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Gair Rhydd meets: Peter Tatchell

By George Cook

Peter Tatchell is synonymous with the fight for LGBT+ and human rights around the world. He has been a pivotal figure in various equality campaigns for 50 years and has inspired significant social transformations in the face of both abuse and admiration around the world. He has confronted bigotry, hatred and injustice with determination, and has been beaten unconscious for doing so.

But after several decades, what has endured is his bravery and devotion to confront inequality and injustice wherever it manifests itself, even if that means endangering his own life. Yet, he does so in the hope that others will benefit greatly from his own endeavours and sacrifices.

I have long admired Peter Tatchell, and this interview was a chance to discuss how far society has come. But it was also an opportunity to talk with him about how he believes many people can’t seek mere parity within society as it currently exists, because it does not provide the apparatus to conceive a world that is truly equal for all people.

Many are familiar with Tatchell’s campaigns for LGBT+ rights in a number of countries around the world, but he also has many others and I was fortunate enough to gain an insight into why Peter Tatchell and his Foundation advocates so strongly for such causes.

A campaign that has become increasingly relevant over the past few years is for ‘economic democracy’, and Peter stated, “we expect political democracy, why not economic democracy too”. This demonstrates his strong desire to radically transform society so that it is more beneficial to all, not just the rich and powerful who make Britain “a de-facto economic dictatorship.” In order to combat this, Tatchell proposes that employees and ordinary citizens have a say in big corporate decisions, and that any company with “more than 100 employees have to have on their management board at least one third employee and consumer directors”, he stated.

Furthermore, Tatchell said, “such a system would give employees a direct input into top management so that their issues can be taken directly to the board.” He believes this will result in better conditions for employees and stronger economic output, and it is also something that should “apply to public institutions like the NHS.” He did admit that it “may make decision making more complex, but the long-term benefits would be more prudent decisions that took better account of the interests of employees and consumers.” Tatchell continued, “it’s time that corporate recklessness and negligence was made a specific criminal offence like other professions like doctors…if we had such a law years ago then I’m certain the bosses of BHS and Carillion would not have made the irresponsible decisions that they did”.

Tatchell is passionate about campaigning for a fairer economic system, and since the 2008 financial crash we have experienced unprecedented levels of cuts to public services and welfare. As such, he has also started a campaign to fight austerity. He stated how it was “the biggest con of the last few decades. We’re constantly told that there is no alternative, yet the truth is that we could plug the deficit and fund public services without austerity if we took a number of measures to raise the necessary cash.” Some of these include the cancellation of the Trident nuclear missile programme, that would save “at least £150 billion over 40 years, as well as scrapping HS2, which would also save another £80 billion.”

In addition, Tatchell would introduce a “Robin Hood tax set at 0.05% on currency, bonds, share and commodity transactions that would raise somewhere between £50 and £100 billion per year, and a one off 20% wealth tax on the richest 5% of the population which would give the Treasury an extra £400 billion”.

These are some radical and transformative ideas in order to help produce a society that he believes represents true equality, but there is no denying in the size of the figures and the significant impact they could have. He admitted that “the very rich would kick up a fuss in the short term” but added that “wise heads among them would know that in the long term if some of this extra money was used to reboot the UK economy, they would gain in the long term”. He also went as far to state that “if Brexit leads to another economic downturn…it could lead to the ruination of very rich people.” This signifies Tatchell’s firm belief not only in economic fairness for all, but also in his own ideas to cultivate a rapid revolution in the foundations of British society.

As well as his campaigns to provide a more secure and just economic framework that governs the UK, Tatchell also wishes to push for the introduction of a proportional voting system. Within the last few weeks, he was protesting outside Parliament as he firmly believes that “the British voting system is not democratic or representative, as no governing party has won a majority of votes in any election since the turn of the century.”

Despite how much he despises UKIP, he acknowledges the flaws in the First Past the Post system-if elections were held under a proportional system, 80 MPs would have been elected for UKIP in the 2015 election, which would have been far more representative of the 4 million votes they received. Tatchell stated “Scotland, Northern Ireland, London and Wales already have PR in their elections, why can’t we have proportional representation in national general elections?” Under the tagline that he is ‘Hungry for Democracy’, Tatchell believes this correlates with his bigger plan to achieve an equitable society that can provide everyone with the means to reach their full potential irrespective of individuality.

The final campaign that we talked about was pushing for better sex and relationships education. Tatchell stated, “after a long battle, my Peter Tatchell Foundation, working with others, persuaded the government to make sex and relationship education mandatory in every school and to include LGBT issues. The big question now being what will the content of this SRE be?”

He believes that “relationship education should start from the first year of primary school and sex education should begin in the upper levels of primary school before kids reach puberty, and obviously it should be age appropriate.” Tatchell is confident that if this education starts before they become sexually active they are “much more likely to make wise sexual choices.” He believes this can radically transform the health and well-being of young people, so that they make more informed choices and it will also lead to more understanding of LGBT issues across society. Many students say their relationship education was of poor quality and didn’t answer the questions that they had. As well as this, Tatchell wants to give people a relationship framework that is “flexible and adaptable to people’s different needs….and to give them an alternative option for those who want it”.

Peter Tatchell’s desire for change and equality is something that we should all take inspiration from, as if it were not for his bravery then society may look a little more unjust than it does today.

As Tatchell states himself: “equality is not enough in an unjust society. Transform society, don’t seek mere parity within it. Equal rights within a flawed status quo is not liberation.”

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