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Open Letter on Peter Tatchell, Censorship, and Criticism

I am hosting this open letter on Peter Tatchell, Censorship, and Criticism written by concerned activists, writers and scholars. The letter has been signed by over 100 people. To add your signature, please email Here is a link to a press release put out today, February 22 to accompany it

As human rights activists, writers, and scholars, we strongly condemn the actions of Peter Tatchell in bullying, vilifying, and inciting a media furor against a student who criticized him in a private e-mail. These attacks exemplify a pattern; Tatchell has repeatedly shown intolerance of criticism and disrespect for others’ free expression. They also exemplify a broader problem. A moral panic over inflated claims of ‘no-platforming’ reflects a persistent, deep resistance to diversity in intellectual and public life.

UK media have attacked Fran Cowling, National Union of Students (NUS) LGBT+ Officer (Women’s Place), for allegedly ‘no-platforming’ Tatchell from a conference on “Re-Radicalizing Queers” held at Canterbury Christchurch University. These reports are simply untrue.

The facts are these. Cowling was invited to attend the conference by the event organizer, another Canterbury Christchurch student. She declined. Her decision not to attend was informed by her belief that Peter Tatchell has engaged in problematic tactics and politics regarding Muslim, Black and trans communities, for which she provided evidence. Without permission, the other student forwarded this confidential email chain to Peter Tatchell.

In the following days, Peter emailed NUS demanding further evidence for this claim. NUS assured him he had not been ‘no platformed’ and that Fran’s decision was not an organisational one. Tatchell persisted, however, and on the afternoon of February 11 he demanded that Fran Cowling apologise to him and to the University for her private e-mail. Less than 24 hours later, NUS received a press request from the Observer: Peter had forwarded them the emails. They asked why he had been ‘no platformed’.

In the massive furor that followed Fran Cowling has been smeared, bullied, trolled, and harassed in the national press and on social media. Tatchell has personally vilified her and encouraged others to do so, writing in the right-wing Telegraph that she posed a threat to “enlightenment values.” Yet Tatchell was never censored. He spoke at the conference; he took his case to the Telegraph and Newsnight; he has not been “silenced.” The logical implication of Tatchell’s position is: That no officers of the NUS be allowed to criticize him, even in private e-mails; and that all its officers be forced to share platforms with him, like it or not. “Free speech,” indeed!

Peter Tatchell has little credibility as a free-speech defender.

  • Tatchell has a long record of urging that public platforms be denied members of ethnic and religious groups, especially Muslims. He has called for banning so-called “Islamist” speakers from Universities. He has even demanded mosques apologise “for hosting homophobic hate preachers” and give “assurances that they will not host them again.” Tatchell claims the right to decide who qualifies as a “homophobic hate preacher”; what counts is not inciting violence or any tangible threats to LGBT Londoners, but rather simply expressing religious opinions about homosexual acts. The peculiar urgency with which Tatchell targets Muslims lends credibility to the charge of racial insensitivity.
  • Tatchell retaliates harshly against critics of his actions. In 2015, he signed an open letter which appeared to be about free speech but which contained vague but pointed references to “some demands made by trans activists.” When transgender advocates objected – many taking to social media to challenge what they saw as a colleague’s betrayal – Tatchell accused them, collectively and falsely, of threatening him; he called them a “Twitter mob who vowed to kill me.” (The defamatory claim smeared all transgender activists on the basis of one person’s lone Tweet.) Transgender campaigner Sarah Brown faced social-media abuse herself after Tatchell singled her out as a critic. Tatchell also turned to vicious trans-haters in the right-wing media to spread his message of victimhood, seeking support from Milo Yiannopoulos (who says “Transgenderism is a psychiatric disorder”) and Brendan O’Neill (who dismisses the right to change one’s gender markers on identity papers as “Orwellianism”). Those who use transphobes to attack trans people invite the accusation of transphobia.
  • Tatchell has also repeatedly assaulted academic freedom – especially ironic in this situation.   In 2009, Raw Nerve Press, a small feminist publisher, withdrew a book containing an article critical of his political stances after pressure exerted by Peter Tatchell and his legal team. He compelled the publisher to publish a lengthy apology praising him fulsomely. He also attacked the authors, three scholars of colour, in a broad media campaign, calling his critics “twisted academics.”
  • Tatchell used similar threats under the UK’s then draconian libel law to force Routledge to pulp a book containing a peer-reviewed article by Scott Long of Human Rights Watch, critical of Tatchell’s factual claims and methods around Iran. Not content with suppressing the article, Tatchell also pursued Human Rights Watch with legal threats; staffers of Tatchell’s Foundation have harassed Long subsequently. The express aim of Tatchell’s tactics was to suppress public criticism of himself.

