Out Profile: A Living Saint
About ten years ago, my husband Mike and I had the pleasure and privilege of having dinner in London with legendary LGBT rights activist Peter Tatchell. I have met many activists over the years — many deeply committed and sincere persons who have sacrificed much to further our LGBT struggle for liberation and equality, but none quite like Peter. I have never met another person whose life is so utterly and completely subsumed by the struggle, and who is so entirely without the slightest hesitation to ignore danger in that struggle. I fully believe, without the slightest shadow of doubt, that Peter would calmly walk straight into his own death if he believed it was necessary to advance the liberation of LGBT people anywhere. Indeed he has as much as done so several times already. He has been very seriously injured as a result. It is something of a miracle that he is still alive.
Peter is evidently hard to kill however, and yet again has gone to Moscow to protest the treatment of gays in Russia and Chechnya. On a pervious protest in Moscow, Peter was so severely beaten by neo-Nazis that he incurred permanent brain damage. This didn’t stop him though, and no one who knows him would think it might. Taking the spotlight on Moscow caused by the World Cup festivities as an opportunity, Peter, an army of one, took position near Red Square holding a sign reading: “Putin fails to act against Chechnya torture of gay people.” He was of course arrested at once.
Peter Tatchell is a one man protest
This time he wasn’t beaten. The Russians wouldn’t want that kind of bad publicity during the World Cup. After a brief interview he was released and said, “I was exercising my lawful right to protest, under the Russian constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression and the right to protest in Articles 29 and 31. A one-person protest, which is what I did, requires no permission from the authorities and the police.”
“Getting arrested is standard for Russians who protest for LGBT+ rights or against corruption, economic injustice and Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its bombing of civilians in Syria.”
“Unlike brave Russian protesters, I have the ‘protection’ of a British passport, which means I have been treated more leniently than they are. My fate was mild compared to what often happens to Russians who dare to challenge the Putin regime. I am awed by their courage.”
“President Putin has failed to condemn and act against the homophobic witch-hunts in Chechnya, which have seen scores of LGBT+ people arrested and tortured, with some even being killed.”
“I feel a respect for him that goes beyond anything I could put into words.”
I don’t agree with Peter about everything. He thinks the monarchy should be abolished, for example, whereas I am an ardent supporter. However, even though I have only met him once — only spent a few hours in his company, I can honestly say I love that man. I feel a respect for him that goes beyond anything I could put into words. People such as myself who go to demonstrations and help found LGBT publications, and write checks as well as writing a lot of opinions, serve, I suppose, a purpose in the struggle. But when I compare myself to Peter Tatchell, I am deeply aware that I have done nothing worthy of the name of sacrifice. I have never compromised my comfortable life or repeatedly put myself in real danger.
Since Peter devotes himself full time to LGBT activism, on that occasion when we were together I asked him “what do you actually live on?” He just smiled and said “oh, sometimes American magazines buy me dinner.” It reminded me of medieval monk, profound in his belief, saying “The Lord will provide.” Peter is indeed a holy warrior of our modern time — a living saint whom we mere mortals cannot hope to emulate. But he continually (and often uncomfortably) reminds us by his example that there is so very much more that we could do.
Toby Grace is Out In Jersey Magazine’s Editor Emeritus.