Tag Archives: marriage

Bates’ blueprint for a ‘normal’ wedding won’t inspire those who want to be different

Just over a month ago I married my partner of five years. Almost exactly a month later, I have been inundated with shares on Facebook and Twitter of an article entitled “How to have a feminist wedding” by Laura Bates. I was excited because I have a huge amount of admiration for Laura and her groundbreaking project Everyday Sexism; however, my husband and I found it anything but groundbreaking, and instead rather unambitious and uninspiring. It still lacked what I’d so desperately searched for, and never really found, in the two years leading up to our big day: a guide to being just a little bit more radical in feminist wedding planning.

Weddings are deeply personal events and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with Laura getting married exactly as she chooses but, as something purporting to be a feminist wedding guide, it’s as lacking as so many of the articles I read during my engagement – endlessly reassuring women that it’s ok to be a feminist and still have a fairly traditional wedding, with the odd feminist twist, but nothing giving women permission to ditch all that and do something radically different. I ended up seeing myself less as a bride (whatever that is) and more as a creative director – there being virtually no existing model for what we wanted to produce – and much of our inspiration came from queer, rather than heterosexual, feminist weddings. Of course, we were always aware that some feminists would think there’s no such thing as a feminist wedding at all – and maybe the most radical thing would be to blow the whole thing up, not just tweak it – but we decided to tweak, and tweak boldly.

From the off we had very clear ideas of what we wanted: he wanted us both to have an engagement ring, so (much to the confusion of everyone we know) I bought him one; we both wanted to keep our own names, rather than double barrel (Mrs His Name never having been an option we considered); we didn’t want a church wedding, despite my Christian upbringing, because we knew it wasn’t really for us; and I definitely didn’t want a white dress. Finally, we both wanted to walk down the aisle, rather than simply have me delivered to him, and so we did – him accompanied by his mum, me accompanied by my dad, with half a dozen brides-men, women and girls in between.


Beyond that, we weren’t quite sure what a ‘feminist wedding’ should consist of and I quickly realised that there is no simple answer – believe me, I’ve typed “feminist wedding” into Google more times than I care to admit, and never quite found what I was looking for. I’ve read countless articles debating the questions “can you be a feminist and get married in white?” “can you be a feminist and take your husband’s name?” – all of which concluded in a slightly woolly way “yes, of course”, on the grounds that the institution of marriage has evolved, relationships are more equal now, and the sexist associations of white dresses and proprietorial rings have long since died away.  “But I don’t want to wear white,” I’d scream at my laptop: “even if it’s not sexist anymore!”

Earlier this year Zoe Holman wrote in the Guardian, decrying the number of feminist brides blindly following patriarchal traditions but admitting she feels too embarrassed to ask them why. I have to confess I occasionally felt the same up until I started planning my own, when I suddenly realised that it’s really fucking difficult to avoid. You’re not only up against society’s expectations but your family and friends come with their own expectations. Decisions you expect to be entirely personal are suddenly wide open to scrutiny, or interpreted as a rejection of their family identity, rather than an assertion of your own.

And, of course, the wedding industry doesn’t leave much room for rebels – if you’ve never looked for a wedding dress, you don’t realise how limited the colour choices are. When you say “not white”, people think you mean “ivory”, and when you say “no, coloured”, they warn you in bizarrely concerned tones that “you’ll just look like a bridesmaid”. I once laughed out loud at an advert in a wedding magazine daring women to “be bold” in an extremely pale pastel pink dress – think off-white with a “bold!” blush.

The more I searched, fruitlessly, for the kind of alternative wedding I was looking for, the more frustrated I felt, and the more obstinate it made me. I became determined not just to omit the bits I didn’t like, but to consciously replace them with a radical alternative that couldn’t fail to be noticed. Stubbornness is a typical Graham trait, as it happens – which also helped with sticking to my guns on the issue of keeping my surname!

In the end I realised that, with the exception of red (the archetypal anti-white wedding dress – hardly value neutral with its own virgin/whore association), coloured wedding dresses don’t exist in bridal shops and I’d have to go it alone. I sought out a local seamstress – an amazing woman with pink hair, a flair for intricate beadwork, and the punk spirit to bring my vision to life. She was more excited about it than I was and it was an enormous relief to be free from the body-shaming (how much weight are you planning to lose?), tradition-pushing (what do you mean you don’t want to wear white?) ways of the wedding industry.

