20 Aug 2007

Peter Tatchell in the Indy

New Statesman magazine named him as one of the "heroes of
our time", and The Independent included him among 50 men and women who
had madethe world a better place. So it is a shock to hear this lifelong
advocate of non-violent protest say, in carefully chosen words, that
he believes the problem of Mugabe may now have only one solution:

On to Peter, I am such a fan, he is a human dynamo, always on the media, politically sophisticated....however he should take a weekend off at least every weekend...I think he would be even more effective....he is an ecosocialist and frankly being an ecosocialist in my mind demands the occassional beer, spliff, period of zazen, quality time with ones loved ones...any way I am not really ticking him off and people accuse me off working too hard and yes my love would like I guess to see more of me.

I have heard lots of encouraging noises from Oxford he has already started knocking on doors in anticipation of an October General Election...be good to go down and help.

The Independent on Sunday - 19 August 2007

Profile Peter Tatchell

Peter Tatchell: 'There may be a case for the people of Zimbabwe to kill
Robert Mugabe'

Despite many beatings in pursuit of equal rights, Peter Tatchell has
always abhorred violence. Now he says he could understand the murder
of an African dictator

Interviewed by Cole Moreton


Peter Tatchell speaks very carefully. He stops in mid-sentence to edit
his words – "Sorry, let me rephrase that" – as if a conversation is a
radio interview. Remember that when the famed campaigner for human
rights says something truly shocking about what he would like to see
done to Robert Mugabe. But first this thin, intense man is telling me
the terrible things that other people would like to do to him.

"We are going to kill you gays," says Tatchell, reading from a
transcript he has made of threatening telephone calls. "The punishment
for sodomy is death." The calls have been frequent, usually late at
night. He takes them in this musty room, where every spare space is
filled with stacks of books or papers. They tell him: "You are going
to be beheaded: that is the punishment in Islamic law."

I was going to start lightly, with a question about the Manchester
Pride festival, where he will be on Thursday, arguably the biggest,
most joyfully riotous celebration of gay

culture in the country. I was going to ask Tatchell, best known for
his outrageous direct action in support of lesbian and gay rights,
whether the battle for equality had been won and it was time to kick
back and party. But instead we're talking about death threats.

"I know that most of them are bluff and bravado, but there is always a
danger that someone might be deadly serious and have a go," he says.
I'm on a low sofa, trying not to kick over copies of The Humanist.
He's looking down on me from a hard-backed wooden chair he has pulled
close. He has an unsettling habit of keeping constant eye contact,
except for when his energy or attention flags momentarily.

Tatchell still suffers headaches, blackouts and memory loss from his
beating by Russian Neo-Nazis (and possibly secret policemen) at a
Pride event in Moscow in May. The 57-year-old has been assaulted many
times during 40 years of campaigning. Homophobic Muslim clerics with
friends who like to call and make threats in the dark are among the
more gentle of his enemies. Followers of Jamaican reggae were said to
have taken out a contract on his life after he called for the banning
of songs, such as Buju Banton's "Boom Bye Bye", that advocate the
shooting, hanging, burning or drowning of gays.

The police gave him armed protection for a while, but it seems to have
gone. The windows of his three-roomed council flat in a tenement just
off London's Elephant and Castle are protected by security bars, and a
notice on the front door warns that it is under 24-hour electronic
surveillance. That stopped people putting dog-shit through the
letterbox, but Tatchell is less than impressed with the official
reaction to the latest calls, which have been going on for three
months. "We have managed to trace the number to identify the
perpetrator but that person has never been interviewed, let alone
questioned by the police. It's an absolute fucking disgrace."

Tatchell is edgy. It's late afternoon and he has been arguing with
officials all day in an attempt to prevent a lesbian being deported
back to a country where she believes she will be executed. He has had
no breakfast and only "a small banana and apple" for lunch, which is
not unusual.

"Some of the abuses these people have suffered are so catastrophic,
they are difficult to block out. Until I can find some kind of
solution they do play
on my mind and I find it difficult to sleep." He looks drawn. "I'm
getting into the Margaret Thatcher mode of sleeping for three or four
hours a night. But I know I need eight."

Thatcher has an inevitable presence in a room whose walls are
decorated with the ephemera of four decades as an activist. There's a
Coal Not Dole sticker and a badge that says, "If Thatcher is the
answer, it was a bloody stupid question".

Thatcher has long gone, but every radical figure needs a nemesis, and
for Tatchell, her place was taken by Robert Mugabe, the President of
Having supported the struggle for independence in that country,
Tatchell found himself appalled by the President's violent persecution
of gay and lesbian people, and his treatment of his own people. It was
challenging Mugabe that also transformed Tatchell's public image.

He was part of human rights campaigns even as a teenager in his native
Australia, but here he was long seen as a single-issue obsessive: in
the Nineties, the papers called him a "homosexual terrorist" and
"prize pervert" for seizing the Archbishop of Canterbury's pulpit at
Easter and trying to "out" gay public figures with his group Outrage!.

