Queerbate: Peter Tatchell

Peter Tatchell polarises opinion like no other human rights activist. TQ curators, Stephanie Farnsworth and Lee Williscroft-Ferris go head-to-head in this first ‘Queerbate’.


MOTION: Peter Tatchell’s activism is no longer appropriate for the needs of the LGBTQ+ community in 2016.

FOR – Stephanie Farnsworth

Tatchell has been a dedicated activist, largely for cis white gay men, over the years and has had an immensely important role to play. However, it’s simply not enough anymore, particularly when he’s accused of trampling over trans people and people of colour. Whenever concerns about this are raised, he hasn’t been willing to step back and listen to it but he’s blown it up as though he is being victimised rather than addressing concerns that he’s hurting the most marginalised. It’s entirely egocentric.

The latest furore has seen him out someone because they wrote a private email about him. It was supposed to be private, and it’s okay for someone not to want to take part in an event for whatever reason, but he dragged a vulnerable person through the media simply to make a point. Tatchell has a long history of supporting outing people, and quite frankly this is a dangerous stance for the LGBTQ+ community. Nobody has the right to out someone. People choose not to be out for many different reasons and being outed can cause a huge amount of trauma and has even led to suicide. Given the levels of hate crimes LGB people, and especially trans people face, it is an act of abuse, and an act brought about through the arrogance of someone who thinks they have the right to control how anybody else lives.

One of the biggest problems the LGBTQ+ community faces is that we casually forget it is supposed to be about the community, and not about egos. We need an intersectional approach which considers the needs of others and is led by oppressed people and not charismatic men who have a record of attacking those who challenge their privilege.


AGAINST – Lee Williscroft-Ferris

I don’t idolise Peter Tatchell as such. I think he’s fallible, like the rest of us. I do, however, recognise the immense contribution he has made to advancing LGBTQ+ rights and indeed human rights in general.

Back in the 1990s, when I was coming to terms with being gay, Tatchell was widely vilified, even in the mainstream LGBTQ+ media, for his tactics. Heading direct action group OutRage!, Tatchell supported the outing of prominent figures who were homophobic in public yet gay in private. Exposing this hypocrisy in the era of Section 28 and a stubbornly unequal age of consent was courageous, radical, necessary.

Of course, Tatchell is no stranger to bravery. He has repeatedly put himself in harm’s way to draw attention to the causes most close to his heart. A particularly brutal encounter with Robert Mugabe’s bodyguards in 2001, along with the beating meted out to Tatchell by neo-Nazis in Moscow, has left him with brain damage.

I have heard Tatchell speak on several occasions. Each time, he has highlighted trans equality as the next battleground in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights. He has a broad view of human rights, having campaigned for the oppressed people of Balochistan, for Green causes and against the Iraq War.

I respect Tatchell as one of those who staged sit-ins in homophobic pubs in an age of incredibly hostility. I respect him as one of the organisers of Britain’s first Pride parade in 1974. His critics are quick to believe any negative accounts of Tatchell’s behaviour, however tenuous. Many such people are privileged to be young enough to have not lived through a time when LGBTQ+ rights were, quite literally, won through blood, sweat and tears. In a world of social media activism and blogger soapboxing, Peter Tatchell is just one cog in a much larger wheel. He is also a reminder that when it comes to equality, you often still have to get stuck in and get your hands dirty.

What do YOU think? Leave your comments below.

Follow Stephanie (@StephFarnsworth) and Lee (@calamospondylus) on Twitter.

3 thoughts on “Queerbate: Peter Tatchell

  1. Everything that Lee mentions about Tatchell’s past activism and his importance in the history of LGBT activism in the UK is true. But the motion is, “Peter Tatchell’s activism is no longer appropriate for the needs of the LGBTQ+ community in 2016.”

    Somewhere along the way, Tatchell has moved from iconoclast to icon, and has started to identify himself with the community as a whole, and he just does not reflect everyone’s reality. And that’s where the criticisms outlined by Stephanie come in. Tatchell sees himself as being so important, that his interests are more important to LGBTQ+ than the interests we try to communicate.

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  2. Whenever you read anything written by Peter Tatchell’s opponents there are always snide asides – the intention is to smear him covertly as there is nothing they can use to smear him openly with. In Stephanie Farnsworth’s piece above, she says “Tatchell has been a dedicated activist, largely for cis white gay men” i.e. he only really represents them. This is deliberately inaccurate – Peter has worked for for Muslims, for feminists, for heterosexuals, for LGBT Muslims, for Russians, for Christians, for transexuals – in fact for anyone whose human rights needed defending (incidentally it’s interesting the new homophobia coming out – slagging off gay men as “cis white gay men”).He has been criticised because he has not accepted he is a racist and transphobic, the slander made against him by an NUS official who refused to back up her accusation with any evidence apart from a letter he signed supporting free speech in universities. Others have tried to back up the racist claims by pointing to his campaigns against homophobic hate preachers (but they’re only worried about the Muslim ones, not the Christian preachers who he has also campaigned against) and the campaign against Jamaican musicians who spout homophobic lyrics and encourage violence against gay people. Apparently, in their world you should not protest against hate speech if it’s from a Muslim extremist or a person of colour – racist or what?
    Ms. Farnsworth talks about outing people and says “Nobody has the right to out someone”. Who made that rule up? If someone is involved in government or is a public figure using their influence to harm and oppress LGBT people, then we have EVERY right to out them. Her comments about this practice here are misleading. Peter has not outed anyone for a long time and those he did in the past deserved it, in my opinion.
    I regard Ms. Farnsworth’s attack on Peter Tatchell as just part of an ongoing campaign to denigrate and oppress gay men. Words like ‘privilege’, ‘cis’ etc are bandied about to shut people up and make them toe the line and what better way to do that than attack a prominent gay activist like Peter Tatchell. The problem for his attackers is that Peter will never toe the line – this is why he has been slandered and attacked by various public figures. To me it is absolutely shameful that such a brave and dedicated man, who has suffered such a lot in the cause of human rights, who has fought off attacks from the right is now having to contend with attacks from the left….

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