prepared to do whatever it took to end homophobia.
A Major issue
“A lot of the campaigns and protests have involved breaking the law, breaching top security of the Prime Minister or government ministers.
"I can remember one time ambushing the Prime Minister John Major just after he and his government had blocked an equal age of consent in 1994. We ambushed his motorcade and forced it to swerve and veer across the other side of the road. The motorcycles could have just kept on coming and mowed us down or police marksmen could have shot us.
"You could say that we were foolish but we had to tell the Prime minister that we were not going to allow his government to deny us equal rights without a fight. I think that protest and many others showed politicians that queers could no longer be kicked around.
"Eventually politicians got the message that they had to start doing something because we were uppity queers, no longer prepared to be pushed around, just like the suffragettes or the black civil rights movement. We put ourselves on the line and we had to do that because every social movement in this country has always had to challenge those in authority to win success.”
Paying the Price
Over the years the physical cost of campaigning in this way has included being beaten unconscious, arrested, attacked, but he still continues with his campaigns.
“For me a protest is not an end in itself, it is a means to an end. You put people in power on the spot, draw attention to abuses and get public consciousness to create awareness and understanding and that’s part of the process in which you change hearts and minds and get people in power to re-think the things they’re doing.
"I’ve been arrested over 300 times, I don’t take any joy in that but without those protests and the news coverage they generated, and I don’t think public opinion would have changed so quickly. The protests put homophobia and homophobic discrimination on the national news and the political agenda.
"It forced politicians to address the unequal age of consent, the ban on gays in the military, Section 28, the lack of legal recognition and rights for same-sex couples.
"Having said all that the price has been quite high. I’ve often targeted the National Front, the BNP and other far right organisations and as a result I’ve had loads of death threats and attacks upon my home, 3 arson attacks, a bullet through the door, bricks through the window. I‘ve been beaten unconscious but I’m prepared to put my body where my mouth is.
"For me there’s no point wishing and hoping for things, you’ve got to do things and to be honest the action I’ve taken is nothing compared to human rights campaigners who have been persecuted in other countries.”
Surely though after over 40 years of campaigning and the many problems this has brought him you would think that reaching the age of 60 might be a time to begin to take things a little bit easier?
“I’m not the kind of person who gives up easily. All my family live to be old so hopefully if I’m blessed with the genes I will be carrying on well into my 90’s and a lot can be achieved in that time. I am the Duracell activist.”
One of the things that Peter is currently campaigning for is to end the bans on gay civil marriages and on heterosexual civil partnerships.
“We believe that both systems should be open to everyone without discrimination. All couples should have a free and equal choice. We are confident that this campaign will overturn sexual orientation discrimination and that the courts will rule that the ban on gay marriage and the ban on heterosexual civil partnership is illegal.”
Peter is constantly dealing with thousands of requests from individuals who need support. You can subscribe to bulletins and keep up to date with what Peter is campaigning on and support his work.
Peter Tatchell is an inspiration to many people around the world and everyone at The Lesbian & Gay Foundation would like to wish him a very Happy Birthday and long may he continue to be a true Homo Hero.