Sir Ian McKellen unveils Tatchell blue plaque
Award for 43 years of human rights activism
Blessing by out gay Catholic priest, Bernard Lynch
“My contribution is very small. Compared to many others, I am a minnow."
“I dedicate my acceptance of this award to the heroic democracy and human rights campaigners in Iran, Uganda, Iraq, Russia, Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and West Papua. I walk - no crawl - in their shadow. Their courage is awesome.”
London, UK – 1 October 2010
Acclaimed actor and film star Sir Ian McKellen this week unveiled a blue plaque honouring gay rights and human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.
The plaque was given a “secular blessing” by one of the world’s only openly gay Catholic priests, Father Bernard Lynch. The local MP, Simon Hughes, also spoke, together with Southwark Council Cabinet Member, Veronica Ward.
The plaque, erected on Mr Tatchell’s block of flats in south London, reads:
“Peter Tatchell. Born 1952. Campaigner for human rights, gay freedom and social justice. Lived here. Voted by the people.”
The ceremony took place on Wednesday 29 September 2010.
Free PHOTOS of the ceremony are available on the OutRage website:
A short VIDEO, with selected highlights of the speeches, can be viewed here:
Speaking after the unveiling and his acceptance speech, Peter Tatchell later told the media:
“I’m grateful but somewhat embarrassed. My contribution is very small. Compared to many others, I am a minnow.
“It’s very rare for living people to be honoured in this way. You normally only get a blue plaque when you’re dead. I’m still very much alive and I plan to carry on campaigning for another 30 years.
“This is a special honour. It hasn’t been given to me by a quango or a committee of experts. The people of Southwark voted to give me this plaque, in recognition of my 43 years of human rights and LGBT rights campaigning. I feel humbled and undeserving to receive a blue plaque alongside so many truly great Southwark residents.
“For me, this blue plaque is also a tribute to the many campaigners who I have worked with over the last four decades. Without them, I would not have achieved so much. They have been my rock. Together, we have challenged prejudice and injustice. I am hugely indebted to my campaign colleagues.
“This plaque is wonderful but my greatest honour has been to work with so many inspiring, brave activists, both here and abroad.
“I dedicate my acceptance of this award to the heroic democracy and human rights campaigners in Iran, Uganda, Iraq, Russia, Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and West Papua. I walk - no crawl - in their shadow. Their courage is awesome.
“I do my bit for human rights but so do millions of other people. Together, we are making a better, fairer world for ourselves and future generations,” said Mr Tatchell.
Blue plaques are placed on the places of residence of famous scientists, writers, inventors, sportspeople, actors, politicians and social reformers. Previous Southwark recipients include John Harvard, Charles Dickens, Enid Blyton, Tommy Steele, Charles Babbage, Henry Cooper, Isambard Brunel, Michael Faraday, Charlie Chaplin, Octavia Hill, Michael Caine, Oliver Goldsmith and Mary Wollstonecraft.
See these news reports of the unveiling:
Southwark borough council, which organised and sponsored the blue plaque, issued the following statement:
“For 43 years, Peter Tatchell has spearheaded campaigns for gay rights and human rights in Britain and across the globe. In 1983 he was the defeated Labour candidate in the Bermondsey by-election - the dirtiest, most violent election in Britain in the twentieth century. He co-founded OutRage! in 1990 and he twice attempted a citizen's arrest of President Mugabe of Zimbabwe on charges of human rights abuses.
“Peter has also written or contributed to over 20 books such as, The Battle for Bermondsey, Democratic Defence, Europe in the Pink – Lesbian & Gay Equality in The New Europe and We Don't Want to March Straight: Masculinity, Queers and the Military. He has also authored over 3,000 published articles.
“Last year Peter was named Campaigner of the Year at The Observer Ethical Awards,” the council said.
Commenting on being awarded a Blue Plaque, Peter Tatchell said:
"It is a big honour. I am very grateful to the people who voted for me, especially since there were other notable, worthy and deserving nominees. I hope my receipt of this award will encourage others to campaign for human rights. I have lived in Southwark most of my life
and I am very proud to be part of its long, illustrious history of distinguished authors, playwrights, scientists, inventors and social reformers,” said Mr Tatchell.
“I appreciate this award, but the greatest honour I’ve had is the privilege to know and work with so many amazing, courageous human rights defenders in Britain and around the world. That’s the real, true honour to me.
“Nevertheless, after so many years of demonisation by the tabloids, right-wingers, homophobes and even some people on the left, it is great to receive this recognition.
“I was born in Melbourne, Australia, but I have lived and worked in Southwark most of my life, since 1978. During this time, I’ve been involved in many local community struggles.
“When I was Chair of the Rockingham Estate tenant’s association in 1980, we fought a successful campaign to turn derelict Dicken’s Square into a neighbourhood park and adventure playground.
“The biggest battles were against the property speculators who grabbed prime riverside sites, like Hay's Wharf and Surrey Docks, and squeezed out long-standing working class residents. Most of the redevelopment of the last 30 years has been offices and luxury flats for the rich. Local people have benefited very little. That's why I stood for parliament in the 1983 Bermondsey by-election. I wanted a fairer deal for the people of Southwark and Bermondsey.
“I love the history of North Southwark. It's crammed with connections to Geoffrey Chaucer, Michael Faraday, William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens. I especially appreciate the Red Bermondsey history, when Labour won control of Bermondsey Borough Council in 1922, and led the world in municipal socialism. It initiated pioneering schemes to replace the slums with a garden city. People came from all over the world to marvel at the council-run "people's palaces" - the new houses with gardens, the health centre, baths and public library. The Bermondsey Labour MP, Dr Alfred Salter, was a great champion of working class people.
“The 1983 Bermondsey by-election was the dirtiest, most violent election in Britain for over 100 years. I was attacked in the street, had my flat smashed, there were arson attempts on my home and three attempts by drivers to run me down in the street. I got a bullet through the door and I received dozens of threats to kill me. But I have no regrets. I stood against the developers, on the side of local people. I did what I believed was right.
“The current plans for the redevelopment of the Elephant and Castle are selling local people short. Only a small proportion will be affordable council and social housing for rent to low-income families. The developers will make billions, while the local community will get relatively little. With a development of this size, not only should the existing council housing stock be fully replaced, but the developers should provide at least an additional 500 council houses for needy families in the surrounding areas.
“My political inspirations are people like Mahatma Gandhi, Sylvia Pankhurst, Martin Luther King and, to some extent, Malcolm X and Rosa Luxemburg. I’ve adapted some of their ideas and methods to my contemporary struggle for human rights rights, and invented a few of my own.
“My proudest achievements as a human rights campaigner have been my two attempted citizen’s arrests of the Zimbabwean dictator, Robert Mugabe. They helped draw international attention to the human rights abuses perpetrated by his murderous regime. I was glad to support the people of Zimbabwe who are fighting for democracy and human rights. Even though I got badly beaten by Mugabe's bodyguards and have ended up with some brain and eye damage, I have no regrets” said Mr Tatchell.
The Southwark blue plaques scheme is run by Southwark Council and the Southwark Heritage Association.
For more information on Southwark’s blue plaques, please see http://www.southwark.gov.uk/DiscoverSouthwark/heritageandhistory/BluePlaquesSection/