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.