In the global fight for LGBTQ equality, one of the consistent voices highlighting injustice and discrimination has been activist Peter Tatchell.
Now available on Netflix, a new documentary – Hating Peter Tatchell – tells the story of how he became one of the most effective campaigners of the modern equality movement.
I caught up with Peter for a behind-the-scenes look at the documentary.
How did it feel, watching the documentary and seeing your story played back to you?
It was a great honour to have this film made, especially with Elton John and David Furnish coming on board as executive producers. I feel so lucky.
Watching the documentary was quite moving. It brought home to me things that I rarely think about – the variety and longevity of my campaigning, as well as the hate and violence that I’ve endured.
The bits of the film with my now 93-year old mother were quite emotional.
In addition to showcasing your activism, the film plays an important role in educating the audience about the history of LGBTQ equality in the UK, as well as some important issues around the world. Was education one of your objectives going into the documentary?
My goal was to highlight LGBT+ freedom struggles via the story of my own direct action protests.
I wanted to show that social change is possible and illustrate how to do it, in order to inspire the next LGBT+ generation.
One of the things that the documentary highlights is your personal resilience. Where do you draw your inner strength from?
My campaigning has not been easy. I’ve been violently assaulted over 300 times, had 50 attacks on my flat and three attempts to run me down in cars – mostly by homophobes and far-right extremists.
I’ve got a bit of brain and eye damage from the many times I’ve been bashed. For years, I have suffered from PTSD.
What keeps me going is a passion for justice and equality – my belief that right can, and will, triumph over wrong.
I keep my eye fixed on the prize of LGBT+ liberation – not just in Britain, but the whole world.
I’m inspired by the courage of LGBT+ people in other, more repressive, countries – like Russia and Uganda – who risk their life and liberty. If they can take such risks, so can I.
Although the documentary shared with us a lot of your personal history, and gave us insights into some of the forces that shaped you, there seemed to be very few glimpses into who you are as a person beyond the public persona of equality activist. How do you relax? How do you find some balance in your life?
Relaxation. What’s that?
I work 12-16 hours a day, seven days a week. I haven’t had a proper holiday since 2008.
But I love what I do. It’s time-consuming and exhausting, but I am motivated by winning campaigns and the fact that over the last 50 years, I’ve personally helped about 20,000 people – including victims of discrimination, hate crime, police malpractice, and many LGBT+ refugees.
Even so, I do grab some short quiet downtime moments to watch a movie, bike ride in a park or along the Thames river, listen to music – mostly classical or electronic dance – and, pre-Covid, have dinner with friends.
For young queer kids who watch the documentary and feel motivated and inspired by your work, where would you advise them to focus their attention and energy? What are the equality issues that today’s young queer kids should be campaigning about?
The LGBT+ community has made huge positive gains, but there are still battles to fight and win – stamp out bullying in schools, ban conversion therapy, make it easier for trans people to change their legal documents, compensate men convicted under past anti-gay laws and secure refugee status for LGBT+ people persecuted abroad.
How do you want people to feel when they’re watching the documentary?
How they feel is up to them, but I’d hope they would conclude that they can do something to make things better.
I want to inspire and empower them to be change-makers. My motto is – Don’t accept the world as it is. Dream of what the world could be – and then help make it happen.
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Who is Peter Tatchell?
Born in Melbourne in 1952, Tatchell studied at Mount Waverley Secondary College.
Tatchell’s activism began during secondary school. Early campaigns included indigenous rights, and protesting against the death penalty. In 1967, Ronald Ryan was the last person to be executed by the Australian legal system.
From the late-60s, Tatchell’s focus shifted to protesting against Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War.
The move to London
In 1971, Tatchell moved to London.
In London, he joined the Gay Liberation Front, and was part of the group that organised the first LGBTQ Pride march in that city.
Working as a freelance journalist, Tatchell remained politically active – tackling a diverse range of campaigns and causes, as well as standing for election for the Labour Party.
In 1990, Tatchell was one of the early members of campaigning group OutRage!
OutRage! drew significant media attention for threats to publicly ‘out’ political and religious leaders who were known to be gay but weren’t supporting LGBTQ equality.
Tatchell led a number of high-profile protests targeting religious leaders.
Tatchell continues to be one of the LGBTQ community’s strongest voices. His direct action protests have recently targeted Russia’s inaction on the persecution of LGBTQ people in Chechnya.
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