Nikolay Alekseev: The visionary Peter Tatchell

January 25, 2012
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Nikolay Alekseev, the Founder of Moscow Pride and GayRussia, writes for about his work with Peter Tatchell on his 60th birthday.

Writing these lines, I was trying to remember on which occasion I first heard about Peter Tatchell. I cannot remember simply because in the last 45 years Peter has been on all the fronts. His early campaigns with the Gay Liberation Front, with Outrage!, but also his citizen’s arrest of despotic Robert Mugabe put him on all the fronts. He took part in every fight. Even in Eastern Berlin when he organized the first Rainbow March behind the Iron Curtain in 1973 Berlin.

Peter is a visionary. He has this capacity to understand how to take a problem and drive the maximum public attention to it in order to make the society think and force the politicians to address it. A recent example is the campaign “Equal Love” he launched for the opening of same sex marriage in the UK. Finally, the government agreed to review the definition of marriage and open it to same-sex couples.

Peter reached the status of an icon without compromising and by keeping his independence. As an ally of his own beliefs, he will not support any political force which does not fit in his demands. That made him unique.

And when the Queen recently presented an MBE to an LGBT activist, probably more due to opportunistic reasons rather than agreeing on one name, it did not go to him. But in fact, it could not go to him simply because he would have rejected any such award. In order to avoid a denial, the question was not even asked.

Simultaneously, Peter is the only one of the prominent LGBT activists in the UK who has never been invited at any of Number 10’s LGBT parties. Perhaps because everyone knows that he would be asking questions which could only be answered in the way diplomats usually speak. Neither with yes, nor with no.

I praise him for his anti-establishment attitude.

The man disturbs and that’s how it has to be.

As I always told those who criticize him: Ask people for the name of one LGBT activist, they will name Peter. If you don’t like this fact, do better. If you can simply talk behind the computer instead of acting, then shut up. And for those who do not agree with me, show me what you did. Every man and woman are born with brains, and the excuse that some could be born in London, New York or Russian Siberia is not enough to say “I cannot do anything, I cannot change things”.

Peter is Britain’s best known human rights campaigner and probably the world’s most known LGBT activist thanks to an unstoppable 45 years career behind him. But also thanks to his work.

He will be in all the fights in which he believes and not those which necessarily bring the spotlight. If you haven’t heard of his other plea it is simply because they are not advertised in the media. But you will find his name in those campaigns as well.

Once I discussed with him his work on gays asking asylum in the UK. I told him: “Peter you are helping so many people, you should at least ask them to take part in your public protests in order to increase participation”. To which he replied something like: “I am helping them cause they need help and I cannot force them to go on the streets”.

Some years ago, he declined a pretty nice pay cheque for taking part in Big Brother. His life is packed with campaigns and ideas. His only luxury is probably his bicycle.

What’s so amazing is not just many of his actions, it’s the fact that he is a man who keep showing up. In the LGBT community, activists often come and leave relatively quickly. They rarely stay long especially when they are very active. Actually, it’s a fair point. One cannot ask people to dedicate their entire life for a cause. This is not what pays the utilities bills and the rent.

Peter could have for sure got one of those very well paid job in one of the Gay Inc. NGO but he would never want to lose his independence of mind and his revolutionary attitude. Once someone pays, you get dependent on sponsors. In a way, you become the fool in the hands of a few rather than the one who keeps the hand on the agenda.

There are too few activists who can lead changes in the society and Peter is one of them.

But there are downsides. It is not easy. The fame earned is not much and often more counterproductive. It weights nothing compared to the hits you get. You cannot be energized by this. It is nothing.

Peter is kind of well trained and well experienced machine. With him, there is always a plan A, a plan B and a plan C. And if that’s not enough, he will figure out quickly how to organize a plan D. Press Release will go and immediate attention of media will be required – if not imposed. In all simplicity.

I treasure dearly the chance I had to meet him. And I will always remember it. I always live with the principle not to become a fan of someone, not to make someone my own hero. I want to be myself as only like that people can move this world forward. But I must admit that Peter’s life and activism influenced me the most in my own life and fights.

We met in July 2005 during the London Gay Pride march and our story started from this moment as I introduced him to the initiative I had put together to organize the First Moscow Pride Festival in May 2006. He accepted to give his support to this event from Day 1. And he always answered positively to all our invitations to Moscow since then. His support has always been unconditional and complete. Even after he was severely injured in 2007 in Moscow – severely beaten by a skinhead while taking part to our second attempt to organize a Pride March. But he came back. In the last 6 years, he missed only 1 year.

Peter is very strong in his spirits but he is also very simple. He dedicates all his time to his fights. I hardly remember having a chance of sipping vodka or having a normal full dinner at a restaurant with him in all the years I have known him.

I will never forget him sleeping on the billiard table during Moscow Pride before the Eurovision Song contest in Moscow in May 2009. There was no spare bed but he did not mind as soon as after this short sleep he could again wake up and fight for a better world.

Peter is a simple and true hero.

More: Europe, Russia

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