Tatchell censors others. His claims to be a victim of censorship would hardly gain traction – save that they play strategically into a furor over so-called “no-platforming.”

“No-platforming,” particularly at universities, has become the object of a moral panic in the British media. Any objection to any speaker – whether a public protest or a private e-mail — can be vilified and decried as a threat to free speech. Yet no one has an automatic right to a lecture slot. Universities can and constantly do choose who takes the podium. And when a person with a record of attacking radical queers is asked to keynote a conference on “Re-Radicalizing Queers,” it is entirely fitting to debate the propriety of the invitation.

In recent months, a series of celebrities have claimed to be victims of “no platforming” – Germaine Greer, Julie Bindel, now Tatchell. Yet none of these have actually had their speech restricted. Greer’s case is instructive. In no sense did anyone else “no-platform” her. She herself theatrically bowed out of a speaking engagement, citing the possibility of peaceful, nondisruptive protests which she was unwilling to confront. The canny move of no-platforming herself helped her seize the public spotlight far better than her original lecture could. All these alleged victims have easy access to media platforms vast in their reach. Greer can go to the Guardian; Tatchell can take his complaints to Newsnight. The risk that their voices will be ignored is nonexistent.

The panic over self-proclaimed “no-platforming” has little to do with free expression, but everything to do with power. It feeds on entrenched authority’s fear of a diverse academy and a diverse public sphere. Those who claim to be silenced readily generate more and more platforms for themselves through this claim — speaking endlessly about not being allowed to speak. Meanwhile, those who have to fight hard to get their voices heard (feminists of colour, trans activists, student activists, to name just a few) are labelled agents of silencing — and defilers of the reputations of those with a public voice. When critiques of racism and transphobia are heard merely as attacks on celebrity images, then those critiques are rendered marginal, and the critics are the ones silenced. Tatchell’s assiduous efforts to expunge ‘offending’ statements and articles from official circulation exemplify this dynamic.

We call on Peter Tatchell to desist from his attacks on other activists, and from his attempts to erase legitimate critiques of his work. We have no desire to ‘censor’ or ‘silence’ him. But we also call on universities and other institutions that host him to challenge him on his record of violating academic freedom and endangering others’ rights to criticize and speak. We also urge those institutions to recognize important visions and voices alternative to Tatchell’s. They should be seen and heard. Let those who feel Tatchell is entitled to a lectern extend the same privilege, and respect, to others.

List of signatures (Unless otherwise stated, organizational affiliations are for identification only)

