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article imageActor McKellen to unveil blue plaque to honour Peter Tatchell

By Andrew John     Sep 28, 2010 in Lifestyle
Actor Ian McKellen will unveil a blue plaque in London this week honouring the British gay human-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.
Blue plaques are a permanent historical marker of the home of a notable person. Such schemes exist in other European countries and the USA.
The ceremony takes place Wednesday 11 a.m. outside 62 Arrol House, Rockingham Street, London SE1 6QL.
For over 40 years, Tatchell has spearheaded campaigns for gay and human rights in Britain and other countries. He co-founded the gay campaigning group OutRage! in 1990 and twice attempted a citizen’s arrest of President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe on charges of human-rights abuses.
Tatchell has also written or contributed to several books and has authored more than 3,000 published articles. Last year he was named Campaigner of the Year at the Observer Ethical Awards.
Tatchell will be present on Wednesday to make an acceptance speech. Ian McKellen will also speak as well as unveiling the blue plaque.
In addition, the ceremony will be attended by representatives from the Southwark LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) Forum, the Blue Plaque steering group, and Southwark Council. An opening speech will be made by Councillor Lewis Robinson, Executive Member for Culture, Leisure and Sport.
Commenting on the award, Tatchell said: “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.”
He went on: “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’ve lived and worked in Southwark most of my life, since 1978. During this time, I’ve been involved in many local community struggles.
“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.
Municipal socialism
“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 a hundred 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.”
Tatchell says his proudest achievements as a human-rights campaigner have been his 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.”
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