Tatchell, a pro freedom-from-criticism activist

What’s below started out as a comment on yet another blog post I ran across, supporting Peter Tatchell and (unsurprisingly) based entirely on a Tatchell-centric view of the world. It got long, so I thought it would be worth putting it up as it’s own post here. Those interested in reading up on the background of Peter’s repeated uninvited meddling can also find more at the following sites: (This is far from an exhaustive list)


This is not about identity politics. Or it wouldn’t be, except that Peter Tatchell makes it.

This is about white knighting. It’s about refusing to listen to marginalised groups who don’t want “help”. It’s about someone who plays the victim when people fail to show gratitude for uninvited and harmful interventions.

Ultimately, this is about Peter Tatchell trying to destroy anyone who does not worship him unconditionally.

What really happened was not someone taking undue offence at some imagined slight. An invite to speak alongside Peter Tatchell was declined, because the invitee disagreed with his views. This is hardly unusual – many people, myself included, who have seen Tatchell’s anti-free-speech methods, his hypocrisy and his attempts to intervene where his is not wanted share those views.

The response was swift and merciless: Tatchell used every available media outlet to complain he was being silenced and no platformed. To complain that a random person who owes him nothing would not spend time to exchange emails with him email and explain to him exactly why he was wrong. (She may have done, for all I know – Tatchell simply ignores any evidence put in front of him and acts like it wasn’t there) Articles in politics.co.uk, Daily Mail, Telegraph, Guardian and even on Newsnight all went on about Peter’s response to this terrible insult. Yet he was never uninvited from any event. The only person being no-platformed was the person who declined the invite. You could say they were no-platforming themselves.

And the only person guilty of publishing this terrible insult is Tatchell himself, taking a private and otherwise unpublished email and using it to destroy the reputation of an activist.

The fury is not about identity politics. It stems from Tatchell misrepresenting event after event to put himself in the best possible light, at the cost of everyone else. It stems from abuse of “free speech” in service of the media elite to mean the ability to arbitrarily demand the time and energy of others.

For those of who have seen this first hand, these accusations are far from absurd. Instead, the uncritical assumption that Tatchell’s views are the only acceptable ones neatly illustrate the terrifying reality: A white cis-gendered man has more power and influence than those they falsely claim to represent.

7 comments

  1. This whole situation is just all sad, it feels like we’ve all ended up in a mess without anyone (probably Peter and Fran themselves included) really wanting to arrive here. It’s so important that as diverse LGBT activists, we learn to treat each other with respect, even if we have vastly different views and *even if* we are offended.

    The criticisms of Peter, particularly in the article by Sarah Brown are very valid ones. I’ve debated with him 1:1 about 5 years ago regarding LGBTI issues in Iran, having been so frustrated at the generalisations of Iran and Iranians made by Peter and I found him intransigent to the point where it made me really frustrated and angry. Particularly, he has a very privileged position because of his prominence now, and he seems to forget this.

    Having said that:

    (a) none of those criticism make Peter a transphobe or a racist – just perhaps misguided, reactionary or foolish. To have asserted otherwise was really foolish in itself.

    (b) even if he was a transphobe or racist, I think it is tragic if the NUS LGBT officer isn’t able to take on basically any transphobe or racist in a fair debate – surely that is an *essential* part of that role? I totally appreciate that not everyone is in the mental or emotional state to be able to challenge transphobia or racism (hell knows I’m often not), but I do think someone who stands for election as a liberation officer has a duty to their constituency here.

    If Fran does choose to stand for re-election, she won’t be getting my vote. We deserve a representative who can challenge and debate. I appreciate that the sudden media attention and accompanied twitter abuse was not something she expected, and abuse should never be an acceptable part of the job.

    As a slight defence of Peter (though not really excusing him), if you had spent decades fighting against a system which throws *every* tool in its armoury at you, would you be a tad stubborn, difficult and perhaps even a little quick to generalise?

    I hope that somehow the wounds from this ongoing spat can be healed and our fractured movement can work together again – we have more in common with each other than we remember and the ‘real enemy’ is still very much out there.

    1. The problem is that debating extremist views legitimises those views. This is why there is an undending appetite to debate trans-eliminationist views: a small minority of people fervently wish to impose their views on all.

      Perhaps there was a time when vigorously debating pro-the right of trans people to exist was the right strategy – I am skeptical. I remember Outrage for their more combative tactics, not debates. In any case, it’s not the right strategy now, except among those who want trans rights repealed.

  2. A C Baker: we do need to listen to BAME and trans people on this issue, but please don’t lump all of us BAME (or trans) folk together. There is no single BAME or trans voice on these issues – there is great variation in what BAME people and trans people believe here.

    Narrativeeschatology: sure, we could have the debate about whether no-platforming Greer is right, but then we get onto refusing to debate with people who debate whether the strategy of no-platforming is right – which is what has happened here. Nobody in their right mind could say that Tatchell has trans-eliminationist views.

  3. I’d hazard a guess that had Fran Cowling replied to the invite with “no thanks, that Peter Tatchell is an absolute nightmare” there would have been, somewhat, less pushback.

    It would still be fairly odd. The criticisms you raise of Tatchell are in his approach to various issues and the whole point of the discussion seemed to be the approach to various issues. It sounds like the perfect place to tell him that his particular type of radical queerness is causing problems.

    But Fran didn’t do that. She neither merely declined, nor made criticisms of Tatchell. She tried to get Tatchell uninvited and did so on the basis that he was transphobic and racist. She didn’t criticise but name called and requested his removal qua NUS representative rather than in her own capacity. (I’m not party to the emails and in their absence I’ll proceed on the assumption that the summaries floating around are reasonably accurate).

    The transphobia accusation seems to stem from his being a signatory to the open letter to the Observer decrying “no platforming”. I entirely disagree that this letter was transphobic and anti-free speech. I am though, well aware that many take it as such and many who do take it as reason to “no platform” someone. So those of us outside the “no platforming” loop (i.e. not members of student union executives) see at once an increased willingness to “no platform” and a decreased threshold for being “no platformed”. It increasingly seems that the threshold is not “inciting hatred of on the grounds of race or LGTB+ status” but “being vaguely unorthodox in the region of race and LGTB+ issues”.

    As a result we have truly absurd situations. Like the Maryam Namazie event at Goldsmith’s. Here was an attempt to shut down someone speaking for human rights by an organisation at that time led by a virulent homophobe with the LGBTQ+ Society issuing a statement supporting the homophobe! Or like a white, non-muslim calling Maajid Nawaz all sorts (“porch monkey”, “Muslim validator”, “lapdog”), all with absolutely no trace of irony.

    Tatchell “broke” the story, but I think he untapped rather than caused the reaction.

    1. Unless he’s said something new recently that I haven’t run across yet, Tatchell has not claimed at any point that any attempt was made to get him disinvited him from the event. The statements he made on Newsnight would also suggest this was not the case.

      1. I’m reading the attempt to disinvite him from reports that Fran said she would only attend the event if he withdrew.

        Of course I’m interpreting an interpretation and might be getting Fran’s aims totally wrong. But absent any input from Fran (even secondhand) I can only go on reports.

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