Goldsmiths College award for 47 years of LGBTI & human rights activism
London – 11 September 2014
Full text of Peter Tatchell’s acceptance speech, on receiving a Honorary Fellowship of Goldsmiths College, University of London, presented to him by the Chair of Council, Baroness Estelle Morris, in a ceremony at the college on 10 September 2014.
Accepting the award, Peter Tatchell, Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation, said:
Chair of Council, Warden, honorary guests, members of faculty, family and friends, and fellow graduands, I am deeply moved to receive this Honorary Fellowship.
My gratitude to Professor Alan Downie for his most generous oration, and to Goldsmiths College for conferring on me this prestigious award.
I was hesitant about accepting such an honour. After all, my fellowship has not been earned by academic study, and I often have doubts about the significance of my contribution to human rights. Many others are much more deserving than me.
Nevertheless, after so many years of demonisation by the tabloid press, right-wingers, homophobes and even by some people on the left and in the LGBTI community, this recognition is much appreciated.
I dedicate my acceptance of this Honorary Fellowship to the people of Palestine, dispossessed from their own land, denied statehood and subjected to decades of Israeli occupation, annexation, bombardment, siege and imprisonment.
In all my 40-plus years of supporting peace with justice for the people of Palestine, I have witnessed repeated land grabs by Israel. These are still happening.
This is a human rights issue.
I urge you to boycott Israeli products and to lobby your MP and the UK government to halt all military aid to Israel until it withdraws fully from the occupied territories and ends the siege of Gaza.
Equally, of course, there should be a boycott of Arab tyrannies like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria – and human rights abuses by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority must stop.
I pay particular tribute to the heroic, inspirational Palestinian activists in villages like Bil’in who are resisting Israeli abuses non-violently and who are committed to a state where Jews and Arabs can live together in peace and equality.
I deplore the violent methods used by Israel to suppress their peaceful protests and just demands.
I salute the human rights defenders of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights and B’Tselem, who challenge human rights abuses by both sides – Israel and Palestine.
I walk in their shadow, humbled by their exemplary, impartial witness and defence of human rights.
In terms of my own humanitarian work:
I’m not special or unique. I do my bit for social justice, but so do many others. Together, through our collective efforts – despite the setbacks we have recently witnessed in Gaza, Ukraine, Syria and Iraq – we are slowly, but surely, helping make a better world – a world more just and free.
My key political inspirations are Mohandas Gandhi, Sylvia Pankhurst, Martin Luther King and, to some extent, Malcolm X and Rosa Luxemburg. I’ve adapted many of their ideas and methods to the contemporary struggle for human rights – and invented a few of my own.
I began campaigning in my home town of Melbourne, Australia, in 1967, aged 15.
My first human rights campaign was against the death penalty, followed by campaigns in support of Aboriginal rights and in opposition to conscription and the Australian and US war against the people of Vietnam.
In 1969, on realising that I was gay, the struggle for queer freedom became an increasing focus of my activism.
After moving to London in 1971, I became an activist in the Gay Liberation Front; organising sit-ins at pubs that refused to serve queers, and organising protests against police harassment and the medical classification of homosexuality as an illness.
I was roughed up and forcibly ejected when I challenged the world famous psychologist, Professor Hans Eysenck, during a lecture in 1972, where he advocated electric shock aversion therapy to supposedly ‘cure’ homosexuality.
The following year, in East Berlin, I was arrested and interrogated by the secret police – the Stasi – after staging the first gay rights protest in a communist country.
I have continued in the same vein for four decades, with many controversial protests: such as taking over the pulpit and condemning Dr George Carey, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, on Easer Sunday 1998, over his support for legal discrimination against LGBTI people.
Plus two attempted citizen’s arrests of President Mugabe of Zimbabwe, confronting Mike Tyson face-to-face over his homophobia, and outing 10 Church of England Bishops in 1994.
The bishops were outed, not because they were gay but because they were hypocrites. They colluded with the church’s anti-gay stance in public but were gay in private. They were outed because of their homophobia and hypocrisy, not because of their homosexuality.
I was widely criticised at the time. Critics said I had no real evidence that the bishops were gay. Not true. I had the evidence. I was gratified some years later when a doctor approached me to confirm that he knew one of the bishops was definitely gay. He told me that the unnamed bishop was a patient and once came to his surgery with a rectal problem. The doctor asked the bishop to show him where the problem was. Dropping his trousers and pointing to his bottom the bishop said: “It’s here, just by the entrance.” To which the doctor replied: “Excuse me bishop, most us call it the exit.”
Looking back on my 47 years of human rights campaigning, my advice, for what it’s worth, is this:
Be sceptical, question authority, be a rebel. Don’t conform and never be ordinary. Shun the mob, think for yourself. Be your own special creation.
Remember, all human progress is the result of far-sighted people challenging orthodoxy and tradition. Thanks to innovators and reformers – often people who have taken on rich, powerful, established interests – most of us have better lives and more opportunities than our forebears.
For the sake of yourself and future generations:
Be daring, show imagination, take risks. Be a radical for peace, social justice, freedom and equality.
Fight against the greatest human rights violation of all: free market capitalism, which has created a world divided into rich and poor, where the 85 richest people in the world have as much wealth as the poorest 50 per cent of the global population.
In Britain, the richest 1,000 people have a combined personal wealth of £450 billion.
Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of impoverished people in developing countries are malnourished, homeless and without clean drinking water – and tens of millions die from hunger and preventable diseases.
My motto is: Don’t accept the world as it is. Dream of what the world could be – and then help make it happen.
Whoever you are and whatever your field of endeavour, be a change-maker for the upliftment of humanity.
To quote my fellow sodomite and socialist Oscar Wilde:
“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”
Read more about Peter Tatchell’s four decades of human rights campaigning here: http://www.petertatchell.net/biography.htm
And about his current campaigns here: www.petertatchellfoundation.org