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Tatchell was selected as Labour Party Parliamentary candidate for Bermondsey in 1981, and was then denounced by party leader Michael Foot for supporting extra-parliamentary action against the Thatcher government; though the Labour Party subsequently allowed his selection, when he ran in the Bermondsey by-election in February 1983. In the 1990s, he became a prominent LGBT campaigner through the direct action group OutRage!, which he co-founded. He has worked on a wide variety of issues, such as Stop Murder Music, which campaigns against music lyrics that incite violence against LGBT people, and is a frequent contributor on human rights and social justice issues in print and through broadcast media, authoring many articles and six books.
In April 2007 he became the Green Party's prospective parliamentary candidate in the constituency of Oxford East. However, in December 2009 he announced he was standing down from the post due to brain damage he says was sustained from injuries by President Mugabe's bodyguards when Tatchell was trying to arrest him for the second time, and by neo-Nazis in Moscow while campaigning for gay rights, as well as from an accident on a bus. The Green Party candidate who replaced him in the general election five months later secured 1,238 votes against the successful (Labour Party) candidate's 21,938 votes.
He is a regular contributor to The Guardian's online opinion section, Comment is Free.
Since 2009, he has been an Ambassador for the penal reform group, Make Justice Work .
Gay Liberation Front
He moved to London in 1971. He had accepted being gay in 1969 and four days after arriving he spotted a sticker on a lamp-post in Oxford Street advertising a meeting of the London Gay Liberation Front (GLF). He quickly became a leading member of the group until it disintegrated in 1974. During his time in GLF Tatchell was prominent in organising sit-ins at pubs that refused to serve "poofs" and protests against police harassment and the medical classification of homosexuality as an illness. He was a member of GLF's Youth and Action Groups. With others he helped organise the first Gay Pride march in Britain, in London in 1972.
In 1973 under the aegis of the GLF he attended the 10th World Youth Festival in East Berlin. His interventions brought out considerable opposition to gay rights within and between different groups of national delegates including the British Communist Party and National Union of Students, which manifested itself in Tatchell being banned from conferences, having his gay rights leaflets confiscated and burned, interrogation by the secret police (the Stasi) and him being threatened and violently attacked by fellow delegates—mostly communists. Tatchell later claimed that this was the first time gay liberation politics were publicly disseminated and discussed in a communist country, although he noted that legally, in terms of decriminalisation and the age of consent, gay men had greater rights in East Germany at the time than in Britain and much of the West. At the GLF disruption of the "Christian fundamentalist" Festival of Light rally at Methodist Central Hall he was part of GLF's Youth Group, which staged a kiss-in in the upper balcony in response to a statement from keynote speaker Malcolm Muggeridge, that he did not like homosexuals.
Tatchell took part in many gay rights campaigning over issues such as Section 28. Following the murder of actor Michael Boothe on 10 May 1990, Tatchell was one of thirty founding members of the radical queer rights non-violent direct action group OutRage! and has remained a leading member. The group fuses theatrical performance styles with queer protest. As the most prominent OutRage! member, Tatchell is sometimes taken to be the leader of the group, though he has never claimed this title, saying he is one among equals.
In 1991, a small group of OutRage! members covertly formed a separate group to engage in a campaign of outing public figures who were homophobic in public but LGBT in private. The group took the name 'FROCS' (Faggots Rooting Out Closeted Sexuality) and Tatchell was the group's go-between with the press, forwarding their news statements to his media contacts. Considerable publicity and public debate followed FROCS's threat to out 200 leading public personalities from the world of politics, religion, business and sport. With Tatchell's assistance, members of FROCS eventually called a press conference to tell the world that their campaign was a hoax intended to demonstrate what he claimed was the hypocrisy of those newspapers that had condemned their campaign despite having themselves outed celebrities and politicians.