Labour's victory in 1997 began a political shift towards equality, but
the way Tatchell was seen did not shift dramatically until 2001, when
he tried to make a citizen's arrest of Mugabe at the Brussels Hilton.
The sight of the determined but slight protester being forced to the
ground by the President's bodyguards won him many new admirers.

Last year, New Statesman magazine named him as one of the "heroes of
our time", and The Independent included him among 50 men and women who
made the world a better place. So it is a shock to hear this lifelong
advocate of non-violent protest say, in carefully chosen words, that
he believes the problem of Mugabe may now have only one solution:

"The prospects for democratic, peaceful change seem to be closed, in
the same way as in Nazi-occupied Europe," he says. "In all normal
circumstances, I'm against violence.

All violence. But in the extreme situation of a dictatorship where
tens of thousands, if not millions, of lives are at stake, there may
be a moral and ethical case for the people of Zimbabwe to kill

It would have to be a black Zimbabwean, he says, so the motives could
not be misunderstood. "And preferably someone who had opposed Ian
Smith's white-minority rule."

This is not frustration then, or a moment of ill-temper. He has
thought out the strategy. But still, it seems extraordinary coming
from him, as if all the energy and fury that enabled him to challenge
the powerful with nothing but his body and his willingness to take a
beating has been twisted into the single, burning thought of a gun and
an expedient death.

Not that Tatchell will worry about what it does to his image. He has
never attempted (or been able) to make money from that, earning only
about £8,000
a year from journalism. His colour-spattered tie looks like a relic
from the Eighties and his red jeans and red shirt are not new,
although they are neatly pressed. The long-life lightbulb remains
unlit as the shadows darken, although he does switch on the kettle to
make a good, strong cup of tea. And offers biscuits. He is witty and
friendly, when he's not being recorded.

On Thursday, Tatchell will attend the massive Pride festival that will
fittingly dominate Manchester, a city whose regeneration has been
helped by gay culture. Sponsors include Manchester City Council
(flying a rainbow flag from public buildings) Selfridges and even the
Highways Agency.

After a carnival-style parade watched by "young and old, gay and
straight, friends and family", Gossip will headline a concert; but
there is also classical music, theatre and comedy, film and even
sporting competition. Tatchell will speak on the question, "Queer
human rights: what next?" In the midst of such a big party one answer
would be, "Relax". But not for him. "There are unfinished battles."

Such as? "Imagine how we would feel if the black or Jewish communities
were told, 'You're banned from getting married but we'll give you a
separate system of civil partnership.' This is a form of sexual

Then there are the problems in the playground. "A recent survey found
two-thirds of lesbian and gay pupils had suffered homophobic abuse in
school. A quarter had been physically assaulted. That's truly

The asylum system is unjust too, he says. "Time and time again, we see
gay and lesbian asylum-seekers, who have been jailed, tortured and had
their partners murdered, being told they are not genuine refugees and
deported back to violently homophobic countries like Jamaica, Nigeria
and Iran."

And it is a mistake to believe that the violence has ended here, he
says. "About a quarter of all lesbian and gay people here have
suffered assaults by homophobic gangs. We're talking about at least a
million people. Over the past two decades, I have been physically
attacked more than 500 times. When was the last time? Tatchell pauses,
and clears his throat. "The last incident was about two years ago."

Things have changed for the better? He switches tack. "Yes. The
decline of physical attacks on me is probably a rough barometer of the
demise of homophobia in Britain. I don't want to diminish the gains of
the past decade, but it would be a mistake to assume they are
permanent. Let's not forget, Berlin was the gay capital of the world
in 1930. Then Hitler came to power and gay and bisexual men were
carted off to concentration camps."

Now he campaigns (for free) across a wide range of issues, including
climate change and the need for an overhaul in our democracy, which he
thinks will only be achieved by "a new mass movement such as the
Chartists or Suffragettes". Despite this, he will stand for the Greens
in Oxford at the next election. He just can't stop, and admits to
working almost every weekend and evening, responding to 60 calls and
300 emails a day. "I don't have the capacity to switch off my mind to
other people's suffering. I can't help it."

His heroes, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, had movements around
them. Tatchell has a close circle of friends, mostly fellow
campaigners, but admits he does not spend enough time with them. It
sounds like a lonely life. "It's not lonely. It has been one of my
great failings to not build a movement, but that's perhaps partly
because I have been involved in so many campaigns."

Perhaps it's also because he's difficult to get on with? He ponders
for a moment. "I guess I am sometimes driven." He has charm, but after
two hours
his intensity is exhausting. "The downside is that it has made
sustaining a partnership with someone difficult. Who would put up with

Have lovers come close and been put off? "Yeah." Tatchell smiles, but
he does look drained. "I work the hours of two people. I do recognise
the way
I'm living my life is not ideal, by a long way. If George Soros or
someone said to me tomorrow, 'Here is £150,000 for 10 years to run and
staff an office,' I would grab it, and take the occasional weekend

His expression says we both know that is unlikely. "I have been unable
to attract funding," says the awkward, driven, maverick Peter
Tatchell. "I don't know why."


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