Human Rights campaigner Peter Tatchell was the winner of this year’s award for Secularist of the Year. He was presented with the £5,000 Irwin Prize by the author and freedom of expression campaigner Nick Cohen at a highly enjoyable lunch-time event hosted by the National Secular Society last Saturday. The audience included prominent scientists, journalists, campaigners and writers including Richard Dawkins, Lord Taverne, Joan Smith, Oliver Kamm, Professor Peter Atkins and Maryam Namazie.
Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said: “We are very pleased to be able to reward Peter’s lifelong commitment to human rights and to honour his support for a just and inclusive secular society. He has been active in many progressive campaigns over the past forty or more years, not least in gay rights, and has had to endure much public and press abuse because of it. But he has persevered and now he has made the unprecedented transition from public enemy number one to national treasure.”
Mr Sanderson said in his introduction to the presentation:
“I’m very pleased to see that at last he has been recognised as a true secularist and someone who has given much to the cause.
“Of course, you’d have had to live on the moon not to have been aware of Peter’s many campaigns to drive forward human rights. He is an international player and perhaps his most famous confrontation was that with Robert Mugabe, the tyrant of Zimbabwe. This resulted in him being badly beaten by Mugabe’s thug-like minders.
“Peter is a fighter for civil liberties, criminal injustice, democracy, free speech, LGBT rights, sex education and social justice.
“He has also faced physical attacks in Russia and regularly finds himself the subject of attack in the streets and on public transport. His home is a fortress, but his determination remains resolute.
“The NSS first came across Peter when, in 1998, he audaciously climbed into the pulpit at Canterbury Cathedral and interrupted the Archbishop mid-flow. He wanted to call him to account for his antipathy to gay rights, something the Archbishop had consistently refused to address.