Beyond the dress and the surnames, our biggest rebellions were against our guests’ gendered expectations. I had three bridesgirls, a brideswoman and two bridesmen; he had a best man, three groomsmen and a groomswoman. Before the ceremony our guests were greeted by the jubilant voice of Debbie Harry as Blondie’s Greatest Hits kicked off the day, and our friend Becca sang The Cure’s Love Cats for the bridal party’s arrival.

Josh Ann

My mother-in-law looked like she might burst with pride as she walked her only child down the aisle, and as many tears were shed over that unconventional but beautiful moment as over my arrival with my dad. My bridesmen read a passage from Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex; his groomswoman – a fellow feminist, dressed in an utterly fabulous grey suit, complete with tux-style fitted blouse and cravat – read WH Auden’s Foxtrot From a Play, her Yorkshire accent beautifully bringing alive the lines “you’re my cup of tea”; and my mum read The Art of Marriage. It goes without saying that no one was given away and no one promised to obey; two female registrars (as we’d requested) declared us married, and both our mums witnessed the signing of the register because it’s currently the only way for their names to be included on the marriage certificate.

We had six speeches, split between the courses of the meal to spare everyone’s attention spans; my mother-in-law made everyone cry, my dad, bridesmaid, our best man and myself got a fair few laughs, and my husband scared the shit out of everyone climbing up on his chair to recreate a moment from our trip to Prague. The whole thing was so much fun, and so much more rounded than the standard “three men talking, three women keeping their mouths shut” routine that it genuinely made me wonder why everyone doesn’t do it; tradition means we’re all missing out on some really great speeches.


Ultimately there’s no formula for the perfect feminist wedding – our day was as personal to us as Laura’s will be to her – but I wish I’d read a feminist wedding guide this time two years ago that said this: “don’t be afraid to be radical, imaginative and push boundaries if the traditional, white, church wedding isn’t for you”. We need guides that give us the confidence to be different, just as much as we need guides to make us comfortable sticking with tradition. I wish someone had told me at the start how completely unfounded my anxieties were that all our guests would find it too weird; we’ve had nothing but praise for how special and different it was, and I’m so glad we stuck to our feminist principles rather than convincing ourselves to settle for the way society insists it “should” be done. If you’re planning a feminist wedding/anti-wedding, don’t be afraid to be even bolder than me, Laura, or a pale pink blush.

All photos Copyright Polly Thomas (Polly & Simon Photography) and Owain Thomas.

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Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China

Leftover WomenLeta Hong Fincher is the author of ‘Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China’, published by Zed Books. She gave Deputy Editor Sarah Graham an in-depth interview on the state of Chinese gender politics.

During the Mao era gender equality was seen as an important revolutionary goal – Mao famously said “women hold up half the sky” – to what extent was that aim achieved, both legally and in terms of attitudes?

In the early period, following the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, the Communist Party publicly celebrated gender equality and sought to harness women’s labour in boosting the nation’s industrial production, so it introduced many initiatives such as assigning urban women jobs in the planned economy. Women’s labour had traditionally been agricultural, but under Mao women were told they could do anything that a man could do and were recruited into formerly male-dominated work. The Communist Party frames the 1950s as the age of “women’s liberation,” and for many women previously bound to the home, unable to participate in public work, it was.

One of my professors at Tsinghua University, Guo Yuhua, says that women were objects of mobilisation in China’s gigantic social engineering experiment in the 1950s, so their “liberation” was an important symbol of the success of the prole­tarian revolution in the Communist Party’s rendering of history. But the state-imposed equal employment of women and men failed to transform underlying gender relations. Behind the public celebration of gender equality in the Communist workplace, women continued to shoulder the heavy burdens of childcare, housework and cooking at home. Rural women in particular suffered tremendously.

A year or so ago I read Xue Xinran’s book The Good Women of China, which is largely based on interviews conducted during the 1980s (i.e. post-Mao) and addresses issues like suppression of homosexuality, rape, forced marriage, and abuse carried out by government figures. In what ways has China today progressed and/or regressed since then?