Some of the activities of OutRage! have been highly controversial. In 1994 it unveiled placards inviting ten Church of England bishops to "tell the truth" about what Outrage! alleged was their homosexuality and accusing them of condemning homosexuality in public while themselves leading secret gay lives. Shortly afterwards the group wrote to twenty UK MPs, condemning their alleged support for anti-gay laws and claiming they would out them if the MPs did not stop what they described as attacks on the gay community. The MP Sir James Kilfedder, one such opponent of gay equality, who had received one of the letters, died two months later of a sudden heart attack on the day one of the Belfast newspapers planned to out him. In a comment in The Independent in October 2003, Tatchell claimed the OutRage! action against the bishops was his greatest mistake because he failed to anticipate that the media and the church would treat it as an invasion of privacy.
On April 12, 1998, Tatchell led an OutRage! protest, which disrupted the Easter sermon by the Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, with Tatchell mounting the pulpit to denounce what he claimed was Carey's opposition to legal equality for lesbian and gay people. The protest had a lot of media coverage and led to Tatchell's prosecution under the little-used Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860 (formerly part of the Brawling Act 1551), which prohibits any form of disruption or protest in a church. Tatchell failed in his attempt to summon Carey as a witness and was convicted. The judge fined him the small sum of £18.60, which commentators theorized was a wry allusion to the year of the statute used to convict him.
Some in the LGBT press have dubbed him "Saint Peter Tatchell" following further OutRage! campaigns involving religion.
Age of Consent
In 1996 Tatchell led an OutRage! campaign to reduce the age of consent to 14 to adjust for studies that showed nearly half of all young people—gay and straight—had their first sexual experiences prior to 16 years old and to counter them from being "treated as criminals by the law". The campaign said there should be no prosecution at all if the difference between the ages of the sexual partners was no more than three years—and providing it is backed up by earlier, more effective sex education in schools. He was quoted in the OutRage! press release as saying "Young people have a right to accept or reject sex, according to what they feel is appropriate for them". Leo McKinstry, in The Sun called it "a perverts' charter".
In a 1997 letter to The Guardian, Tatchell defended an academic book about "boy-love", calling the work "courageous" before writing:
- The positive nature of some child-adult sexual relationships is not confined to non-Western cultures. Several of my friends – gay and straight, male and female – had sex with adults from the ages of nine to 13. None feel they were abused. All say it was their conscious choice and gave them great joy. While it may be impossible to condone paedophilia, it is time society acknowledged the truth that not all sex involving children is unwanted, abusive and harmful.
Tatchell has since reiterated that he does not condone adults having sex with children. On his own website, under Age of Consent, he writes: "My articles arguing for an 'age of consent' of 14 are motivated solely by a desire to reduce the criminalisation of under-16s who have consenting relationships with other young people of similar ages. I do not advocate teenagers having sex before the age of 16. But if they do have sex before their 16th birthday, they should not be arrested, given a criminal record and put on the sex offenders register."
In the Irish Independent on 10 March 2008 he repeated his call for a lower age of consent to end the criminalisation of young people engaged in consenting sex and to remove the legal obstacles to upfront sex education, condom provision and safer sex advice. In the early 1990s, he supported a relaxation in the then strict laws against pornography, arguing that porn can have some social benefits, and he has criticised what he calls the body-shame phobia against nudism, suggesting that nudity may be natural and healthy for society.
Listings and Awards
In 2006, New Statesman readers voted him sixth on their list of "Heroes of our time".
In 2012, Peter Tatchell won the £5,000 Irwin Prize as "Secularist of the Year".
He was ranked 25 in the Pride Power List 2011, 17 in the World Pride Power List 2012 and 11 in the World Pride Power List 2013. He was surprisingly omitted from the Pink List 2011, apparently because "the Post-it note with his name was shuffled into an incorrect pile and nobody noticed until it was too late".
- Lisa Power (1995).No Bath But Plenty Of Bubbles: An Oral History Of The Gay Liberation Front 1970-7. Cassell. ISBN 0-304-33205-4.