Controversial gay rights activist, Peter Tatchell, spoke about his life and work at Quay Arts Centre in Newport on Wednesday night in an event orgainised by local LGBT+ organisation, Out on an Island.
Peter Tatchell was born into a conservative Christian family in Melbourne, Australia, in 1952. He subsequently moved to London in 1971 to avoid conscription into the Australian army and having to fight in the Vietnam war.
In London, Peter became a member of the GLF (Gay Liberation Front) and helped organise Britain’s first Gay Pride March in 1972.
No stranger to controversy, in 1994 Peter attempted to expose what he regarded as ‘hypocrisy’ in the Church of England, when he threatened to ‘out’ 10 bishops he claimed were secretly gay. In 1998, he disrupted the Easter sermon of the then Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, to protest the opposition of the church to same-sex relationships.
In 2001, Tatchell claimed to have suffered brain damage after attempting a citizen’s arrest of Zimbabwean dictator, Robert Mugabe, after being assaulted by one of his bodyguards.
When asked at the meeting whether he regarded coming to the Isle of Wight as being akin to returning to the Britain of the 1950s, Peter compared the Island to the Australian Island state of Tasmania, which formerly had very conservative opinions, but was now one of the most progressive places in Australia. He believed times were changing.
Speaking exclusively to Island Echo after the event, the gay rights activist said:
“I would like to thank people from the Isle of Wight for making so much progress towards embracing and accepting the local LGBT community.
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“Years ago, the Isle of Wight was not an accepting place for gay people. Many did not feel welcome and left the Island. Now, some are coming back because the Island has become far more tolerant and inclusive.
“There are still issues to fight, such as LGBT inclusive sex education in schools. We have to do more to stop bullying of LGBT children in schools and to tackle the anxiety and depression that many of them feel.”
Peter Tatchell’s visit had attracted some local criticism due to his apparent endorsement of sexual relationships for youngsters below the age of 16.
In a letter to the Guardian in 1997, in defence of an academic book entitled Boy Love, Tatchell wrote:
“The positive nature of some child–adult sexual relationships is not confined to non-Western cultures. Several of my friends – gay and straight, male and female – had sex with adults from the ages of nine to 13. None feel they were abused. All say it was their conscious choice and gave them great joy. While it may be impossible to condone paedophilia, it is time society acknowledged the truth that not all sex involving children is unwanted, abusive and harmful.”
When challenged over the remarks above after the meeting, Peter Tatchell had no comment to make.