It’s a very complicated picture but briefly, women’s rights abuses have occurred throughout Chinese history and since the Communist Revolution of 1949. Xinran’s book tells some very moving tales about the suffering of women. At the same time, the early Communist-era policy of mobilising women to take part in the workforce had the long-lasting, positive effect of very high female labour force participation compared to the rest of the world. At the end of the 1970s, over 90 percent of working-age women in the cities were employed, so this significantly raised their social and economic status relative to men.

But since the onset of market reforms in the 1980s, the state has retreated from its previous role in mandating gender equality in the workplace. Women’s employment rates started to drop significantly in the 1990s, and today urban women’s employment rates have fallen to new lows, while the gender income gap has also increased sharply. Combine that with the unprecedented gender wealth gap caused by China’s real estate boom, deeply entrenched patriarchal norms, and the new state media campaign against “leftover” women, and gender inequality has come roaring back.

The name of your book refers to those “leftover women” – the notion that unmarried, educated women over the age of 27 are “leftover”. Compared to women in the west (as in You’re such a nice girl, why aren’t you married?) how strongly is that pressure and stigma felt by women in China?

Women around the world face all kinds of gender discrimination, so Chinese women are certainly not alone. I have received mes­sages through my Twitter account from women in India, Pakistan, Russia, Turkey, Singapore, Nigeria, Kenya, the Philippines and other countries telling me that they also face intense pres­sure to marry.

The difference in China is that gender-discriminatory norms are exacerbated by a one-party state intent on social engineering, with a massive propaganda apparatus that maintains a tight grip on information. So when the state media mobilise to push the message that women in their late 20s are “leftover”, like rotten food, and those messages are repeated ad nauseum ever since 2007, even university-educated, young women may internalize that ideology because they don’t have enough access to alternative sources of information.

The “leftover” women media campaign is also aimed at the parents and other older relatives of young women, so even if the young woman rejects the sexist media messages, she still comes under intense pressure from her parents and others to get married. Arranged marriages are supposed to be a thing of the past, but I see quite a lot of young women rushing into marriage with a man pushed on them by their relatives, just because they are afraid of winding up “leftover” in their late 20s or early 30s.

One of the biggest regressions you’ve mentioned in your writing on the subject is the amendment to marriage laws, which dramatically reduce women’s property rights. What have been the biggest practical knock-on effects you’ve seen for women?

China’s privatisation of housing since 1998 has resulted in an unprecedented and fast accumulation of residential real-estate wealth, but this wealth is out of reach for women whose families are unwilling to help them make the down payment on an urban home. I argue that Chinese women have been largely shut out of the biggest accumulation of residential property wealth in history, worth around US$30 trillion in 2013, since parents tend to buy homes for sons but not daughters; most homes are registered in men’s names; and many women transfer their life savings to their boyfriend or husband to finance the purchase of the home, but then forfeit ownership of this valuable asset by leaving their names off the property deed.

The 2011 new judicial interpretation of China’s Marriage Law was a severe setback for women’s legal property rights because it essentially says that if you don’t have your name on the property deed, and you can’t prove your financial contribution to the home’s purchase, you don’t get to keep the home in the event of a divorce. I didn’t focus on why the Supreme People’s Court made this change in the law, but the amendment has been extremely controversial.

Many of the married women I interviewed were dismayed by the legal change because their names were not on the marital home deed. And I found that time and time again, young women in their 20s might first insist that their name is registered on the deed before they agree to marry, but in the end, they tend to back down and give in to an unequal financial arrangement because they are afraid they might become a “leftover” woman, who will never be able to find a husband. Not all women are like this, of course, but social and regulatory forces work overwhelmingly against women’s interests.

You also mention that women have “almost no recourse” if their husband abuses them – what is the legal status of domestic violence, and how does the system work in practice?

Official statistics state that one-quarter of China’s women have experienced domestic violence, though activists say the real figure is much higher. But the biggest problem is that it is exceedingly difficult for a woman to gain protection from a violent partner. The government has stalled on enacting targeted legislation to curb domestic violence, despite years of lobbying by feminist NGOs.

