Peter Tatchell is a British human rights campaigner, originally from Australia, known for his work with LGBT social movements. In 2016, he called into question a “no-platform, safe space” policy instigated by the NUS, affirming the importance of freedom of expression to challenge opposing views rather than silence them.
He joined Maria Patsalos in July 2016 to discuss the challenges to free speech and his 50 years as a high profile political campaigner.
Mishcon Academy: In Conversation with Peter Tatchell
We have been lucky enough to have Peter Tatchell with us this afternoon. His has achieved so much in one lifetime that, you know, none of us could ever hope to emulate. He has been an advocate for human rights, gay rights, democracy, all over the world so he’s an absolutely fascinating figure.
Human Rights Campaigner
I was very honoured to speak to the staff at Mishcon de Reya today about my human rights work over the decades and to take questions and to be challenged on a few points. We had a really good discussion around some free speech issues, where to draw the line and how do you balance the right of people to hold particular beliefs with the right of others to not be discriminated against.
I believe the most important thing we discussed was in relation to the ‘gay baker’ case because it pit the two fundamental human rights of equality and freedom from discrimination with freedom of religion and expression, which are two very important subjects in this modern day.
Human Rights Campaigner
I was really glad to be challenged over the Ashers Bakery decision and my changing stance on that question. For me that’s a really difficult one because on the one hand one doesn’t, in any circumstances, want discrimination to be allowed when it comes to people but when it comes to ideas, I think that’s different. So I make a distinction between discrimination against a person which is always wrong and discrimination against an idea where I think, you know, in a free society people should not be compelled by law to aid and abet ideas with which they fundamentally disagree. So, in the case of Ashers Bakery, they weren’t discriminating against Gareth Lee because he was gay, they were discriminating against the message he wanted on the cake which was support gay marriage, a point which they disagreed with. I wish they had supported the right of people to marry the person of the same sex but they didn’t and I think in a free society that’s their right.
During my lifetime I have seen a huge extension of national and international human rights law and it’s great but it’s on paper. One of the most important challenges of the 21st century is to ensure that international human rights law becomes enforceable so that we can ensure that the perpetrators of tyranny and injustice are brought to book, they face trial, both to punish them for what they have done but more importantly perhaps, to deter others from following the same path of repression. My motto is, ‘Don’t accept the world as it is. Dream of what the world could be and then help make it happen’.