You ask the questions: Peter Tatchell

(Such as: Peter Tatchell, were you upset that someone outed Peter Mandelson before you did?)

The gay rights activist Peter Tatchell, 47, was born in Melbourne, Australia. He came to England in 1971 and became a leading light in campaigning for gay rights. In 1983 he was defeated as the Labour candidate in the Bermondsey by-election. Last Easter Tatchell gained widespread publicity for hijacking the Archbishop of Canterbury's Easter sermon. A vocal campaigner for the gay rights group OutRage!, he lives in South London.

When did you first realise you were gay?

Alice Lawrence, Tunbridge Wells

Not until I was 17. I was a late developer. The average age at which gay men realise their sexuality is 12-14. But looking back on my childhood, I can see that I had unconscious, sublimated homoerotic desires from around the age of eight, as reflected in my passion for athletics and surfing.

What is the great attraction of being a "martyr" - something you once said you wanted to be?

LS Barnes, London SW18

I never said any such thing. That fabricated quote was published in The Times, which then refused to carry a letter of correction. It has since been regurgitated by other newspapers, despite my protests. I don't want to be a martyr because martyrs end up dead!

Would you describe yourself as an attention-seeker?

DA Platt, Milton Keynes

I want attention for gay issues, not for me personally. OutRage! seeks to transform cultural attitudes towards homosexuality. To achieve that, it is necessary to raise public awareness and provoke media debate. Publicising the issues is a prerequisite for changing attitudes.

What advice would you offer Peter Mandelson? Were you upset that someone outed him before you did?

DA Edwards, Bristol

My advice: come out to end the speculation and innuendo. But ultimately that choice has to be Peter's. OutRage! was against him being outed. If we wanted to, we could have outed Mandelson years ago. One of our members knows him well. We have lots of information about his private life. I was asked by Mandelson's biographer, Paul Routledge, to dish the dirt. I refused because I do not support outing unless an MP is acting in a way that is hypocritical and homophobic. Since Peter does not advocate anti-gay policies, there is no ethical justification for his being outed.

I once read that friends say you've never forgiven your stepfather or the church for refusing to accept your homosexuality. Is that true?

SF Gadd, Worcester

Another journalistic invention. I don't hold grudges or feel bitterness. These are destructive emotions. Although it is sometimes difficult, I forgive everyone, including the neo-Nazis who tried to kill me, the Liberals for dirty tricks during the Bermondsey by-election, and the journalists who have misrepresented and vilified my campaigns for gay human rights.

What do you hope to achieve by making sexuality a political issue?

TE Lewin, Carlisle

I don't make it a political issue. Society does that by promoting attitudes and laws that discriminate against lesbian and gay people. If there were no homophobia there would be no need for campaigning groups like OutRage! What we want to achieve is simple: an end to homophobic prejudice, discrimination and violence.

Should a prospective MP declare his sexuality?

Nick, Southampton

Hiding your homosexuality reinforces the idea that it is shameful to be gay, and leaves you vulnerable to blackmail and scandal-mongering. Coming out removes the stress of leading a secret double life, and possibility of exposure by political opponents and the press. Ideally, candidates should come out, but it is up to them.

Isn't lowering the age of consent to 14 declaring open season to paedophiles? Why 14? Why not 12 or 13?

KC Neal, Bradford

OutRage! is against criminalising teenagers involved in consenting relationships. Fourteen is the average age at which young people have their first sexual experience. Sex below 16 is illegal. Threatening these young people with arrest is not protection; it's persecution. The best safeguard against abuse is early, good quality sex education to give teenagers the skills and confidence to rebuff the advances of would-be abusers.

Would you like to have children?

Emily Baker, Suffolk

Because my mother was often ill, I effectively raised my younger brother and sisters. I've done my stint of parenthood.

What was the last book you read?

Cathleen Allen, Portsmouth

The Bible. I am writing an article on religious homophobia and was reading Leviticus 20.13, where it says that homosexuals should be put to death. Over the centuries, millions of gay people have been stoned to death, burnt alive and hanged from gallows as a result of the Bible's teaching. The Bible is to gays what Mein Kampf is to Jews.

Before your recent trial, did the thought of imprisonment frighten you?

D Gleeson, Reading

Prison is not a pleasant place for anyone, least of all an openly gay man. I was terrified that I might be beaten up or raped.

If there were one thing you could change in your life, what would it be?

Noel Spinner, Essex

I'd like to change four things about my life: I'd like to receive a modest income for my unpaid 10-hour-a-day campaigning; I'd want to get some official secretarial help with the huge volume of phone calls, letters, faxes and e-mails that I receive; I'd like to be reported fairly and honestly by the media; and I'd like to have a house with a garden in a safe neighbourhood.

Do you have interests outside gay-rights activism? If so, what are they?

RJ Nicoll, Lancashire

Other campaigns: exposing the scientific flaws of animal-based medical research and supporting the people of East Timor and West Papua against Indonesian occupation. Personal pursuits: mountaineering, surfing, movies, architecture and restoring junk.

Who is the most interesting person you have met recently?

LMC Boosey, Birmingham

A gay 1939-45 war veteran. His open homosexuality was totally accepted by the military, which makes a mockery of the ban on homosexuals in the armed forces. If gays could serve then, why not now?

What was your first thought when you woke up this morning?

Ian Payne, Nottingham

I feel ill and exhausted. Doctors say I am suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Because of my public stand in defence of gay equality, I've been targeted by homophobes. As well as being attacked with iron bars, bottles and knives, my home has been subjected to arson attempts, a bullet through the door and bricks through the windows. The police tell me I am lucky to be alive. Doctors say that most people in my situation would have committed suicide.

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