Since China doesn’t have a specific law on domestic violence, feminist activists say that judges routinely refer to intimate partner violence as “family conflict” instead. My book gives some chilling examples of how women suffered horrifying abuse at the hands of their husbands and made multiple police reports and went to the hospital to document their injuries, but still received no protection from the police or the courts. There is now talk that a domestic violence law may finally be passed, but so far it hasn’t happened.

What role has the one-child policy played in cultural attitudes towards women’s position? 

Some scholars argue that the one-child policy has empowered urban women because they don’t have to compete with brothers for parental investment in education. And it’s true that urban women today are arguably the most highly educated in Chinese history. But the one-child policy also exacerbated sex-selective abortions because of the strong cultural preference for boys, so that China now has a severe sex ratio imbalance.

The National Bureau of Statistics says there are now about 20 million more men under 30 than women under 30, and the State Council calls the surplus population of men a “threat to social stability.” State media reports say these unmarried men are more likely to disturb the social order by “rioting, steal­ing and gang fighting.” So restless, single men are seen as a threat to the foundation of Chinese society. And single women threaten the moral fabric as well, for being free agents, and unnatural in failing to perform their duty to marry and give birth to a child.

What is the position of lesbian and bisexual women in Chinese society? 

The Chinese govern­ment took homosexuality off its list of “mental diseases” in 2001 and, since then, the Chinese public’s acceptance of lesbian and bisexual women and the entire LGBTQ community has increased. The Internet and social media like Weibo have helped to build an expanded online network of support for the LGBTQ community in recent years.

Still, LGBTQ websites are often targeted by the police in “anti-pornography” media crackdowns. LGBTQ films are banned from being shown in public and must be screened quietly in non-public spaces. Lesbian activists have formed support groups, but they complain that they are marginalised by mainstream women’s rights NGOs, and have a lot of trouble getting legally registered.

You’ve mentioned the role of the (state-run) Women’s Federation in the campaign to pressure women into marriage – do you believe the Women’s Federation really serves Chinese women’s interests?

There are a lot of genuinely committed feminists working within the Women’s Federation who have done important research on women and who work to protect women’s interests. But the organisation itself is in many ways just like other agencies controlled by the Communist Party. So, for example, the Women’s Federation has played a major role in organising mass matchmaking fairs targeting educated women, which only further intensifies the marriage pressure.

What work are independent feminist activists and organisations doing to push back against the regression of women’s rights? 

Some registered women’s rights NGOs, such as the Anti-Domestic Violence Network in Beijing, do effective work to raise awareness about China’s epidemic of intimate partner violence, and they are eligible for funding from international donor groups. But by and large grassroots feminist activists in China are extremely cash-strapped and often harassed by the police. It is very difficult for them to register as legal organisations, so it is hard for them to get funding from outside sources and their ability to organise is severely constrained by the state’s security apparatus.

My last chapter profiles some extremely courageous feminist activists fighting against the widespread gender discrimination in Chinese society against tremendous odds. It’s not easy for readers outside China to support these activists, but there are some international groups that manage to fund meaningful women’s rights activities.

Leta Hong Fincher is an award-winning former journalist who has been published in a number of magazines and newspapers, including the New York Times. She is completing her Ph.D. in Sociology at Tsinghua University. Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China was published this month by Zed Books, as part of their ‘Asian Arguments’ series.

Leta Hong Fincher will be appearing at two Zed Books events taking place on Thursday 17 April, with a book signing at 1pm at the Arthur Probsthain bookshop and the Leftover Women book launch from 7pm at the Royal Asiatic Society lecture hall. See Zed Books for more details.

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“You’re such a nice girl, why aren’t you married?”

Conceptual Photographer Suzanne Heintz explains her “Life Once Removed” project, after it went viral online.

What would drive you to pack a family of mannequins into your station wagon, and take them on a road trip? Enough pressure to conform will send anyone packing. Conform to what? Well, it was getting late. Seriously late for a woman my age not to have a ring on her finger. People said, “You’re such a nice girl, why aren’t you married?” No one actually used that out of date word, but, what they were driving at was that I was a “Spinster,” and I got tired of hearing about it.

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Even my mother must have thought she was setting me straight when she said, “Suzy, there’s nobody perfect out there. You just need to PICK somebody, if you’re going to settle down.”

