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Popular Topics in Social Sciences
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Happy Birthday, Peter Tatchell!
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 01/25/12
Last updated on: 01/25/12
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Peter Tatchell in 2004.

On January 25, 2011, the sixtieth birthday of Peter Tatchell, Britons are celebrating his indefatigable activism. Since the 1970s, Tatchell has been in the forefront of the struggle for equal rights in the U.K., often employing confrontational tactics that have brought him criticism as well as acclaim.

The Australian-born Tatchell, who came out as a gay man in 1969, joined the Gay Liberation Front upon arriving in London in 1971 and threw himself into the struggle for glbtq rights.

As Linda Rapp points out in her entry on him for glbtq.com, "In addition to participating in sit-ins and distributing leaflets, Tatchell adopted more audacious forms of protest. Typical of Tatchell's tactics was his 1972 disruption of a lecture by a prominent psychiatrist who claimed to be able to 'cure' homosexuals at the very time that the GLF and other groups were working to have homosexuality removed from the list of recognized mental disorders. Tatchell wound up in a melee with the doctors and psychiatrists in attendance."

When the homophobic Clause 28, which prohibited public institutions from "promoting homosexuality" by teaching about or depicting same-sex relationships as normal or positive, was passed into law, Tatchell helped found Outrage!, a group committed to using confrontation to further the cause of glbtq rights. In this, they differed from the long-established Stonewall group, which favored a more assimilationist approach.

Among Tatchell's controversial actions was his outing of Church of England bishops in 1994. He also disrupted the Easter Sermon of the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1998, taking over the pulpit to denounce the church's failure to support gay rights.

Tatchell has also protested the homophobic policies of other countries, including the former German Democratic Republic, Rumania, Jamaica, Poland, and Zimbabwe. He has, for example, made several attempts to make a "citizen's arrest" of Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe, who once slurred homosexuals as "worse than pigs or dogs."

Tatchell has also protested the persecution of glbtq people by the fundamentalist Islamic regimes in Iraq, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. A critic of the American-led invasion of Iraq, he has pointed out that one of the unforeseen consequences of the Iraqi war has been the resurgence of Islamic radicalism in the country, and with it a wave of homophobic and misogynistic violence, including execution-style killings of gay men and unveiled women.

Tatchell has lobbied for same-sex marriage in the U.K., criticizing Britain's civil partnership law, which grants gay and lesbian couples most of the legal rights and responsibilities of married heterosexual couples, on the grounds that it enshrines into law differential treatment of homosexual and heterosexual couples.

As PinkNews reports, politicians and celebrities are wishing Tatchell a happy birthday and lauding his work.

For example, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg described him as "a tireless campaigner against homophobia, racism and sexism and for civil liberties and social justice" and praises him as someone who has never allowed himself to be "bullied . . . into silence."

Singer Will Young praised Tatchell as "one of life's greats, someone who is happy to accept any judgements that others place onto him for the greater good of humanity. A fighter, a brave man and one we can all learn from."

American activist Dan Choi lauded Tatchell for having "the roar of a lion and the purr of a kitten."

Actor Simon Callow praised Tatchell for his "magnificent stubbornness and refusal to just go away, as many people, on all sides of the political divide, would have liked you to have done. You've changed our world for the better."

In a delightful poem written for the occasion, actor Stephen Fry described Tatchell as maddening and sometimes embarrassing, but also as "insanely brave" and as someone who has "moved us forward." He thanks him for being a "Scourge of hatred / And upholder of honour." Perhaps referring to Tatchell's refusal to accept official honors, such as a knighthood, Fry concludes the poem by writing, "You would hate to be called it / But you are our knight / Our champion / Our friend."

The video below recounts Tatchell's activism in 2 minutes, 27 seconds.

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