Talking to Peter Tatchell

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Talking to Peter Tatchell

Peter Tatchell is a well-known human rights activist. He talks to Cristiana Moisescu about the British elections, his inspirations and trying to arrest Robert Mugabe.

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© Peter Tatchell

You’ve been a human rights activist since the late 1960s – why?

I love other people and I love justice, equality and freedom. These things and my natural optimism keep me going. There have been some problems in history, but good always wins in the end. I’ve worked on many campaigns where we have won great victories eg. against apartheid in South Africa, the US war in Vietnam and against communist control in the Soviet countries.

Also, I’ve been very happy to help thousands of victims of human rights abuses. It has often been very difficult, but I get energy from the success and this inspires me to continue.

Why did you start?

I was a teenager in the 1960s. I was inspired by the courage of the black civil rights movement in the US – especially by Martin Luther King. I also tried nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience to get political change.

Also, Mohandas Gandhi and Sylvia Pankhurst inspired me. I have used some of their ideas and ways of protesting in my fight for human rights – and I have created some new ways.

Your family was conservative. What was it like when you were growing up?

My family were working-class conservatives. They were almost Christian fundamentalists. The family and the church were the centre of their life.

My parents were not interested in politics. They did not like me being an activist when I was a teenager. My stepfather said God chose the powerful in the world. I replied: Hitler and Stalin? And my stepfather beat me. But after about 30 years, my parents began to understand and respect my work.

How do you feel about the British elections in May?

The general election will be ridiculous because of the unfair, anti-democratic voting system. Our system 'first-past-the-post' worked well when there were only two parties. But it does not work when we have more than five important parties.

The next parliament, like all parliaments before, will not represent voters. Millions of people who vote for smaller parties like the Greens will get few MPs. From 1955-2005, no British government got more than 50% of the vote. In 2005, Labour got 35per cent of the vote but 55 per cent of the seats in parliament. That’s not democratic. We need a different system - a form of proportional representation like in the Scottish elections.

What do you think is the biggest fight for human rights at the moment?

There are many: to end global poverty and stop climate destruction. To empower women and girls (half the world and the largest oppressed social group in the world).

To support Muslims around the world, who are the victims of Islamist extremism. And to defend freedoms that are being lost in the fight against terrorism. You don’t defend freedom by reducing it.

Why do you think so many people do not accept LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bi-, trans- and intersex) people?

Mostly because of organized religion. Religions make people discriminate against LGBTI people. I think this is strange.

The centre of most religions is love and compassion. But most religious leaders tell people to discriminate against LGBTI people. They choose very small bits from religious books to support this, and often change them.

Also, many people seem to need a minority group to hate. This makes them feel better. In history, people have often seen people who are different from them as ‘the enemy’.

The victims are minority races, religions, ethnicities and sexualities. Leaders like [Vladimir] Putin in Russia and [Yoweri] Museveni in Uganda are trying to get people to hate the LGBTI community so their people don’t see the mistakes their governments are making.

What are you most proud of?

I tried to arrest the Zimbabwean Robert Mugabe. I did not succeed, but because of this, more people understood about his human rights abuses.

The work you do needs a lot of time and energy, and you’ve had problems. Do you ever feel lonely?

I am too busy to get lonely. On the campaigns, I work with lots of interesting, kind people. I usually work 14 to 16 hours a day, seven days a week. I haven't had a holiday for seven years. I get a lot of hate emails and death threats from people who abuse human rights. It’s a difficult life, but good to help. I am happy that I have wonderful, supportive friends.

When were you most afraid?

In Brussels in 2001, I was beaten unconscious by President Mugabe’s people as I tried to make a citizen’s arrest because of torture. And again in Moscow in 2007, I was beaten by neo-Nazis when I supported the Russian LGBTI activists who wanted a Gay Pride march. Both times, I thought I would die. It is lucky that I only had minor brain and eye damage.

Which person would you like to disappear?

No-one. But I would like prejudice, inequality, war, and poverty to disappear. I want people who abuse human rights to see the wrong they are doing and start to defend human rights. I think we should forgive.

Peter Tatchell is Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation.

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: http://newint.org/columns/finally/2015/05/01/peter-tatchell-long/ (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).