Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has praised the ‘redemption story’ of the island’s treatment of its LGBTQ+ community and called on Chief Constable Gary Roberts to apologise for the Constabulary’s treatment of gay men in the late 20th century.
Mr Tatchell, a co-founder of OutRage!, is known for his public campaigns for equal human rights and has become one of the most famous faces of not only the gay rights movement, but also of opposition to the Iraq War.
Having come to the island to celebrate 30 years since Alan Shea, supported by members of OutRage! protested at Tynwald wearing a concentration camp themed outfit, Mr Tatchell also attended the anniversary party at the Old Friends’ club on Saturday. He said that speaking to younger members of the island’s LGBT+ community they were surprised at how homophobic the island had been and that ‘most people now recognised that what was done to gay people in the past was very bad and that’s a really positive development’.
Speaking to Gef Mr Tatchell said he first became aware of the situation on the Isle of Man in the 80s and 90s because Alan Shea contacted OutRage!. He added: ‘We were very aware that the Isle of Man really lagged behind the rest of the British Isles. We were very distressed to hear of police raids and arrests and the suicide of at least two young men who were victimised by officers. That’s why we thought it was important to support Alan and the other campaigners, both gay people and straigth allies, on the island.’
Mr Tatchell also praised the ‘incredible courage’ of Alan Shea for putting himself at the front and centre of the gay rights campaign on the island and said the value of his work could not be overstated.
However, while the island’s dark days are well documented, Mr Tatchell said that the way the island has changed in such a short time is ‘really amazing and inspiring’. He added: ‘It’s like Alan’s protest burst the log jam and opened the floodgates to not only the decriminalisation of homosexuality but also other progressive liberal reforms. I’d say that the island now, and in fact it did so very soon afterwards, became a much more accepting place and that is surely to the benefit of all islanders. What has happened here is a great redemption story, I think there is a bit in the Bible which says the first shall be last and the last shall be first, well the Isle of Man has definitely moved from being a very hostile place for LGBT+ people to being a very accepting and supportive one and that’s a fantastic story and achievement.’
During his visit, Mr Thatchell has called on Chief Constable to apologise for the actions of the police during the 80s and 90s, during part of which Gary Roberts was an officer. He said: ‘I understand that the Chief Constable is considering making a public apology for past police persecution of gay and bisexual men on the Isle of Man. I hope he will do this, it’s very important that the police acknowledge that their witch hunt against LGBT+ people did cause a huge amount of suffering including at least two suicides of young men.
‘For the sake of those who lost their lives and their loved ones and the many others who were convicted, a public apology would be the decent, honourable thing to do. I think the significance of an apology would be for the Police to acknowledge what they did was very wrong and thereby draw a line under that past persecution so we can all move forward. Tynwald has apologised so why can’t the Police?
Mr Tatchell also called for Alan Shea to be considered for the Tynwald Honour in recognition of his campaigning for equality on the island. He said: ‘It is not up to me, but I would hope that people on the island would consider nominating Alan Shea for the Tynwald Honour medal in recognition of his courage and leadership over three decades. Not just in that great protest at Tynwald Hill in 1991 but all his subsequent work which led to the decriminalisation of homosexuality and other reforms that have benefitted not just LGBT+ people but everyone on the island. I think that would be a very fitting honour and he would be most deserving.’
A Beautiful Island
When asked about how he found the Isle of Man, Mr Tatchell said: ‘I love it here and always recommend it to my friends as a great place to go on holiday. The Isle of Man is very beautiful and very compact. It’s got an amazing history and there’s lots here to like.’