Peter Tatchell (born 25 January 1952) is a British radical Gay and Human Rights Activist of Australian origin, who took many radical positions on Minor-Adult sexual relationships in the 1980s and 90s. After a period of issuing strongly worded clarifications to these statements, it seems that Tatchell has now settled on advocating for an an age of consent at 14.
"BOY" Chapter, Dares To Speak and Paedophile Information Exchange
Tatchell has written an obituary in The Independent for Paedophile Information Exchange founder Ian Dunn, as well as an essay for a pro-MAP activist and Paedophile Information Exchange member Warren Middleton in the book "Betrayal of Youth (BOY)". The actor and activist, John Connors described Tatchell as a "paedophile apologist" and other critics (such as the British National Party) have suggested that he is personally "pro-paedophile", which he strongly denies – stating that "I had no idea that [Middleton] was involved in paedophilia advocacy when I was asked to write my essay. [...] When I was invited to write a chapter, I was told it was a book about children's rights and asked if I could write about the age of consent. It seemed a reasonable request at the time".
It was later revealed in 2021, by MAP Activist Thomas O'Carroll, that Tatchell had written a review of the book in a June 1987 edition of 7 days, the newsletter of the Communist Party of Great Britain. In it, he opined
"When Warren Middleton recently compiled his book on children's sexual rights, to which I made a brief contribution, he found it impossible to get a publisher. They were all too nervous. So he had to publish it himself. Even now, only a few bookshops - notably Gay's The Word in London - have had the courage to stock it. Indeed, I am only writing this review because it seems that no one else is willing to risk association with this taboo subject. Under Middleton's editorship, The Betrayal of Youth presents a diverse collection of essays by 16 different authors who offer a 'radical perspective' on the history, sociology, politics and ethics of 'childhood sexuality, inter-generational sex, and the social oppression of children and young people'. All the authors oppose coercive and exploitative child sexual abuse, and want both children, and adults, to be protected from forced, involuntary sexual acts by the laws covering rape and sexual assault. However, they also argue that consenting, victimless sexual relationships between younger and older people should not be penalised by the law, especially where the relationship is of a tender and caring nature.... In presenting these arguments, The Betrayal of Youth speaks coolly, clearly and radically about a subject which has far too long been shrouded in emotional hysteria and adult chauvinism."
Tatchell produced the "it wasn't me" defense, claiming that he was too busy to write the review, and that a colleague wrote it for him. He apologized for his carelessness in not properly reading the review.
Tatchell has also pointed to an interview he conducted in the late 1990s on the subject of youth prostitution, in which he interviewed a 14-year-old boy (under the pseudonym "Lee") who prostituted himself to older men. In this interview, Tatchell makes various counterarguments against Lee's point of view, such as: "How can a young child understand sex and give meaningful consent?", "Many people fear that making sex easier for under-age teenagers will expose them to dangers like HIV. Isn't that a legitimate worry?".
Dares To Speak
In 1997 Tatchell wrote a letter to The Guardian, defending an academic book about boylove, composed mainly of Paidika articles: "The positive nature of some child–adult sexual relationships is not confined to non-Western cultures. Several of my friends – gay and straight, male and female – had sex with adults from the ages of nine to 13. None feel they were abused. All say it was their conscious choice and gave them great joy. While it may be impossible to condone paedophilia, it is time society acknowledged the truth that not all sex involving children is unwanted, abusive and harmful." On Tatchell's personal website he clarifies "My Guardian letter cited examples of youths in Papuan tribes and some of my friends who, when they were under 16, had sex with adults (over 18s), but who do not feel they were harmed. I was not endorsing their viewpoint but merely stating that they had a different perspective from the mainstream opinion about inter-generational sex. They have every right for their perspective to be heard."
Clarified positions on Age of consent laws since the late 1990s
In 1996, Tatchell led an OutRage! campaign to reduce the age of consent in the UK to 14 years, to adjust for studies that showed nearly half of all young people had their first sexual experiences prior to 16 years old, regardless of sexuality. He stated that he wished to exempt these people from being "treated as criminals by the law," and that the campaign claimed there should be no prosecution if the difference in ages of the sexual partners was no more than three years, provided that these youths are given a more comprehensive sex education at a younger date. He was quoted in the OutRage!'s press release as saying "Young people have a right to accept or reject sex, according to what they feel is appropriate for them". Tatchell has confusingly, since reiterated that he does not condone teenagers having sex under the age of 16. On his personal website, he wrote "I do not advocate teenagers having sex before the age of 16. But if they do have sex before their 16th birthday, they should not be arrested, given a criminal record and put on the sex offenders register."
On 10 March 2008, in the Irish Independent, he repeated his call for a lower age of consent to end the criminalization of young people engaged in consenting sex and to remove the legal obstacles to upfront sex education, condom provision and safer sex advice. In 1998 and 2008, he supported relaxation of the then strict laws against pornography, arguing that pornography can have some social benefits, and he has criticized what he calls the body-shame phobia against naturism, suggesting that nudity may be natural and healthy for society.
Peter Tatchell's strategy up until around the turn of the century, was usually to claim that adult-child sex wasn't universally harmful, or state that he knew many teens who pursued sexual relations with gay men. He would then clarify (correctly) that he wasn't "advocating for pedophilia", also pointing out that he wasn't making an ethical defense, or saying that children can legally consent. He is resolutely anti-stigma.
For MAP activists, the problem with Tatchell's strategy, is that while his statements are by and large technically sound, he couches them in such a way to suggest he is in some way above MAPs. His comments seem to imply that by not being a "pedophile" himself, he attains the status of impartial observer and is therefore immune to criticism. His references to not being an apologist for pedophilia cynically play on the conflation of pedophilia with contact offending - something he is personally aware of. Tatchell correctly points out that his focus has always been on mainstream civil rights topics such as age of consent equality. His claim not to have written a book review published in his name, is particularly implausible, given that no assistant would have been likely to insert potentially controversial comments into a book review without his consent.
- Thomas O'Carroll reveals how the daily Telegraph used his research in their story
- Peter Tatchell: Children have sexual desires at an early age - Telegraph (archive copy included to bypass paywall)
- OutRage! press release, 21 February 1996