To mark Peter Tatchell’s 60th birthday and 45 years of service to the gay community through his human rights campaigning, QX Magazine presented a timeline of the life of this remarkable man so far.
1952: Born Melbourne, Australia.
1967: First human rights campaign – against capital punishment
1969: Came out as gay, aged 17, began campaigning for LGBT rights.
1971: Moved to London. Joined the newly-formed Gay Liberation Front.
Protested against the Miss World contest and joined GLF sit-ins in pubs that refused to serve queers.
Disrupted Mary Whitehouse’s and Cliff Richard’s Festival of Light rally against homosexuality and the so-called “permissive society”.
1972: Violently manhandled when he heckled a lecture by one of the world’s leading psychologists, Professor Hans Eysenck, who was advocating the use of electric-shock aversion therapy to “cure” gay people.
1973: Staged the first-ever gay rights protest in a communist country, East Germany. Held up a placard calling for “homosexual liberation.” Arrested and interrogated by the secret police, the Stasi.
1974-77: Worked with the National Union of Students LGBT rights campaign.
1983: Labour candidate in the 1983 Bermondsey by-election. Vilified because of his support for LGBT rights. Defeated. Bermondsey was the most homophobic election in British history, and dirtiest and most violent UK election for 100 years.
1986: Published the trail-blazing self-help book, AIDS: A Guide to Survival – the first book to give hope to people with HIV.
1987: Lobbied Thabo Mbeki of the African National Congress of South Africa, which resulted in the ANC officially renouncing homophobia and making its first public commitment to LGBT equality.
Founded the UK AIDS Vigil Organisation – the world’s first movement established to campaign for the human rights of people with HIV. Wrote the world’s first comprehensive HIV human rights charter, to oppose the escalating trend towards government repression.
1988: Coinciding with the World Health Minister’s Summit on AIDS in London, co-ordinated a 12,000-strong candlelight procession to support the human rights of people with HIV; prompting an unscheduled Summit declaration against HIV-related discrimination.
1989: Proposed to the ANC that the post-apartheid constitution should protect lesbians and gay men against discrimination. Submitted draft proposals that were later adapted and incorporated into the new constitution.
A founding member of the AIDS activist organisation ACT UP London (the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power).
1990: One of 30 people who collectively founded the queer rights direct action group OutRage! Coordinated a mass “Kiss-In” at Piccadilly Circus against the arrest of same-sex couples for kissing and cuddling. Organised simultaneous campaigns against police harassment of the LGBT community – gay convictions subsequently fell by two-thirds from 1990-93.
1991: “It’s OK to be Gay” campaign, which leafleted school pupils to combat Section 28 censorship of information about lesbian and gay sexuality.
1992: Organised the first challenge to the ban on gay marriage, when five same-sex couples applied for marriage licences at Westminster register office. Proposed an Equal Rights Act to guarantee equality for everyone and to outlaw all forms of discrimination. This idea was eventually incorporated into the Equality Act 2010. Invaded the Vatican Embassy in protest at Pope’s endorsement of anti-gay laws.
1994: Ambushed the motorcade of the Prime Minister, John Major, in protest at his opposition to an equal age of consent. Published Safer Sexy – the world’s first comprehensive guide to safer sex for gay/bisexual men. At the time, it was the most sexually explicit book ever published in Britain; pushing back the boundaries of state censorship.
Outed ten Church of England bishops in protest at church homophobia. This provoked the House of Bishops to condemn anti-gay prejudice and led Anglican leaders to begin their first serious dialogue with the LGBT community.
1996: Disrupted the Romanian National Opera’s performance of Aida at the Royal Albert Hall, in protest at Romania’s anti-gay laws.
1997: Organised Queer Remembrance Day ceremony at the Cenotaph, in remembrance of LGBT people murdered by the Nazis and those who died fighting fascism.
1998: Interrupted the Easter Sermon of the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, in protest at his support for laws that discriminate against queers. Convicted under the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860.
Exposed the escaped Nazi war criminal, SS Dr Carl Vaernet, who sought to eradicate homosexuality and conducted grisly medical experiments on gay concentration camp prisoners.
1999: With OutRage! colleagues, ambushed the motorcade of the Zimbabwean dictator, Robert Mugabe, in London; attempting a citizen’s arrest on charges of torture.
2001: Repeat attempt at a citizen’s arrest in Brussels resulted in him being beaten unconscious by Mugabe’s bodyguards; causing permanent minor brain and eye injuries.
2004: As an alternative to civil marriages and civil partnerships, proposed a Civil Commitment Pact – allowing couples to pick and mix from a menu of rights responsibilities, to create a tailor-made partnership agreement suited to their particular needs.
2007: Bashed by neo-Nazis and arrested at the Moscow Gay Pride parade in 2007. Returned to Moscow in 2009 and 2010 – arrested again.
2009: Campaigner of the Year, The Observer Ethical Awards
2010: Launched the Equal Love campaign to overturn the twin bans on same-sex civil marriages and opposite-sex civil partnerships.
Awarded a Blue Plaque, unveiled by Sir Ian McKellen.
2011: Appointed (unsalaried) Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation. Coordinated the Equal Love appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.
Four days before the Royal Wedding, protested outside Buckingham Palace that Prince William and Kate Middleton could get married but gay couples can’t.
Persuaded Commonwealth Secretary General, Kamalesh Sharma, to condemn homophobic persecution (the first Secretary General to do so).
For more information about Peter Tatchell’s campaigns and to make a donation: www.PeterTatchellFoundation.org
This article originally appeared in QX Magazine.