Peter Tatchell is a pioneer for sexual freedom. Throughout more than a quarter of a century of activism and writing, he has helped reshape our understanding of sexuality, challenged erotic guilt and repression, developed new theories and strategies for queer emancipation, and made a huge practical contribution to the advancement of lesbian and gay human rights.
Always thought-provoking, and never afraid to ask awkward questions, he is the author of six books and over 1,500 published articles, most of which have been either news exclusives or think features presenting heretical and innovative ideas on issues of sexuality --including the idea that in transforming the sexual status quo the queer rights movement is helping to create a more sex-positive culture which benefits everyone, both gay and straight.
Peter Tatchell was born in Melbourne, Australia, in 1952. He first came out as gay in 1969 at the age of 17, inspired by press reports of the early gay liberation protests in New York.
On moving to London in 1971, after refusing to be drafted to fight in the genocidal war in Vietnam, he became a leading activist in the Gay Liberation Front. Since then, he has heen prominent in nearly every major struggle for homosexual rights in Britain.
GLF was the first political movement of openly gay people, and the first gay movement committed to changing society rather than assimilating into it. Unlike earlier organisations, it rejected defensive pleas for tolerance and demanded nothing less than total acceptance and full equality, on gay terms.
Peter Tatchell helped organise many of GLF's daring, irreverent protests which revolutionised social attitudes and paved the way for many of the gains lesbians and gay men now enjoy. Involved in the GLF campaign against the classification of homosexuality as a mental illness, in 1972 Peter Tatchell was violently manhandled by doctors and psychologists when he disrupted a lecture by one of the world's leading psychiatrists, Professor Hans Eysenck, who had endorsed the use of electric-shock aversion therapy on homosexuals with the claim that it was "just like a visit to the dentist".
In 1973, he was the GLF delegate to the World Youth Festival in East Berlin, smuggling thousands of gay rights leaflets into East Germany. His speecb at the Youth Rights Conference was the first time anyone had publicly advocated the ideas of lesbian and gay liberation in a communist country. Later interrogated by East German security police and assaulted by communist officials, he narrowly escaped arrest after marching in Alexanderplatz with a "homosexual liberation" banner - the first gay liberation protest ever staged in the Soviet bloc.
Peter Tatchell stood unsuccessfully as the Labour candidate in the 1983 Bermondsey by-election. Vilified for his left-wing socialism and advocacy of lesbian and gay human rights, he was subjected to more media smears and violent attacks than any other political candidate in Britain this century.
From the onset of the AIDS epidemic, Peter Tatchell was one of the first people to challenge the prevailing orthodoxy that AIDS=Death. Arguing against despair and defeatism, he urged the empowerment of people with AIDS. His trail-blazlng self-help book, "AIDS: a Guide to Survival", published in 1986, offered hope where others counselled only fear and fatalism. Its defiant, fightback approach has since helped many thousands of people with AIDS live longer and better-quality lives.
To combat AIDS and homophobia, Peter Tatchell has long campaigned for mandatory, explicit, non-judgemental information about homosexuality and HIV prevention in all primary and secondary schools. To the outrage of straight society, in 1991-92 his campaign included handing out condoms and leafletting pupils at school gates to combat classroom censorshop of the facts about safer sex and lesbian and gay sexuality.
In 1987, Peter Tatchell's lobbying of the African National Congress of South Africa resulted in the ANC officially renouncing homophobia, making its first public commitment to homosexual equality, and accepting constitutional proposals which resulted in the post-apartheid constitution being the first constitution in the world to explicitly guarantee non-discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
That same year, Peter Tatchell founded the UK AIDS Vigil Organisation -- the first movement set up in Britain to campaign for the civil liberties of people witb HIV. Simultaneously, he drafted the world's first comprehensive 'AIDS & Human Rights Charter' to oppose the escalating trend towards government repression.
In January 1988, Peter Tatchell coordinated a 12,000-strong candlelight procession in London to support the human rights of people with HIV, which resulted in tbe World Health Ministers' Summit on AIDS amending its final declaration to include a specific commitment to oppose HIV-related discrimination. This marked a turning point in the attitudes of many governments, from panic and suppression to education and support.
