August 31, 2016 at 6:00 am EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Peter Tatchell talks human rights, LGBT advocacy

Peter Tatchell in D.C. on Aug. 25, 2016. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Peter Tatchell in D.C. on Aug. 25, 2016. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Prominent British activist Peter Tatchell stressed to the Washington Blade last week that LGBT rights are part of the “broad spectrum of human rights.”

“It’s very important that LGBT people recognize the persecution of other peoples and minorities,” he said during an Aug. 25 interview at the Blade offices in Northwest D.C.

Tatchell spoke with the Blade a day before he participated in a conference at the National Press Club that sought to highlight the independence movement in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan.

Amnesty International has accused the Pakistani government of detaining and arresting pro-independence activists without charge, executions and other human rights abuses. The group has also documented so-called “kill and dump” killings in Baluchistan, which borders Iran and Afghanistan.

Tatchell accused the Pakistani government of using fighter jets and helicopters the U.S. gave it to fight the Taliban to “bomb and strafe” Baluch villages.

Pakistan remains the largest recipient of International Military Education and Training funds from the U.S. The country is also among the largest recipients of Coalition Support Funds because of its continued support of Operation Resolute Support, a NATO-led counterterrorism mission in Afghanistan.

Tatchell told the Blade this aid directly violates the Leahy amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act that prohibits the U.S. from providing military aid to groups responsible for human rights abuses.

“What’s happening in Baluchistan is almost unknown in the outside world,” said Tatchell.

He told the Blade that “presumed” Pakistani security agents “turned up to harass and harangue” the Pakistani speakers who took part in the National Press Club conference.

Pakistani government representatives did not respond to the Blade’s request for comment.

Tatchell praises Black Lives Matter, gun control movements

Tatchell, who is director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation, has championed both LGBT and non-LGBT specific issues since the 1960s. These include campaigning against Iran’s LGBT rights record and Apartheid in South Africa and supporting pro-independence movements in Somaliland and West Papua.

Tatchell and three other members of OutRage!, a British LGBT advocacy group, in 1999 tried to remove Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe from his car as it drove on a London street in what they described as a “citizens arrest.” Mugabe’s bodyguards beat Tatchell unconscious when he tried to stage a similar action at a Brussels hotel in 2001.

Russian police in 2011 arrested Tatchell, Lt. Dan Choi and more than 30 others who participated in a Moscow Pride parade. Tatchell also supports the creation of an independent Palestinian state that would include the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Tatchell told the Blade that his support of non-LGBT struggles has had a positive impact on increasing support for LGBT people around the world.

He acknowledged that some people who were attending a London rally in support of Baluch independence in 2009 took a “double take” when the emcee introduced him as a prominent LGBT rights advocate. Tatchell told the Blade that some of those same people later told him that his support of their struggle “has made us rethink attitudes towards gay people and gay rights.”

“In all these different places where I work on broad human rights issues — whether it be Russia, Iran, West Papua, Baluchistan, Somaliland — it does provoke an internal debate,” he said. “It’s a subtle way, but I think quite an effective way to undermine homophobia in many of these cultures.”

“Going out and directly campaigning for gay rights probably wouldn’t work,” added Tatchell. “But when a gay person comes to support their cause in solidarity, a lot of people start making the reverse connection that we’re all human beings and everybody who is victimized and persecuted deserves support.”

He told the Blade in a follow up email that he admires the Black Lives Matter movement and the growing number of LGBT activists who have endorsed gun control in the wake of the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., in June. Tatchell further stressed it is important for LGBT activists to support other human rights efforts around the world.

“We would increase the global impact of LGBT rights if more LGBT organizations made an effort to link up and support other struggles,” Tatchell told the Blade.

Cutting aid to anti-LGBT countries could ‘inflame homophobia’

Tatchell spoke with the Blade less than a month after the Belize Supreme Court ruled the country’s colonial-era sodomy law is unconstitutional.

He described Caleb Orozco, the LGBT activist who challenged the statute, as “very courageous.” Tatchell told the Blade that efforts to promote LGBT rights in a particular country must “come from within those nations.”

“It’s very dangerous for Western governments or activists to barge in and try to dictate universal human rights, important and necessary though they are,” he said. “Our role is to support the activists within those countries who are best informed and who are leading the fight.”

Tatchell said it is “fine” for the U.K., the U.S. and other countries to “support LGBT communities in countries where there is persecution.”

“It is important to signal support because that’s a great moral boost for those activists and it also sends a signal to their governments that other countries are watching,” he said. “That can often be a deterrent against more extreme forms of oppression.”

Tatchell cautioned against cutting aid to countries over their anti-LGBT rights record. He said he supports “switching it” to local authorities or organizations that do not discriminate.

“It would be very wrong in the name of LGBT rights to cut vital food and water aid to poor vulnerable communities,” Tatchell told the Blade. “That would just inflame homophobia.”

He said economic boycotts of countries — such as those against South Africa because of Apartheid and Chile after Gen. Augusto Pinochet toppled then-President Salvador Allende in a 1973 coup — can be justified. Tatchell told the Blade that sanctions — such as those against Iran — and the U.S. embargo against Cuba could actually bolster the governments they are meant to specifically punish.

“They have to be very carefully targeted in order to not harm ordinary people, but to target the power elites who are responsible for the anti-LGBT policies,” he said.

Trump is ‘totally scary’

Tatchell spoke with the Blade a day after Nigel Farage, the former leader of the U.K. Independence Party who spearheaded June’s referendum on whether the country would leave the European Union, spoke at a Donald Trump campaign rally in Jackson, Miss.

Tatchell said Farage’s decision to campaign with Trump has received a lot of attention in the U.K., but “not in his favor.”

“It confirms that Nigel Farage and UKIP are a party with extremist associations and some pretty nasty friends,” said Tatchell.

Tatchell also sharply criticized Trump and the Republican Party’s anti-LGBT platform.

“It’s totally scary that he is the Republican presidential candidate and that he has at least an outside chance of becoming president,” Tatchell told the Blade. “What’s even more shocking is that the Republican Party is going into the election with the most anti-LGBT program in history.”

“Things seem to be going into reverse among many — not all — Republicans,” he added.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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