Hating Peter Tatchell
26 Jun 2022
Peter Tatchell, Ian McKellen, Stehen Fry, George Carey
To hate Peter Tatchell you must first know Peter Tatchell. For those of us who up to now still haven't had the pleasure, this documentary aims to fill us in with some backstory, to round out the person of just who Peter Tatchell is, and why love him or hate him, he has become such an important figure in the gay rights movement.
Of course, not everybody hates Peter Tatchell, especially within this documentary where almost all of the talking heads are busy saying nice things about him, even the ones who used to class him as an adversary. Stephen Fry calls him 'a performance artist'; Elton John (who also executively produced this film alongside his husband David Furnish) says that 'the whole gay community owes him'; and even George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury whose sermon Tatchell hijacked, compares him to a Jesus like figure. Hating Peter Tatchell then is a choice, much like homophobia, and reserved for those who either don't know him, don't understand him, or don't agree with his views, lifestyle or tactics in getting the LGBTQ+ message across.
The basis of the film, Hating Peter Tatchell lies mainly in an interview with the man in question, led by none other than Sir Ian McKellen. Other figures from the gay rights movement are brought in from time to time to give their voice to the proceedings, but mostly we get to hear it from the horse's mouth. Old newsreel footage is played along with the voice-over to take us back to Australia and Peter's youth, then through his formative years as he emigrated to London and carved out a path for himself in various programs of civil unrest.
The story of Peter's life is inextricably linked with the story of gay rights activism in Britain and as such it is impossible to tell one without telling the other. What we get then is a potted history of the gay rights movement from the founding of the Gay Liberation Front, to the first Gay Pride parade, to the Bermondsey by-election, then the AIDS crisis and the creation of the OutRage! and Stonewall organisations. Peter is there at every turn, getting himself seen, making himself heard, and being enough of a nuisance to the establishment that he finds himself a target for physical violence, verbal abuse and assassination of character.
It is part of Peter's appeal that every time he gets knocked down he gets back up again, dusts himself off, and get right back on the campaign trail to fight for his and others' rights. There is plenty of footage in the documentary of just this sort of thing happening, especially when facing off against Robert Mugabe's goons, and it's easy to see why some, even in the LGBTQ+ community, question his methods when he makes a point of getting right up in people's faces. This came to a head when Tatchell outed ten Church of England bishops, citing their hypocrisy in the oppression of others as a reason to do it, losing him some admirers and earning him some 'haters' as a result. But still he kept his resolve and never lost focus of the main goal – to create a fairer, more accepting society for everyone.
Despite its title and the antagonistic nature of most of Peter's methods, Hating Peter Tatchell still manages to come across as a gentle and tender documentary. Footage and interview with Peter's mum, whose religious views have always conflicted with her son's lifestyle, help show the humanity and understanding that can be offered from both sides, and Sir Ian McKellen's interview is always laced with respect, awe and admiration for how much Peter has achieved in his lifetime.
The documentary itself may not win any awards for its insightfulness and it plays mostly as a greatest hits collection for Peter to reminisce over. There is a limited scope as the only voices talking back at him and questioning his strategy or validity are all from the past and of course must remain there. It is powerful to see how far society has come and how it is still running to catch up with Peter's surety of vision, but with such a tight focus there's not a lot of room in the film for the wider diaspora to get their say.
Still, for those who know him or for those who don't, for those who think him a saviour or those who think him a nuisance, Hating Peter Tatchell gives us enough to consider and enough to inform us of how hard the fight has been for the LGBTQ+ community just to get their voices heard. This is a decent profile of a thoroughly decent man and serves as a useful introduction to gay rights activism in Britain.
The main message from Peter Tatchell is one of acceptance and when he says, “I love freedom, equality and justice,” it must surely be impossible for anyone to hate that.