  1. Bilal Ahmed – London, UK – MPhil/Ph.D. student at SOAS, University of London
  2. Mahamid Ahmed – London, UK – NUS Postgraduate Taught Representative
  1. Sara N. Ahmed – London, UK – Professor in Race and Cultural Studies, Director, Centre for Feminist Research, Goldsmiths, University of London
  2. Karen Aitchison (BA, LLM) – Oxford, UK
  3. Aren Aizura – Minneapolis USA – Professor of Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies, University of Minnesota
  4. Tamara D. Alexander, Ph.D. – Corona, CA – Human rights activist
  5. Molly Arthurs – Kent, UK – LGBTIQA activist and writer for Bright Green
  6. Soheil Asefi – New York City, USA – Independent journalist and activist; graduate student in Politics, New School for Social Research
  7. Catherine Baker – Hull, UK – University of Hull
  1. Sandeep Bakshi – Le Havre, France – Teaching and Research Fellow in English, University of Le Havre
  2. Sita Balani – London, UK – PhD candidate, King’s College London
  1. Adam Barr – London, UK – Co-editor, Freedom News
  2. Rohan Beck – Manchester, UK – Manchester Action for Trans Health
  1. Louis Bond – London, UK – Trans Activist
  2. Malia Bouattia – London, UK – NUS Black Students’ Officer
  3. Sarah Bracke – Ghent, Belgium – Associate Professor of Sociology, Ghent University
  1. Jess Bradley – London, UK – Director, Action for Trans Health
  2. Sarah Brown – Cambridge, UK – LGBT+ equality campaigner
  1. Audrey Bryan, Ph.D. – Dublin, Ireland – Lecturer in Sociology (Education and Human Development), St. Patrick’s College, Dublin City University
  1. Emma Buckley – UK
  1. Aimee Challenor – London, UK – Chair, LGBTIQ Greens
  2. Radhika Chandiramani – Buenos Aires, Argentina – Sexual rights activist, TARSHI
  1. Melinda Chateauvert – New Orleans, USA – Author, Sex Workers Unite! A History of the Movement from Stonewall to SlutWalk
  1. Tom Cho, PhD – Vancouver, Canada – Writer
  1. Julia Symmes Cobb – Bogota, Colombia
  1. Charlene Concepcion – UK – Green Party Equality & Diversity Coordinator
  2. Marcus Connolly – Cardiff/London, UK – Student and NUS Wales LGBT+ Committee (Bi* Rep)
  1. Polly Conroy – UK – Retired counselor, trans activist and campaigner
  1. Margaret Corvid – UK – Journalist and sex worker rights activist
  2. Annie Cupit – Leicester, UK – LGBT+ Officer of University of Leicester Student’s Union.
  3. Paisley Currah – New York, USA – Professor of Political Science and Women’s & Gender Studies, Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York
  1. Rohit K. Dasgupta – Southampton, UK – Lecturer in Global Media, University of Southampton
  1. Petra Davis – UK – Activist
  1. Lucy Delaney – Oxford, UK – Vice President for Women, Oxford University Student Union
  1. Stacy Douglas – Ottawa, Canada – Assistant Professor, Law and Legal Studies, Carleton University
  2. Lisa Duggan – New York, USA – Professor, Dept. of Social & Cultural Analysis, New York University
  3. Laura Dunn – Nottingham, UK – Alumna and former staff at University of Nottingham
  4. Anaïs Duong-Pedica – York, UK – Ph.D. candidate, University of York
  1. Janet Eastham – London, UK – Student, University of Oxford
  1. Justus Eisfeld – New York City, USA – Trans* activist
  1. Nadine El-Enany – London, UK – Lecturer in Law, Birkbeck College, University of London
  1. Elisabeth Lund Engebretsen – Oslo, Norway – Senior Lecturer in Gender Studies, University of Oslo
  1. Leah Entenmann – New York City, USA – Activist
  1. Jake John Ellis – UK
  1. Simon Englert – London, UK – NUS Postgraduate Research Representative
  1. Lisa Evans – Oxford, UK
  1. Clifford Fleming – London, UK – Green Party Internal Communications Coordinator
  1. Aisling Gallagher – London, UK – Goldsmiths College
  1. Rye Gentleman – Minneapolis, USA – PhD Student, University of Minnesota
  1. Sarah Gilbert – Coventry, UK
  1. Elizabeth Goddard – Nottingham, UK – Former University of Nottingham Students’ Union LGBT Officer
  1. Dorian Gordon – Manchester, UK – Disabled Students Officer, University of Manchester Students’ Union
  1. Nina Grant – London, UK – Disability rights activist
  1. Nila Gupta  – London, UK – Artist/activist/community worker
  1. Claudia Haberberg – London, UK – Freelance Writer, Translator, Musician, and Theatre-Maker
  1. Sarah Harper – UK – Activist and former academic