I snapped back, “Mom! It’s not like I can go out and BUY a family! I can’t just MAKE it happen!” But then, I found a way. I bought a beautiful family… of mannequins. I decided to start a photo project out of the Kodak Moments I’d capture with my new Store-Bought Family.

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My own home was the backdrop for the first images. Over the next decade, scenes of an idyllic home life eventually extended into a series of Holiday Greetings, as a satirical response to annual family photo cards. However, the project took a turn after taking them on a road trip. I saw the potential in shooting in public. Seeing me work with the mannequins is such a peculiar and funny thing to witness, that people are immediately disarmed. As soon as that happens, their mind is open and impressionable. Using humor, paired with shock, allows my message to penetrate, and the work can have greater impact. The aim is to get people to reconsider their stubborn allegiance to traditional life expectations.

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Ozzie & Harriet are dead. So why is this antiquated idea still affecting our image of marriage? It is the reason why this series is named “Life Once Removed.” A family relation, a generation apart, is “once removed.” So is our relationship with our path in life. It’s passed on by the previous generation, once removed from our own. Why do we cling to past tradition as the measure of success in the present? 

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This is a weird time in Women’s History. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pleased as punch that I was born when I was. I have more choices and opportunities than any generation of women before me, but our roles have never been more complicated by deeply ingrained mixed messages, from both previous and present generations. The term “perfect” is no longer used to describe what we’re all striving to be. Now it is called, “fulfilled.” But for women, the path to fulfillment is not through one thing, it’s through all things: Education, Career, Home, Family, Accomplishment, Enlightenment. If any one of those things is left out, it’s often perceived that there’s something wrong with your life. We are somehow never enough, just as we are.

Even if we do have a finger in each of those pies, there is never enough time to do any of them to our satisfaction. We are constantly set up by our expectations to feel as though we are missing something.


I thought it was high time to call this nonsense out publicly, because this notion of insufficiency is not just about me, nor exclusively about women in regards to marriage. It’s about anyone whose life doesn’t look the way it “should.” Rarely does anyone’s life turn out the way it was expected, and if by some miracle it does, what they expected isn’t what they thought it was. I’m simply trying to get people to open up their minds, and quit clinging to outdated assumptions of what a successful life looks like. I want people to lighten up on each other, and themselves, and embrace their lives for who it’s made them, with or without the Mrs., PhD. or Esq. attached to your name.

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Suzanne Heintz is a Conceptual Photographer, based in Denver, Colorado in the USA. Find out more and view the full “Life Once Removed” series at: www.suzanneheintz.com

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“Plagiarism begins at home” – uncovering the real Zelda Fitzgerald

To write a profile of Zelda Fitzgerald is to cut through a dark thicket of myths, lies, stereotypes and false medical diagnosis. Most of us have never even picked up the blade and tried. But as we near the 66th anniversary of her untimely death on 10 March, one question still remains unanswered: who was the real Zelda Fitzgerald?

For most, the name Zelda Fitzgerald is closely followed by the words ‘lunatic’ and ‘fantasist’. It’s a name synonymous with fur stoles and empty gin bottles. She’s a spoiled party girl who drove her talented husband Scott Fitzgerald to drunken ruin: a flapper, an It girl, a “Witchy Woman” (to quote The Eagles). What Zelda has never been called is an uncredited writer, but she often was: her byline replaced by her husband’s with a “sorry” and a shrug.

The true story of Zelda’s life and her authorship rights is yet to be told with honesty and clarity. Hack away at the dense falsehoods and you let in the light. Headstrong, sharp-tongued and vivacious; an artist, writer and dancer. In many ways Zelda Fitzgerald’s legacy has been judged by her influence and latter bipolar years (scholars now argue her schizophrenia was misdiagnosed at the time), but never her own achievements. Zelda’s life would be dramatically cut short by her own desperate quest to be heard and counted; only now are her words finally being credited with her name.

When Zelda gave birth to their daughter Scottie in 1921, high on anesthesia she babbled: “I hope it’s beautiful and a fool—a beautiful little fool”. All readers of The Great Gatsby will instantly recognise the quote as one of its defining lines, voiced through the effervescently absent Daisy Buchanan. It is a mere drop in the ocean of words Scott skimmed from Zelda’s mouth with a pond net and an ear for its startling lucidity.