In 1991, he lodged a formal complaint against the European Community, arguing that by failing to include lesbians and gay men in its antidiscrimination initiatives the EC was violating its Treaty obligations to ensure equality and human rights for all. Following this complalnt, for the first time the EC conceded its legal competence to enact policies protecting gay people against discrimination, and introduced its first initiatives to address homophobia in the workplace.
Peter Tatchell's research in the early 1990's on the prosecution of gay and bisexual men for consenting homosexual behaviour exposed the myth that homosexuality had been legalised in 1967. He revealed that prosecutions in 1989 were almost as high as those in 1954-55, at the height of the antigay witchhunts when homosexuality was still totally illegal. This embarassing evidence was instrumental in helping pressure the police to deprioritise action against victimless gay behaviour, which resulted in convictions falling by two-thirds between 1990-93.
In another major research project, he documented the legal status of lesbians and gay men throughout Europe, demonstrating that Britain had more antigay laws than any other European country and that many of our continental neighbours provided concrete, practical examples of successful gay rights legislation. This research has given added impetus and weight to the campaign for homosexual law reform.
Long committed to solidarity with other minorities suffering unequal treatment, and mindful of the difficulty of persuading politicians to support gay rights legislation, Peter Tatchell has argued that legislative progress might be achieved quickest through "all-inclusive" equality laws. Accordingly, he originated proposals for a comprehensive Equal Rights Act to guarantee equality for everyone and to outlaw all forms of discrimination. To ensure the new legislation is effective, he has suggested the creation of a government Department for Equal Rights with powers to promote, monitor and enforce nondiscrimination.
The publication in 1994 of Peter Tatchell's book, Safer Sexy, was a milestone. Not only was it the world's first truly comprehensive guide to safer sex for gay and bisexual men, it was also the most sexually-explicit book ever published in Britain, gay or straight. Driving a coach and horses through traditional interpretations of the antipornography laws, it has established a precedent that has pushed back radically the boundaries of censorship.
Peter Tatchell attained futher notoriety in 1994-95 when he and his OutRage! colleagues declared their intention to out public figures who attack the gay community. This led to the biggest and most successful outing campaign conducted anywhere in the world. Ten Church of England bishops were named, and accused of hypocrisy and collusion with homophobic policies. This proved to be a catalyst for significant changes in Church attitudes, including the commencement of a serious dialogue with the lesbian and gay community for the first time and some of the strongest ever condemnations of antigay discrimination.
Over the last quarter of a century, Peter Tatchell's writing and activism has made a major contribution to public awareness and acceptance of the human rights of homosexuals and people with HIV. In recognition of his efforts, he was nominated for the 1992 Martin Ennals Civil Liberties Award.
Peter Tatchell was one of the founding members, in 1989, of the AIDS activist organisation, ACT UP London (the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power), and in 1990 of the lesbian and gay direct action group OutRage!. With both these movements, as with the GLF previously, he helped create a unique style of political campaigning that combined imagination, wit, daring and provocation -- as evidenced by OutRage! spectaculars such as the Kiss-In, Martyrdom, Queer Wedding, Exorcism and Valentine Carnival. Both educative and entertaining, his brand of "protest as performance" elevated activism into an art form.
On the downside, Peter Tatchell's defiance of convention and fearless confrontations with powerful homophobes have led to him being demonised by right-wing newspapers and politicians as a "terrorist", "subversive" and "extremist". He has been placed under police surveiliance, blacklisted by the Economic League, threatened with assassination by neo-Nazis, and subjected to hundreds of personal assaults and attacks on his home. Nevertheless, he remains a high-profile lecturer, author, broadcaster, journalist, researcher and activist on a wide range of issues of concern to the Lesbian and gay community.
Peter Tatchell is also the author of:
The Battle for Bermondsey (Heretic/GMP 1983);
Democratic Defence - A Non-Nuclear Alternative (GMP 1985);
AIDS: A Guide To Survival (GMP 1986, 1987 & 1990);
Europe in the Pink: Lesbian & Gay Equality in the New Europe (GMP 1992);
Safer Sexy - The Guide to Gay Sex Safely (Freedom Editions 1994);
and We Don't Want to March Straight - Masculinity, Queers & the Military (Cassell 1995).
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