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Absolutely Loving Hating Peter Tatchell

Tom Winnifrith
Friday 3 September 2021

I challenge even those who dislike Peter Tatchell, who loathe his methods or who just don’t like homosexuals, to watch this film and not come away from it both liking and admiring the man. Those of us who think that that day, just over 50 years ago, when Peter arrived in Britain to escape being drafted by Australia to fight in Vietnam, was a very fortuitous day, for it has given us a true national treasure, start in a different place. Wherever you start, I suggest you go to Netflix as I did yesterday for a most riveting film.


Though I regard the gay rights and free speech campaigner as a hero, I pick him and the film up on two minor points. Firstly, there is the comical way in which Tatch seems to lose his Australian accent and acquire mockney tones when trying to get elected to Parliament in that infamous by-election. It is good that his natural accent has returned.


And secondly, the way that Tatch talks of the heroic acts of the LGBTQ+ or LGBT community at Stonewall and in early 70s protests. I discussed this a year ago with reference to the virtue signalling of a man I do not admire, Sadiq Khan, HERE. The word “Transgender” was first used in 1965 but was not in common parlance even in the LGB community until the mid and late 70s. There were very few Ts in the early 70s and certainly almost none, if any, at Stonewall, as per my earlier piece. It is a minor rewriting of history by Tatch but that is my last criticism.


The relationship between Tatch and his devoutly Christian family, notably his mother, is fascinating and the film even shows her on a TV show some forty years ago, with him, saying she wishes he was not gay. But the two have, very obviously, found a mutual understanding despite holding to their views and their love and pride in each other is really clear. It really is very touching indeed. Tatchell is also close to one half-sister who is his biggest fan, but other half-siblings do not appear in the film at all. I am left wondering what happened to them.


The film charts Tatchell’s battles from a sixth former through to today and with a promise that he will head to the World Cup in Qatar next year to be, almost certainly, arrested and beaten up yet again. As one sees the bodyguards of Mugabe smack him across the head or a Russian Ultra punch him in the face you do flinch and almost sense the pain and understand the lasting physical effects.


Perhaps the most interesting battle he fought was with the Church of England and many of you will remember Tatchell storming an Easter sermon by a stunned Archbishop George Carey. At the time, Carey was pretty hostile to Tatch but in this film he concedes that Peter is a man who history shows always to have been on the right side and a man he very obviously respects and admires.


I am not sure about Peter always being right. I have sparred on twitter with the great man on the subject of Israel where I think he is wrong. Some of his views on economics are ones I’d hoped the experiments in the eastern bloc would have shown to be nonsense.


But generally Tatch is right about most things. I think it is Carey who compares Tatchell to Jesus, not in a blasphemous way but in the way that he always fights for the poor, the most vulnerable, the sick and the oppressed. I cannot, as a believer in Jesus, fault that line at all.


One topical snippet deals with Tatchell on free speech and Pride. He organised the first Pride march in the UK but said that if someone wants to protest against such marches he would support his right to do that. Because free speech cannot be selective. A week after a gay man had to be escorted from Manchester Pride for his own safety because his T-shirt was of an organization that opposes the demands of radical Trans campaigners, I fear that the spirit of Tatchell is lost on some militants within the broader LGBTQ alliance.


A few years ago I arranged for Tatch to speak at my daughter’s posh North London girls’ school on the subject of freedom. She and her friends said that he was the most inspiring speaker they had heard all year. You sometimes forget some of the amazing protests he has made and causes he has fought for, not least, of course, in getting the government of Margaret Thatcher to take AIDS seriously and not to merely demonise gays as she did with the infamous Clause 28. As a Maggie fan, I cannot defend her on this matter.


Trust me you will, wherever you start from, come away from this film liking and admiring Tatchell. If you don’t you have no heart.

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About Tom Winnifrith
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Tom Winnifrith is the editor of TomWinnifrith.com. When he is not harvesting olives in Greece, he is (planning to) raise goats in Wales.
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