An Interview with Peter Tatchell: A Half Century of Political Activism and Protest for Equality
Peter Tatchell, a lifelong campaigner for LGBT and human rights, recently spoke to the L&H and the LGBTQ+ Society in UCD. Tatchell also sat down with Tribune editor Jack Power to talk about his life of political protest, the current amorality and apathy in student politics, and the corporate pinkwashing of Pride.
The Lifelong Fight for LGBT Rights
2017 will mark Tatchell’s 50th year of activism and campaigning for human rights and gay equality issues, over the half century he’s taken part in more than 3,000 direct action protests from Britain to Russia.
He explains that he found often radical change in society can only be achieved by radical action. “I’d prefer to have secured change via the polite traditional methods of lobbying, but sometimes that doesn’t work.”
“When I first began campaigning for LGBT equality, the whole political establishment was against us. That’s why in the early 1970s thought the Gay Liberation Front, and later in the 1990s through OutRage, we had to resort to the tactics of nonviolent protest and civil disobedience. It took those confrontational methods, to shake up the political establishment and to get LGBT rights noticed and eventually acted upon.”
“All the rights gained are as the result of grassroots social movements, they are never willing or easily given by people in power. Only when we organise we eventually win them, it’s always accumulative collective effort” he outlined.
“Up until 1999 Britain had the largest number of anti-gay laws of any country in the world, some of them dating back centuries, and now we have some of the best laws” said Tatchell. “That’s a huge tribute to the many thousands of LGBT people, and our straight friends and allies who campaigned with us for the basic principle of equality.”
Corporate Pinkwashing of Pride
Ireland’s Pride parade in Dublin was the biggest on record this year, but the host of huge flotillas from corporate giants like Ebay and Google that appeared on the day raised an acute question for gay activists. How comfortable are they are about the practice ‘pinkwashing’ by corporations, who attempt to co-opt the fight for equality into their own brand image?
“I don’t like the way in which Pride is becoming commercialised and depoliticised” outlined Tatchell. “There are still battles to win, in Britain and in Ireland there is still a very high proportion of LGBT kids who are bullied in school, and still a very high proportion of LGBT people have been victims of hate crimes. Sexual health and relationship education frequently fails to address LGBTQ issues.”
“I don’t like the way in which Pride is becoming commercialised and depoliticised”
“I think it’s great that big corporations are embracing LGBT equality – about bloody time” he continued. “But I don’t like how they tend to dominate LGBT events, which they are clearly using to promote their own product.”
Student Politics: Amorality or Apathy?
The more radical left wing politics that Tatchell has championed through his life he notes, is becoming increasingly absent from college campuses in the modern day. “There are some great student activists and campaigners, but overall the student body politic seems to be much more complacent, apathetic, and diverter than it was twenty or thirty years ago” he claims.
“There isn’t the same radical idealism that there once was, that’s really disappointing. Because there are so many issues that threaten the future welfare of students, there are big issues like climate chaos, the shortage of affordable housing, and the ongoing issue of 800 million people being hungry or malnourished, having no safe drinking water, and living in dire shanty towns.”
“There isn’t the same radical idealism that there once was, that’s really disappointing”
For students to abdicate the traditional mantle of political activism that historically emanated from most colleges and universities, when it is most needed to tackle growing inequalities across today’s world, is incomprehensible for Tatchell.
“Globally there is a crisis for two thirds of humanity, that is not right in a world of plenty. There is enough wealth in the world to make sure no one is hungry. The problem is the world’s wealth is so unfairly distributed, 20% of the world’s countries consume 80% of the world’s resources, that is unconscionable.”
“The 60 wealthiest people on the planet have as much wealth as the bottom 50% of the world’s population, for me that is amorality on gargantuan scale. I can understand why many students are concerned about their own future prospects. What I can’t understand is why that doesn’t motivate them to become politically active.”
Image: Tatchell speaking to the L&H and the LGTBQ+ Society in UCD’s Fitzgerald Chamber.
The Next Challenge: For an Economics After Neoliberalism
Through Tatchell’s colourful lifetime of fighting for gay equality, he has also always been a voice on the left of the British political spectrum for other human rights and a new economic system. The neo-liberalism espoused by the current political establishments in Britain and Europe is for Tatchell a broken and increasingly discredited system of economics.
“The big financial crisis of 2008 shows the instability of the free market capitalist system” he states. “We are surviving on a gigantic debt bubble that’s going to burst sooner or later. Countries like China and the United States, two huge players on the global economic stage, are very economically precarious. They are surviving for the moment, but the longer term prognosis does not look good. I wouldn’t rule out a potential major global economic recession in years to come.”
“That suggests that the current economic model is not working, if it can only survive based on government interventions like Quantitative Easing or bank bailouts then that is not a sustainable system for the future.”
The political activist draws a lot of hope for a future change to a new people-centred economic system that acts against rather than creates income inequality in the lessons he learned through his successful fight for LGBT equality.
“In my own campaigning, I’ve shown that you can pursue quite radical policies, if you persistently argue for them in a coherent, evidence-based way, eventually the public will come around, we’ve seen that with LGBT rights.”
Jack Power | Editor