Many of the Fitzgeralds’ closest acquaintances would praise Zelda as a witty conversationalist, likening her to contemporary writer Dorothy Parker. Critic Edmund Wilson surmised: “I have rarely known a woman who expressed herself so delightfully and so freshly.” Scott Fitzgerald himself was consistently struck by her words and even read her diaries, directly lifting entries to voice his fictional heroines. Zelda became a crucial source, as she well knew. Her impact on Scott Fitzgerald’s literary works is immeasurable.

“It seems to me that on one page I recognized a portion of an old diary of mine which mysteriously disappeared shortly after my marriage, and, also, scraps of letters which, though considerably edited, sound to me vaguely familiar. Mr Fitzgerald—I believe that is how he spells his name—seems to believe that plagiarism begins at home,” Zelda Fitzgerald cheekily joked in the New York Review when asked to review her husband’s latest novel The Beautiful and Damned in 1922. The joke soon wore thin on Zelda, who grew increasingly resentful of Scott’s habit.

Search the archives and you may come across a 1973 edition of 21 uncollected stories entitled Bits of Paradise written by both Scott and Zelda. Flicking through it soon becomes clear that, at the time when they were written, most of Zelda’s short stories were published with a co-authored byline, despite Zelda’s sole authorship. The shocking truth is many of her stories were robbed of her authorship – an arrangement agreed between Scott’s literary agent Harold Ober and the magazine editors.

This is by no means to demonise Scott. The world was hungry for F Scott Fitzgerald and history maintains he was not made aware of this transaction at the time. Nevertheless, it weighed heavily on Zelda’s sense of worth and identity. Over the course of the 1920s, Zelda’s five ‘girl’ stories in College Humour were credited to both Fitzgeralds. Zelda’s A Millionaire’s Girl, deemed too good for College Humour by Ober, was sold to the Post for $4,000 instead of $500, but only if Zelda’s authorship was omitted. It appeared as F Scott Fitzgerald’s work alone.

Ober later admitted he “felt a little guilty about dropping Zelda’s name from that story” but consoled himself “I think she understands.” Zelda didn’t understand. Even if she did at the time, misunderstanding rippled between Zelda and Scott over the proceeding years, their lives ebbing further and further apart like driftwood against the tide.

In 1932 Zelda’s battle to be heard ended in marital catastrophe when Scott finally got round to reading her novel Save Me the Waltz. He was furious. Written in an obsessive 6-week spiral of creativity, Scott was livid at Zelda’s fictionalisation of their marriage. This, despite the fact that his own yet-to-be-published novel Tender is the Night copied direct chunks of Zelda’s letters to Scott in order to fictionalise Zelda’s mental illness.

Zelda would later conclude “I can’t get on with my husband and I can’t live away from him…I’m so tired of compromises. Shaving off one part of oneself after another until there is nothing left…” Perhaps her biggest compromise was yet to come. Scott ordered Zelda to revise her novel. She complied.

Kat Lister is Feminist Times’ new Contributing Editor. She is a freelance writer living in London and can be found tweeting to an empty room @Madame_George. She has contributed to NME, The Telegraph, Grazia, Time Out, Clash magazine and Frankie magazine.

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Tatchell: “Macho athletes are timid & silent in their collusion against human rights”

Feminist Times contributor Bernadette Hyland interviews Peter Tatchell, as part of our series throughout LGBT History Month – including Dr Finn Mackay’s brief herstory of lesbian feminism, Obama sends lesbians to Sochi, ‘Girls’: Lesbians in Russia, and Many Russias: Sochi’s Absurdist Olympics.

Peter Tatchell is best known as a campaigner for LGBT rights but has also worked on a wide range of national and international issues over the past four decades. He sees himself very much as a human rights campaigner: “For me LGBT rights are just one part of a broad spectrum of human rights.”

