www.ambiente.us OCTOBER |OCTUBRE 2010
NEVER BLEND IN | PART FIVE
PETER TATCHELL | GLOBAL JUSTICE
by David Watters
On wednesday 29 September 2010, outside his long term residence at Arrol House on
the Rockingham Estate near Elephant & Castle, London, a blue plaque unveiling for
Peter Tatchell, campaigner for human rights, gay freedom and social justice took place.
Prominent speakers including Sir Ian McKellen, Out gay Catholic priest, Bernard Lynch
and Lib Dem MP, Simon Hughes honored Mr Tatchell for his 43 years of tireless
campaigning for gay rights and human rights in Britain and across the globe.
The unveiling was followed by a reception at the nearby Cuming Museum, Walworth
Road, SE17, where I was fortunate to meet and speak with internationally renowned
actor and activist, Sir Ian McKellen, who agreed that this was a long overdue honor.
PETER TATCHELL IS...
For those few who are not aware of Mr Tatchell’s contribution to gay rights and human
rights it can be summarized that for over 40 years, he has spearheaded campaigns not
only in Britain but globally.
Born in Melbourne, Australia, Mr Tatchell has lived most of his adult life in London.
He rose to greater prominence in 1983 when defeated as Labour candidate in
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the Bermondsey by-election, co-founded OutRage! in 1990 and has twice attempted a
citizen’s arrest of President Mugabe of Zimbabwe on charges of human rights abuses.
“...I have lived and worked in Southwark most of my life, since 1978. During this time, I’
ve been involved in many local community struggles.
“When I was Chair of the Rockingham Estate tenant’s association in 1980, we fought a
successful campaign to turn derelict Dickens Square into a neighborhood park and
adventure playground. The biggest battles were against the property speculators who
grabbed prime riverside sites, like Hay’s Wharf and Surrey Docks, and squeezed out
long-standing working class residents. Most of the redevelopment of the last 30 years
has been offices and luxury flats for the rich. Local people have benefited very little. That’
s why I stood for parliament in the 1983 Bermondsey by-election. I wanted a fairer deal
for the people of Southwark and Bermondsey.
“The 1983 Bermondsey by-election was the dirtiest, most violent election in Britain for
over 100 years. I was attacked in the street, had my flat smashed, there were arson
attempts on my home and three attempts by drivers to run me down in the street. I got a
bullet through the door and I received dozens of threats to kill me. But I have no regrets.
I stood against the developers, on the side of local people. I did what I believed was
“The current plans for the redevelopment of the Elephant and Castle are selling local
people short. Only a small proportion will be council and social housing for rent to low-
income families. The developers will make billions, while the local community will get
relatively little. With a development of this size, not only should the existing council
housing stock be fully replaced, but the developers should provide at least an
additional 500 council houses for needy families in the surrounding areas.”
Peter has authored over 3,000 published articles and has written and
contributed to more than 20 books including, The Battle for Bermondsey, Democratic
Defence, Europe in the Pink – Lesbian & Gay Equality in The New Europe and We Don’
t Want to March Straight: Masculinity, Queers and the Military. He has also authored
over 3,000 published articles.
Greater mainstream interest and recognition, perhaps born from a widening of Peter’s
activism beyond gay rights, came in 2009, shortly before I interviewed him for NEVER
BLEND IN, when Peter was named Campaigner of the Year at The Observer Ethical
“My political inspirations are people like Mahatma Gandhi, Sylvia Pankhurst, Martin
Luther King and, to some extent, Malcolm X and Rosa Luxemburg. I’ve adapted some
of their ideas and methods to my contemporary struggle for human rights, and invented
a few of my own.
“My proudest achievements as a human rights campaigner have been my two
attempted citizen’s arrests of the Zimbabwean dictator, Robert Mugabe. They helped
draw international attention to the human rights abuses perpetrated by his murderous
regime. I was glad to support the people of Zimbabwe who are fighting for democracy
and human rights. Even though I got badly beaten by Mugabe’s bodyguards and have
ended up with some brain and eye damage, I have no regrets,” said Mr Tatchell.
On withdrawing from 2009 General Election as a Green Party candidate, Mr Tatchell
told the Daily Mail, London, 'It is a huge disappointment and frustration,' he says. 'But
my doctor told me it would be inadvisable to stand as a candidate for the General
Election; that it would be too much of a strain and that I need to cut back on my
'Successive beatings have left me with brain damage and the symptoms are impaired
memory and balance, poor co-ordination and diminished concentration. I make more
mistakes. Words get jumbled up when I write, so I'm
prone to misspelling, and I get confused, which can be a problem when I'm speaking
The ceremony was attended by representatives from the Southwark LGBT Forum, the
Blue Plaque steering group and Southwark Council.
An opening speech was made by Councillor Lewis Robinson, Executive Member for
Culture, Leisure and Sport and addressing Peter Tatchell, the Lib Dem MP Simon
Hughes said: "When you made your decision to leave Australia and to come here, we
hope, looking back, you feel you made the right decision.
"We are very grateful you made the decision to settle in Southwark. You have helped us
to have a reputation as one of the most enlightened, diverse and gay-friendly parts of
Britain, and we hope that we will continue to honour that work."
Unveiling the plaque, Sir Ian McKellen said: "I think it's absolutely sensational that there
should be a blue plaque here as a daily reminder to his neighbours that he is in their
presence and to the city as a whole that we are very lucky to have Peter."
Peter Tatchell, who for many years has lived at this same address,
despite threats to his physical safety, was chosen to receive a
plaque last year in a public vote. "To be voted for by the people
to have this honour is truly a great privilege, and I think every
of them," he said.
"I am gratified but a bit embarrassed. Normally you only get blue plaques when you are
dead, and as you can see I am very much alive, and I am hoping to carry on
campaigning for another 30 years or more."
Commenting on being awarded a Blue Plaque, Peter Tatchell said:
“It is a big honour. I am very grateful to the people who voted for me, especially since
there were other notable, worthy and deserving nominees. I hope my
receipt of this award will encourage others to
campaign for human rights. I have lived in Southwark
most of my life and I am very proud to be part of its
long, illustrious history of distinguished authors,
playwrights, scientists, inventors and social reformers,”
said Mr Tatchell.
“I appreciate this award, but the greatest honour I’ve
had is the privilege to know and work with so many
amazing, courageous human rights defenders in Britain
and around the world. That’s the real, true honour to
“Nevertheless, after so many years of demonisation by
the tabloids, right-wingers, homophobes and even
some people on the left, it is great to receive this
Peter Tatchell, to some, may be an outspoken and controversial figure with uncompromising views but his
imprint upon the world is unquantifiable. He is a pioneer, a visionary, a tenacious, tireless and determined
advocate for social equality who gives hope to us all that somehow in some way we too may be capable of
FOR MORE ON PETER TATCHELL’S INCREDIBLE CONTRIBUTION TO INTERNATIONAL SOCIAL JUSTICE
AND TO SUPPORT HIM GO TO:
The Southwark blue plaques scheme is run by Southwark Council.
For more information on the scheme, please see www.southwark.gov.
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