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Peter Tatchell: For the record

Thursday 25-02-2016 - 12:18

Many of you will have seen my name in the national press and on social media over the past fortnight, and many of you will have read that I, and NUS as an organisation, have ‘no-platformed’ Peter Tatchell. I would like to reconfirm, as was expressed in the original email exchange with Peter, that this is not the case.

In an email to the event organiser, I personally declined an invitation to attend the ‘Re-Radicalising Queers’ event held at Canterbury Christ Church University on 15 February, where Peter would be giving the keynote address and sitting on the panel. I stated that I would not be comfortable, as I believe that Peter has not always acted in the best interests of trans, Muslim and Black communities, who experience disproportionate levels of discrimination and marginalisation within the LGBT movement and wider society. In addition, I provided the evidence which informed my opinion.

I did not seek to make my opinion of Peter public, nor have I claimed that my membership share my views, or shared the original emails between myself and the organiser with anyone else outside of NUS. Indeed, the only individuals I shared this belief with was the principal organiser of the event, who then shared my views with Peter. The decision to bring this situation into the public domain was never mine, it was that of Peter himself.

Peter has a long history of campaigning as a Gay and Human Rights activist. That history is undisputed. He has dedicated his life to campaigning on issues he is passionate about, and has positioned himself as a prominent figure within the LGBT movement. However, while Peter is a well-known and celebrated activist, I do not believe this means he is beyond critique, and I certainly do not think he has been right in this instance. Peter has arguably used questionable tactics in the past to achieve his aims, and, at times, used his public profile to advocate political positions which are not in the best interests of those he claims to represent. In my case, he has used his platform - which is considerably larger than mine - to denounce me as an LGBT activist purely because I do not wish to engage with him and do not agree with some of his views and tactics.

Over the last week, Peter has repeatedly claimed that I did not provide evidence to support my beliefs “because there is none”. However, as academics and activists argue, racism, islamophobia and transphobia do not amount to individual acts of violence by ignorant or bigoted people. These are systems of oppression, deeply ingrained within our society, which can be upheld in subtle as well as overt ways. Indeed, by signing the Observer letter, I believe Peter tacitly endorsed the right of individuals to espouse hate speech on campuses where vulnerable trans students may be affected. Whilst signing this letter may not amount to transphobia, it was Peter’s reaction to trans activists in the aftermath which truly informed my beliefs. Rather than accepting the understandable anger and betrayal felt by trans people at being undermined by a presumed ‘ally’, Peter situated himself as the ‘victim’. This leads me to believe that his politics are not truly focused on the advocacy of trans rights – rather, on the representation of himself as a trans ally.

It is no secret that the LGBT community is rife with racism and islamophobia, and as an elected representative it is my duty to listen to individuals who have lived experience of these issues.  Many Black LGBT activists have highlighted and warned of Peter’s history of problematic behaviour and beliefs. Indeed, these activists called on others to cease working with him and I believe it is important to take into account their voices, given that they do not share the same power or platform as Peter. Thus, in declining to attend the event my aim was to stand in solidarity with marginalised groups within the LGBT community - and I stand by my decision.

I understand that it might be difficult when you are a public figure that has spent much of your life campaigning in the interests of many, to hear that you are wrong. I also find it difficult when I am challenged. But I think it is important to accept criticism and take the opportunity to revisit your position, accepting that your views may need to change in order to be truly representative.

I was not prepared for my opinion to be shared so publicly, or for the media coverage that has ensued. I have been given unreasonable timelines, I have been lied about in that national press, and have had every single aspect of my life under scrutiny ever since. The last email I received from Peter requested an apology and stated explicitly that he would ‘leave it at that’. Less than 24 hours later I was sent a press request from the Observer stating Peter had shared the content of the emails with them and asking for a response as to why NUS had ‘no platformed’ Peter Tatchell. I did not ask to be hounded via social media and be expected to explain my sexuality and gender identity to people I am not ready to talk to. This may affect and change my family dynamics, and it may also seek to end some significant and important relationships in my life. I am sad that it has come to this when there was always the choice for it not to. It is not just my reputation at stake here; it is my family and life. While Peter may not condone the treatment I have received from some, I would argue that an activist with his years of experience in the public domain should have known that this media frenzy would be inevitable, and I hope that on reflection he can see that this was not a reasonable move on his part.

On a final note I would just like to say a huge thank you to all those who have reached out to me in solidarity, from across the world, regardless of whether or not they knew me. Your kindness and support has been invaluable over the last week, at a time when I have not been able to speak for myself.

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