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New Internationalist

Rax Interview with Peter Tatchell

In July, New Internationalist will publish the Rax Active Citizenship Toolkit. It is aimed primarily at teachers and students of Citizenship Studies in UK schools but in fact it can be used by anyone seeking to engage more actively in the world around them.

The Toolkit is a landmark in textbook innovation, graphic style, approach to content and attitudes to learning. It also contains exclusive interviews with a range of voices, from popstars and politicians to young active citizens. Over the coming weeks we will be posting the full text of the Rax interviews.

Peter Tatchell is a well- known human rights and LGBT activist. He has run as a candidate for the Labour Party and currently is affiliated with the Green Party. Amongst many spectacular and risky direct actions, he has tried to make a citizen's arrest on President Mugabe twice for human rights abuses and torture. The Rax team caught up with Peter in March 2010.

What is your campaign aiming to achieve?

My goal is a society without homophobic prejudice, discrimination and violence, where lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people have full acceptance and total equality. But a post-homophobic society is not enough. I want a new sexual democracy, which banishes erotic shame and anti-sex laws, and which no longer judges people by their sexual orientation. My vision is sexual freedom and human rights for everyone - where the labels queer, bisexual and straight become irrelevant because no one cares who sleeps with who.

What campaigning methods have you used?

I often work within the system, by writing letters to MPs and newspapers, lobbying government ministers, organising petitions and doing phone, email and fax blitzes. But when this doesn't work, I step outside the system and break the rules. My political inspirations are people like Mahatma Gandhi, Sylvia Pankhurst, Martin Luther King and, to some extent, Malcolm X. They used direct action and civil disobedience protests as a way of overturning injustice. I have adapted their methods and invented a few of my own, including: in 1994 outing 10 Church of England bishops who opposed gay equality; two attempted citizen's arrests of the Zimbabwean tyrant, President Robert Mugabe (1999 and 2001); interrupting the 1998 Easter Sunday sermon of the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, over this support for homophobic discrimination; and in 1994 ambushing the motorcade of Prime Minister John Major in protest at his opposition to an equal age of consent for gay men (he supported 18, we wanted equality at 16).

What impact has your campaigning had?

In the 1980s, Britain had more anti-gay laws than any other country. A combination of lobbying and protest changed all that. During the last decade, nearly all homophobic laws have been repealed - the biggest, fastest and most successful law reform campaign in British history. We've also changed the way institutions like the media, police and schools treat LGBT people. Public opinion has shifted too, with only one-third of the population still anti-gay. Millions more LGBT people have come out, creating queer visibility and thereby helping to undermine ignorance about same-sex relationships.

What would be your key advice for young people seeking to make a change in their world through campaigning?

Follow your conscience. Do what you believe to be right. Don't follow the mob or do something just because it is popular. Think for yourself. If you want to change something, identify what needs to change and why. Draw up a plan of action. Find allies. Be patient and determined. Change often doesn't come overnight. Act confident. It will inspire others. Be imaginative and creative in your methods. Don't play safe. It's usually boring and ineffective. Show boldness and take a few risks. If you are being stonewalled and fobbed off, get a bit radical and feisty. Breaking the rules and shaking up the system may be necessary to secure social change. If you have setback, don't be deterred. Try again. Who dares wins. You can make a difference.

Learn more/get involved:

www.petertatchell.net

www.outrage.org.uk 

www.tatchellrightsfund.org


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