February is LGBT+ History Month, and so a good time to shine the spotlight on some of the remarkable figures who have campaigned for the end of discrimination and persecution of people in the LGBTQ+ community. In this blog, our Deputy Director of Human Resources, Nicholas Percival reflects on the remarkable contribution and personal sacrifice Peter Tatchell, one of his heroes, has endured as an activist for gay rights.
Peter Tatchell is a very brave man.
On 5th March 2001 he attempted a citizen’s arrest in Brussels on the Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe. He wanted to draw attention to the human rights abuses taking place under that regime. Tatchell was knocked unconscious by the dictator’s bodyguards and still has significant health issues today as a result.
His health is also permanently affected following a vicious beating in Russia in 2007 by neo-Nazis. Police stood on and watched the attack, and then arrested him. Tatchell was part of a small peaceful group protesting about basic human rights.
The first I knew about Peter Tatchell was when he stood as the Labour candidate in the Bermondsey by-election in 1983. It is hard to image now the level of hatred that poured out at the time, but the press went for him relentlessly. The opposing Liberal candidate set himself up as “the STRAIGHT choice” ironic as he was later outed for his own relationships with men.
“…being bitter is an incredibly destructive, corrosive emotion. It doesn’t get you anywhere. I acknowledge what was happening, and then go on with the next thing.” - Peter Tatchell
During the campaign Tatchell was assaulted more than 100 times in the street, his home was attacked over 30 times and twice people attempted to run him down in cars. All this happened during the election for a member of parliament to the UK government. Some of the national press had a great time running made up stories to try and undermine his campaign, and most were characterised by blatant homophobia.
Tatchell was one of the founding members of the direct action group OutRage! The group was formed in 1990 after six yobs kicked a man to death in the street, just because he was gay, and they could. Peter Tatchell was there; it could have been him. He turned his anger into activism.
OutRage! campaigning was largely responsible for a change in how the Police operate in the UK, from persecuting gay men for victimless crimes to protecting us from violence.
Tatchell has worked previously against oppression in Russia, Chechnya, and today Africa and the Middle East are a strong focus for his campaigning on LGTB rights.
Today there are still around 70 countries that criminalise same-sex relations, and astonishingly 10 that have the death penalty.
In world where people can be put to death because of who they fall in love with we need brave people like Peter Tatchell.