  1. Ella Harrison – London, UK – Co-editor, Freedom News
  1. Em Harvey – Birmingham – Doctoral student, University of Birmingham
  1. Charley Hasted – London, UK – NUS LGBT+ Committee Member (FE Rep), LGBTQ Officer LCSU
  1. Annie Hayford – Canterbury, UK – Activist and member of CCCq at Canterbury Christ Church University
  1. Kit Heyam – Leeds, UK – PhD candidate, University of Leeds; Secretary and Outreach Coordinator, York LGBT History Month
  1. Eleanor Tiplady Higgs – London, UK – PhD Candidate, Centre for Gender Studies, SOAS University of London
  2. Chris Hubley – Bristol, UK – Artist/activist
  3. Alex Iantaffi, PhD, MSc, LMFT – Minneapolis, USA – People’s Movement Center (Healing Justice Collective); Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Sexual and Relationship Therapy
  1. Alia Jenkins – Tbilisi, Georgia – Human rights activist
  2. Terese Jonsson – London/Portsmouth, UK – Lecturer, University of Portsmouth
  1. Melanie Judge – Cape Town, South Africa – Human rights activist, Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action
  2. Anja Kanngieser – Sydney, Australia – Fellow, University of Wollongong
  3. Roz Kaveney – UK – Writer
  1. Sarah Keenan – London, UK – Birkbeck Law School
  1. Natacha Kennedy – London, UK – Lecturer, Goldsmiths College, University of London.
  1. Maddy Kirkman – London, UK – NUS Disabled Students’ Officer
  1. Shaun Kirven – UK – Human rights activist
  1. Anja Koletnik – Ljubljana, Slovenia – MA in Gender Studies, director of Institute TransAkcija
  1. Adi Kuntsman – Manchester, UK – University lecturer
  1. Adam Ladley – Sheffield, UK – LGBT+ Officer for Sheffield Labour Students
  1. Sarah Lamble – UK – Academic
  1. Andy Law – York, UK – Lead Coordinator, York LGBT History Month; Secretary, York St John University LGBT Staff Network; Committee member, LGBTIQ Greens
  1. Alana Lentin – Sydney, Australia – Associate Professor of Cultural and Social Analysis, Western Sydney University
  1. Sam Lindsay – UK – Researcher
  1. Gwyneth Lonergan – Manchester, UK – Ph.D. candidate, University of Manchester
  1. Scott Long – Cairo, Egypt – Human rights activist
  1. Brendan Mahon – Cambridge, UK – President, St Edmund’s College (Cambridge) Combination Room; former President, Cambridge University Students’ Union LGBT+ Campaign
  1. Sophie Mayer – UK – independent scholar
  1. Richard McDonald – London, UK – MSc Student at the London School of Economics Gender Institute; owner of refugee charity Halfway House
  1. Nick McGlynn – Brighton, UK – Research Fellow, University of Brighton
  1. Caoimhe Mader McGuinness – London, UK – Doctoral researcher, Queen Mary University of London
  1. AJ McKenna – UK
  1. Mx Jo McKillop – London, UK – Master of Biology student at Roehampton University; LGBT activist
  1. Shamira Meghani – Leeds, UK – Scholar and teacher
  1. Rowan Milligan – London, UK
  2. Leil-Zahra Mortada – Lebanon – Transfeminist queer activist and filmmaker
  1. Rasha Moumneh – New Jersey, USA – Ph.D. student, Rutgers University
  1. Jess Murray – London, UK- President, University College London Union Cheese Grater Magazine
  1. Aadam Siciid Muuse – Bradford, UK – NUS Black Students’ Campaign
  1. Yasmin Nair – Chicago, USA – Activist and academic
  1. Sean Nicol – Reading, UK – Student, University of Reading
  1. Kerem Nisancioglu – London, UK – Lecturer, SOAS, University of London
  1. Sarah Noble – Leeds, UK – NUS LGBT+ Committee
  1. Lucas North – York, UK – York University Students Union Trans* Convenor; University of York Feminist Society ordinary member; Goodricke College JCRC Officer;University of York LGBTQ Social Society External Communications Officer
  1. NUS Black Students’ Campaign, National Committee (Organizational endorsement)
  1. Zoe O’Connell – Maldon, UK – Former Liberal Democrat Parliamentary candidate
  2. Elaine O’Neill – Reading, UK – Performer & Activist
  3. Evie Brill Paffard – York, UK – University of York LGBTQ officer
  4. Ruth Pearce – Warwick, UK – Doctoral Researcher, University of Warwick
  1. Krissie Pearse – UK – Trans activist
  1. Vicky Pearson – Lincoln, UK – Green Party Women Co-Chair
  1. Jabulani Pereira – Johannesburg, South Africa – Director, Iranti-org
  1. Alison Phipps – Brighton, UK – Director of Gender Studies and Reader in Sociology, University of Sussex
