The controversial campaigner on a new documentary about his life, the challenges he’s faced over the past 50 years, and what keeps him fighting amid “extreme hatred” and death threats
INTERVIEW BY MARTINE HESS
Directed by Christopher Amos, Hating Peter Tatchell is a new documentary about the 69-year-old campaigner. Chronicling Tatchell’s 54 years of human rights activism, the film features rare archive footage and interviews, and is described as a “powerful and inspiring true story”. We caught up with Peter to find out how he feels about the film, and asked what keeps him fighting after five and a half decades.
How do you feel about the newly released Netflix documentary, Hating Peter Tatchell?
Peter Tatchell: It’s a great privilege and honour, especially given that Elton John and David Furnish were involved as executive producers. Christopher Amos has done a brilliant job, telling the story of a dozen key moments in my 54 years of LGBT+ activism.
What are your thoughts on the title referencing the time you were dubbed “the most hated man in Britain”?
The film title, Hating Peter Tatchell, reflects the extreme hatred that I’ve been subjected to by right-wing politicians, religious leaders and far right fanatics. They fuelled the toxic atmosphere that has resulted 300+ violent assaults, 50+ attacks on my flat and thousands of hate messages and death threats. It’s been like living through a low-level civil war. Many times, I feared being killed.
How long has the documentary been in the works? How involved have you been in the process?
Christopher Amos, the director, first approached me in 2015. For four years, there was no funding or commission. Amos put his own savings into it and got people to contribute £12,500 via Kickstarter. There were moments when I doubted that the film would ever be made. But Amos kept pitching and eventually the production company, Wildbear Entertainment in Australia, picked it up and made the film. They then did the deal with Netflix. The documentary is about me but I was not much involved in the process. I gave Amos creative licence. He’s produced a riveting, moving documentary.
Why do you think now is the time to share your story?
After half a century of campaigning, I wanted to show by example that social change is possible and to inspire others to carry on the fight for LGBT+ liberation. With a few exceptions, activism is in decline. I want to reignite it.
What was it like to be interviewed by Sir Ian McKellen?
I kept thinking, wow! I’m being interviewed by Gandalf – minus the long beard and robes! Seriously, he was an awesome, intelligent interviewer.
How do you feel about notable names such as Elton John and Angela Mason being involved?
I was pleased that a variety of LGBT+ people, including some of my critics, had a chance to say their piece. It was lovely to have Angela Mason involved. We worked alongside each other in the Gay Liberation Front during the early 1970s. And we were both campaigning in the 1990s: Angela in Stonewall and me in OutRage! Stonewall was like the suffragists who lobbied parliament. OutRage! was more akin to the suffragettes who did direct action protests. We needed both.
What do you hope viewers will take away from the documentary?
I hope viewers will think to themselves: yes, I can do that and then get involved in campaigns to ban conversion therapy, and to support lesbian visibility, trans law reform and a safe haven in the UK for LGBT+ asylum seekers.
Has the production of this documentary taught you anything new about yourself?
It brought home to me the sheer variety and longevity of my campaigning, which I rarely think about. It also made me ponder, with hindsight, how I might have done some of my activism more effectively. I tend to be hyper self-critical and never satisfied with anything I do. I always think: I could have done that better. The fact, for example, that OutRage! and I outed 10 secretly gay Anglican bishops in 1994 over their collusion with homophobia, and their hypocrisy, was not always clear. It led to a lot media misrepresentation.
As a person who has been campaigning for LGBTQI rights for more than 50 years now, are there any particular insights you would like to share?
Never give up. Victory comes through passion, determination and resilience. Be inspired and motivated by our past successes. We got parliament to outlaw discrimination against LGBTs in the workplace, repeal Section 28 and to enact same-sex marriage and parenting rights. Justice is on our side. But we need your help to finish the job.
What can past struggles for liberation teach us about the future?
The suffragettes and the US black civil rights struggle were the models and templates for my LGBT+ activism. I listened and learned from them. They showed that victory is possible, despite seemingly insurmountable odds.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the LGBTQI community today?
In the UK, as well as the law reform issues I mentioned earlier, we need to educate against bullying in schools and hate crime on our streets. No LGBT+ person should ever live in fear. Globally, it’s important to show solidarity with LGBT+ movements in repressive countries like Iran, Uganda, Poland, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and Russia. There are still 70 countries that outlaw homosexuality. More than half of them criminalise both male and female homosexuality. Ten of these countries have the death penalty.
Do you have any advice for the young campaigners and the Peter Tatchells of tomorrow?
Please carry forward the battle for queer freedom and also the intersectional struggles for women’s, black, disabled and environmental emancipation. Listen and learn from past campaign achievements. Adapt those methods to your own. Our ultimate goal must be a planet where every person in every country has respect, dignity and rights.
What keeps you fighting?
I love other people. I love freedom, justice and equality. I am buoyed and sustained by my successes. Setbacks don’t deter me. They are just temporary blips on our long march to liberation. I am, at heart, an optimistic idealist who believes that love, in the end, always triumphs over hate. I’m also inspired and motivated by the courage of LGBT+ activists challenging tyrannical regimes like China, Belarus and Egypt.
Is there anything else you would like the readers of DIVA to know?
I came from a poor working class Christian evangelical family and left school at 16. If I can, you can. Be a change-maker: Don’t accept the world as it is. Dream of what the world could be – and then help make it happen.
Hating Peter Tatchell is out now on Netflix. To receive the Peter Tatchell Foundation’s free weekly news e-bulletin, sign up here: http://bit.ly/1oDijbR.
DIVA’s Linda Riley will be hosting a virtual watch party of Hating Peter Tatchell in the DIVA Facebook Community on Thursday 3 June 2021 at 5.45pm, followed by a Clubhouse event, In Conversation With Peter Tatchell, at 7.30pm.
In order to watch join the watch party you will need to use Google Chrome only and download the extension TeleParty. The link will be shared in the DIVA Community just before 5.45pm.
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