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+TALK: PETER TATCHELL

The following is s transcript of the conversation between Karl Schmid and Peter Tatchell.

KARL
Over five decades of activism next. Peter, you were a teenager, you were like 15 years old when you began to campaign for human rights where did this come from at that age for you?

PETER
It’s hard to say because my family were very poor traditional working class. My father was a factory worker, neither of my parents had any interest in politics or social issues. I think looking at my childhood, the most significant event that I can pinpoint is in 1963 when I was 11 years old. I heard about the bombing of a black church in Birmingham, Alabama, where four young girls, about my own age, were murder by white racists. And that really profoundly shocked me.

KARL
And what about when you sort of had your personal realization that you were gay, did a shift occur in how you approached activism and what you looked at as far as fighting for, or being outspoken about, did you feel a change when you accepted who you were personally?

PETER
Well, I realized I was gay, came out, and began campaigning for LGBT+ rights in 1969 when I was 17 years old. There were no LGBT+ organizations, not even any help, let alone campaign groups. So I took my cue from the black civil rights movement. I thought that’s how you do activism.

KARL
You have a groundbreaking book, AIDS: A Guide to Survival. It really was sort of described as the world’s first self-help guide to help people with HIV, wasn’t it?

PETER
That’s right, at that time, the prevailing view was if you got HIV, it was a death sentence. There was nothing you could do, you just had to curl up and die. So I tried to challenge that by saying that there were in those days, no cures, but there were strategies whereby people could mentally cope better, could get mental and emotional reinforcement to cope with a diagnosis. And also just various things that people could do that would reduce the chances of development into AIDS and reduce the severity and length of opportunistic infections. It was groundbreaking and I know from the feedback I got that it really did enable a lot of people who felt utterly hopeless and despairing. It did give them hope and it did give them the confidence to make the changes in their life which did prolong their life. And in some cases, some of those people are fortunately still alive today.

KARL
Yeah, I mean, it still is remarkable to me that in this day and age, we still have such stigma associated and fear and such misinformation surrounding HIV. You went on a year later to really launch the world’s first organization dedicated to defending the human rights of people with HIV, the UK AIDS Vigil Organization. Does it shock you that we are still where we’re at when it comes to HIV, AIDS, and people’s rights and the way those of us like myself who are living with HIV are treated?

PETER
We formed the UK AIDS Vigil Organization just a little bit before Act Up was set up in New York. So very, very similar time but we were very much not focused on treatment, which of course Act Up was, but primarily on human rights. And we end up drafting what became the world’s first AIDS and human rights charter in late 1987 and organizing the world’s first AIDS and human rights conference in January, 1988 to coincide with the world health minister’s summit on AIDS which took place in London. I am astonished that even today there is still ignorance about HIV. There’s a lot of fear, a lot of stigmatization, but as so many people with HIV and AIDS have shown, you can now survive it with the new drug treatments and you live a good quality life. In fact, your life expecting to would be more or less the same as that of someone without HIV.

KARL
Yeah, absolutely. Let’s talk about the documentary hating Peter Tatchell, I loved it. So there you go. There’s the opposite to the title. I love watching Peter Tatchell, how did this documentary come about?

PETER
Well, the director, Christopher Amos came to me in 2015 expressing the view that he was surprised there’d never been a documentary about my often groundbreaking LGBT+ and other human rights work. So he was really surprised and he said, look, you know, I really wanna make something. I wanna make a film to tell your story. And as he began to do his research, he was really shocked at the level of hatred and vitriol directed against me. Mostly by homophobes and far-right extremists, so that’s how the name Hating Peter Tatchell came about. And Chris had his agenda and I gave him complete editorial independence. I didn’t collaborate with him apart from giving him tips on where he could find research, archive material, and of course the trip to Moscow in 2018, when I staged the protest outside the Kremlin on the opening day of the World Cup to challenge president Putin over the persecution of LGBT+ people, particularly in Chechnya. So really the documentary is Chris’s baby. I collaborated because I want to show that social change is possible and how you can possibly do it. I want to show that a new generation is needed and that these were tips or ideas on how they could carry forward the process of social change.

KARL
What was it like when you saw the first cut of it and you kind of watched it all back and watching yourself and what you do?

PETER
Well, I suppose to start with that, I was just sort of perhaps a bit gobsmacked that I’d been going for so long. ‘Cause it’s not, I don’t really think much about what I’ve done in the past. I’m always looking forward to the present and the future.

KARL
What advice do you have for the next generation, as you say, the next wave of young activists. If someone is young watching this who feels real passionate about something, whether it’s Black Lives Matter in this country, whether it’s equality, whatever it might be, what are some wise words of wisdom from the great Peter Tatchell that you could share?

PETER
But of course the most important thing is don’t just walk on by and look the other way. Take a stand, challenge prejudice when you see it. You don’t have to necessarily be aggressive or loud about it, just quietly challenge someone when they say sexist or racist or homophobic remarks. Get involved in an organization. There are loads of organizations out there and of course we, as individuals, can make a difference, but we collectively can make an even bigger difference. So get involved with an organization about an issue that concerns you and do your bit because all our collective bits, that’s what makes for social change. And I have seen in my life how social change is possible. Britain today, or the world today is so far different from when it was when I was growing up in the 1960s. And I’m so proud to have been a small part of that. But only a small part, because it’s been together with others that we’ve made that change possible.

KARL
I love it, Peter Tatchell, thank you so much for your time. So glad we got to have this chat and a real treat and an honor personally, just to meet you, even though we’re via Skype. The documentary’s phenomenal and and thank you for everything you’ve done for people like me and so many others. Peter Tatchell thanks so much.

PETER
Thank you, and I’ll finish with my motto, which is very simple. Don’t accept the world as it is, dream of what the world could be and then help make it happen.

KARL
I love it. Thank you, sir. This has been a real treat. I mean it, thank you very much for making the time this evening to talk to us.

PETER
My pleasure.

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