  1. Dave Pickering – UK – Writer, storyteller and podcaster
  1. Sabrina Poole – Cirencester, UK – Co-chair, Green Party Women
  1. Silvia Posocco – London, UK – Academic
  1. Jasbir K. Puar – New Jersey, USA – Professor, Rutgers University
  1. Noora Pyörre – Helsinki, Finland
  1. Nat Raha – London, UK – Queer / trans* activist; Ph.D. student, University of Sussex
  1. Shabina Raja – UK – National Union of Students NEC
  1. Mostafa Rajaai – UK – NUS International Students’ Officer
  1. Sanaz Raji – Manchester, UK – Activist and independent scholar, Justice4Sanaz Campaign
  1. Rahul Rao – Bangalore, India / London, UK – Senior Lecturer in Politics, SOAS, University of London
  1. Chandan Reddy – Seattle, USA – Associate Professor, Department of Gender, Women, Sexuality Studies
  1. Ashley Reed – York, UK – University of York LGBTQ Officer
  1. Elliott Reed – Nottingham, UK – Former University of Nottingham Students’ Union LGBT Officer
  1. Damien W. Riggs – Adelaide, Australia – Associate Professor, Flinders University.
  1. Colin Robinson – Trinidad & Tobago – Caribbean region LGBTI organizer; No More Murder Music (New York)
  1. Marika Rose – Durham, UK – Research Fellow, Durham University.
  1. Aidan Rowe – Dublin, Ireland – Radical queer activist/writer
  1. Abigail Rowse – Nottingham, UK
  1. Alejandra Sardá-Chandiramani – Buenos Aires, Argentina – Sexual rights activist, Akahatá and Colectiva Lohana Berkins
  1. Philip Savage – London, UK – Writer, charity worker
  1. Ryan Schowen, Ph.D. – Portland (Oregon), USA – Independent scholar
  1. Kyla Schuller – New York City, USA – Assistant Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies, Rutgers University
  1. Amar Shabandar – Lebanon / UK – MSc, SOAS, Human rights activist
  1. Noorulann Shahid – UK – NUS LGBT+ Committee
  1. Kate Sheill – London, UK – Human rights activist
  1. Joel Simpson – Georgetown, Guyana – Managing Director, Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD)
  2. Oishik Sircar – Melbourne, Australia – Teaching Fellow and Doctoral Candidate, Institute for International Law and the Humanities, Melbourne Law School
  1. Sister Ganymede – Manchester, UK – Postulant Sister of Perpetual Indulgence, House of Love and Rage, Manchester
  1. Sister Hysteria – Manchester, UK – Novice Sister of Perpetual Indulgence, House of Love and Rage, Manchester
  1. Ellis Suzanna Slack – UK – Activist
  1. Richard Smith – Brighton, UK – Journalist and blogger
  1. Marlene Soulier – Berlin, Germany
  1. Gary Spedding – Northern Ireland, UK – LGBTQ* and feminist activist; member, Alliance Party of Northern Ireland
  1. Michael Spence – Manchester, UK – University of Manchester Students’ Union Education Officer
  1. Tommy Snipe – Reading (UK) – NUS LGBT+ Committee (Open Place)
  1. Eric A. Stanley – Los Angeles, USA – Assistant Professor, Department of Gender and Sexuality Studies, University of California, Riverside
  1. Zoe Stavri – London, UK – Blogger
  1. Kayte Stokoe –  Coventry, UK – Ph.D. Candidate, University of Warwick
  1. Manishta Sunnia – UK – Green Party Equality & Diversity Coordinator and Greens of Colour founder
  1. Seb Symons – Manchester, UK – Queer of the Unknown, a poetry, art, and theatre collective
  1. Marie Thompson – UK
  1. Kyla Wazana Tompkins – Los Angeles, USA – Pomona College
  1. Jo Tyabji – UK – queer theatre maker
  1. Vreer Verkerke – Amsterdam, The Netherlands – Trans* and intersex human rights activist, human rights educator
  1. Loz Webb – London, UK – Director, Action for Trans Health
  1. Sam Whalley – Preston, UK – LGBTQ activist; former University of Central Lancashire LGBT Officer, young people’s education officer
  1. Eleanor Brayne Whyatt – UK – Teacher
  1. Ali Wilkin – Colchester, UK
  1. Cai Wilkinson – Melbourne, Australia – Senior Lecturer in International Relations, Deakin University
  1. Isabel Williams – London, UK – Graduate student in Gender Studies, Birkbeck, University of London
  1. Dean Wilson – Northern Ireland, UK
  1. Hope Winter-Hall – London, UK – Queer activist
  1. Ramy Youssef – Cairo, Egypt / Amsterdam, The Netherlands – Human rights activist
  1. Saira Zuberi – Toronto, Canada – Independent activist
  1. Ludovic Foster – academic and artist, PhD candidate University of Sussex, UK
  2. Jayrôme C. Robinet, Berlin, Writer & Spoken word artist


Alana Lentin