Born in Australia, Tatchell’s political awakening came at an early age. “I was 11 years old in 1963 and heard the news about the racist bombing of a black church in Alabama, where four girls about my age were killed,” he says. “I remember being horrified that anyone could do such a thing and it prompted my interest and support of the black civil rights movement.” More than

50 years later, Tatchell believes that the Left in Britain can learn from the successes made by groups such as the Peter Tatchell Foundation, Outrage and Stonewall. “The struggle for LGBT equality is one of the most successful law reform campaigns in British history,” he says.

“It has been achieved by a combination of parliamentary and extra-parliamentary activity. Suffragette style protest by groups such as Outrage have been instrumental in putting LGBT rights on the political agenda, which has allowed more suffragist style groups like Stonewall to get a hearing within government and promote legislative reform.”

Most recently, this month’s Winter Olympic Games in Russia have seen Tatchell and the LGBT community take on one of the world’s most formidable leaders in Vladimir Putin. “The hosting of the Winter Olympics has been an own goal for Putin and Medvedev,” he believes, and has likened the position of gay people in Russia to the anti-semitism stirred up by the Nazis in the early 1930s.

He feels, however, that their campaign has forced Putin onto the defensive: “He has repeatedly been forced to respond to defend his government. We have focussed international attention on issues that are kept hidden, including corruption, anti-gay laws and the suppression of free speech.”

Tatchell has challenged well-known public figures in the LGBT community about their stance on human rights, most noticeably Clare Balding, who is commentating on the Sochi Olympics for the BBC. “I am not surprised by Stephen Fry and Paul O’Grady speaking out, but she has been muted in her comments and lots more personalities could have spoken out,” he says.

What has particularly shocked him has been the lack of response from British athletes at Sochi: “Not one single Olympian has made the slightest gesture towards the support of gay Russians – there have been no rainbow flags. These macho, go-getting athletes are timid and silent in their collusion against human rights.”

For Tatchell, human rights are much wider than any one particular issue. As a campaigner for the rights of LGBT people, he can only see this happening within a context of all people living in a happier, more liberated society.

Ultimately, he believes that liberation will only come if society itself is transformed. He is disillusioned with the mainstream parties, who “accept the neo-liberal consensus of society”, and he sees little hope in the Left and trade union movement.

“Much of the Left is in retreat. They are very defensive with little proactive campaigning. All their campaigns are defensive – against the Bedroom Tax and against the closure of A&E departments.” He feels that they have little to offer in terms of any vision of a different and better society.

Defining himself as a green socialist, Tatchell supports the Green New Deal and feels there is a need for a campaign calling for economic democracy, which he says is as important as political democracy. He believes his “vision for a new and different society” would be best enacted by a coalition between the greens and the Left, which would offer people a future that would transform society.

“The red and green traditions embody essential values and ideas for liberation and the survival of humanity,” he says. Bemoaning the lack of imagination within the Left’s campaigning, Tatchell believes they are too bogged down in organising marches, rather than offering solutions such as a wealth tax to challenge the austerity agenda.

The need to totally transform society is echoed in his views on same-sex marriage, which he will discuss at the Feminist Times February members’ event: Is same sex marriage just a distraction? “I have always seen marriage in terms of the feminist critique of sexism and patriarchy,” he says. “I am not a fan of marriage but the ban on same sex marriage is homophobic discrimination and it is important to fight it.”

He has his own ideas about how society could be organised in a form of marriage-lite, proposing an alternative to both marriage and civil partnerships called a civil community pact, allowing people to nominate any “significant other” as next of kin or beneficiary in death. “It would allow all people to pick and mix from a menu of rights and responsibilities to create a partnership agreement,” he adds.

If you want to continue the debate with Peter Tatchell, come along to our next members’ event on Wednesday 26 February: Is same sex marriage just a distraction? as part of LGBT History Month. Peter Tatchell will be joined be fellow panellists: Roz Kaveney – trans woman, novellist, poet, critic and activist; Gemma Rolls-Bentley & Danielle Wilde – currently blogging their wedding plans for Stylist magazineZoe Stavri – feminist blogger; chaired by broadcaster Ruth Barnes (BBC, Amazing Radio)

We’ll be asking: Why would same sex couples want to get married anyway? Is same sex marriage just about making LGBT couples more heteronormative? What should the priorities be for the LGBT community and LGBT feminism? If you want to be part of the discussion, please join us. Click here for details. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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