Anyone with the internet will know of the latest fall out surrounding Tatchell. It is not an issue I wish to address directly in detail for two reasons: firstly, it involved the sharing of private emails with absolutely no consent, and second is that the person at the centre of this ended up being outed which is unconscionable. One issue stemming from all this that I do want to address though is the idea that Tatchell must be respected because of his years of activism, but this position is flawed and based on overwhelming privilege, elitist, ableism and ageism.
I don’t care how much activism someone has done, whether it be a tweet or forty years of throwing eggs at Tories. It matters not. To try to rank such actions ignores potentially limiting factors such as the fact that for some people activism is dangerous (such as people not yet able to be out), it is also inaccessible for those with certain disabilities or those who do not have the wealth to be able to afford to travel to activist events. Furthermore, by that logic, only older activists must be listened to which is incredibly patronising and ageist. It also ignores the fact that people who have been activists can mess up. They are not infallible. Look at Greer et al. For even intersectional activists (or those who claim to be so) to call out (rightly) transphobic feminists but never white cis gay men activists is incredibly problematic too.
I’ve always said that people can make mistakes at any point. Sadly, we are all still learning but what is crucial to that is the ability to listen to those who are oppressed, to step outside of our own egos and take on board what people are saying. Apologise, learn and move on. Tatchell has never been able to do this. He’s been dogged by allegations of racism, islamophobia and transphobia for years but instead of listening and trying to learn, he’s no platformed people (despite ardently support the right for transphobes to engage in ‘free speech’) and then claimed the victim. His ego has once again shone through by the fact that he was so offended because somebody did not want to share a platform with him. If anybody said they didn’t want to attend an event that is their right. They have the right not to consent to getting up on stage whether that is with someone they disagree with or someone they don’t want to sing karaoke with. When we say we can’t attend a Facebook event: guess what? You have no platformed the person who sent the invite.
The reason why these debates are happening more often about no platforming isn’t because students are suddenly sensitive, as many put (which ignores the duty of care universities have to their students in the first place). It’s because now in the era of social media and greater awareness of diversity, people who have been silenced for decades now have the ability to be able to reply and say “this isn’t good enough”. What’s threatened is the comfortable life of middle class, white, cis activists who have managed to make a living from unis who would pay their way simply because there was no one better. This is why activists and academics are turning on universities in particular: because these forums were once the one institutions they could count on but students now can call out their privilege a lot easier than they could before. There are simply better alternatives.
Tatchell has done marvellous work for white, cis gay people and nobody would deny that (although only the out ones). He has also however created problems for a lot of other people at worst and at best simply ignored the issues facing the very worst off. He’s basically the embodiment of Stonewall (the charity, not the event). It would just be better if he was honest about it and only commented on issues impacting gay cis white men rather than making an absolute mess for a lot of other people.
I didn’t elect him as the LGBTQ leader or saviour, as far as I know this is about a community still. He’s a great activist on some issues but he’s one of millions in this world who go about their work no matter how seemingly small or large every single day. The point of activism isn’t to be about the egos of one but the cause for many. It would be better if we could talk about the issues now, rather than figures who constantly write in newspapers about how they are being silenced.