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Elton John's Netflix film Hating Peter Tatchell tells story of day protestors stormed Canterbury Cathedral

It was an event that stunned the world, when one of the holiest of days was hijacked by a man determined to have his voice heard.

For the Easter Sunday service at Canterbury Cathedral in 1998 is remembered not for its reverence, but for the pulpit being stormed by protestors.

Footage from the cathedral taken by the Associated Press

As the debate about homosexuality rumbled on within the Church of England, one man vowed to bring the issue to a wider audience and expose the perceived discrimination and hypocrisy.

He was Peter Tatchell, a prominent gay and human rights campaigner who chose the time and place to make his point in the most public of ways.

As the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, gave his sermon, Mr Tatchell stormed the pulpit with supporters from his group, Outrage.

He pushed the head of the Anglican church aside, took the microphone and accused him of "supporting the abuse of the human rights of gay and lesbian people".

It led to chaotic scenes, with Mr Tatchell hauled away by security guards and later prosecuted at the magistrates' court under an archaic law.

The story has now been told in a new Netflix film, Hating Peter Tatchell.

The new Netflix film 'Hating Peter Tatchell' (47819399)
The new Netflix film 'Hating Peter Tatchell' (47819399)

Speaking to KentOnline this week, Mr Tatchell recalled the event that made him a household name.

He said: "Our protest took its inspiration from Jesus overturning tables in the temple.

"We went into the pulpit to challenge Archbishop Carey over his unwillingness to dialogue with the LGBT+ community and his support for legal discrimination against LGBT+ people.

"It had a positive result. After a decade of refusal, Carey finally agreed to meet the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement for the first time and he dramatically reduced his advocacy of homophobic discrimination.

"That protest helped push forward positive change within the church; although there are still unresolved issues like discrimination against gay clergy and the refusal to marry, or even bless, same-sex couples.

"The magistrate accepted that it was a brief, peaceful protest but said I had broken the law. I could have been sent to prison.

Peter Tatchell and supporters storm the pulpit on Easter Sunday (47820176)
Peter Tatchell and supporters storm the pulpit on Easter Sunday (47820176)

"I greatly appreciate that Dr Carey has had a change of heart. He's now more supportive of LGBT+ human rights. It was moving and humbling to hear him say that my campaigns have been a force for good. That took courage."

Mr Tatchell's cathedral protest gained worldwide coverage but landed him before Canterbury magistrates charged with "indecent behaviour in a church" following a prosecution brought under the little-used 1860 Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act.

He denied the offence and the late veteran MP Tony Benn even spoke as a character witness.

But after a two-day trial Mr Tatchell was convicted and fined £18.60, with court costs of £300.

Sentencing him, stipendiary magistrate Michael Kelly said he regarded the offence as the "equivalent of a minor public order offence".

He added: "You are a man of previous good character and you have a clear commitment to your cause and a belief in non-violent protest.

Peter Tatchell stages one of his many protests (47820172)
Peter Tatchell stages one of his many protests (47820172)

"The incident lasted at most for a few minutes. No one was hurt and the service resumed shortly afterwards.

"It is always difficult to balance the right to protest against the right to belief and worship.

"I am sure that some people will have been disgusted and truly offended by your conduct.

"But I suspect that the vast majority would regard your conduct as an insignificant and transient incident in the history of a great cathedral."

Outside court, Mr Tatchell remained unrepentant, telling reporters: "I deplore the fact that the court has found me guilty for exercising my right to free speech and peaceful protest.

"I have been found guilty in a court of law but I would not regard myself as being found morally guilty of a crime."

Surrounded by supporters, he added: "I stood up in Canterbury Cathedral to demonstrate against Dr Carey's support of the abuse of human rights of gay and lesbian people."

"While some of us can question his tactics, no one can actually doubt that he's on the right side of history..."

Footage of the protest filmed by the Associated Press features in Hating Peter Tatchell.

The film also includes Lord Carey's recollection of events.

Speaking in the film, the former Archbishop recalls: "I was trapped in the pulpit while Peter bellowed into the microphone."

Yet 24 years later, Dr Carey has a a different view of the man who challenged him.

He had previously considered Mr Tatchell a "bullying kind of chap trying to get his own way", adding that his reaction to the protest was one of anger mixed with sadness.

In the film he says: "It's a kind of scorched earth policy. You don't make friends that way."

Peter Tatchell is frogmarched away by security staff (47820178)
Peter Tatchell is frogmarched away by security staff (47820178)

But on reflection he adds: "While some of us can question his tactics, no one can actually doubt that he's on the right side of history."

Hating Peter Tatchell reveals how he grew up in Australia in a strictly God-fearing family which considered homosexuality a sin and with a 'cruel' stepfather "who wasn't very Christian-like".

His rebellious nature against perceived injustices soon began to evolve in his teens - not just for gay rights but for issues like the war in Vietnam which the Australian government supported.

As a conscientious objector, Mr Tatcher chose to avoid National Service and so left for Britain to pursue a new life, campaigning for gay and human rights.

He has spent 54 years "confronting bigots" and helping to change laws and public opinion.

"When people in power won't show compassion, sometimes you have to up the anti," he says.

Along the way that has involved 3,000 protests, 100 arrests, 50 attacks of his home, thousands of death threats and 300 violent assaults - leaving him with brain and eye damage.

"He deserves recognition for his extraordinary contribution to the happiness of millions of people who have never heard of him...."

But Mr Tatchell remains an active campaigner despite the many injuries he has sustained confronting regimes across the world, not just about gay rights but for all those facing discrimination, oppression and even torture.

Hating Peter Tatchell, which is produced by Elton John and David Furnish, shows him protesting in places like Russia and Saudia Arabia where he faces attack and his famous attempt to make a 'citizen's arrest' of Robert Mugabe, which resulted in him being punched by the then Zimbabwean leader's henchmen.

In the film he is interviewed by Sir Ian McKellen and friends and supporters, including actor Stephen Fry and producer Sir Elton John, talk about his unswerving devotion to fighting injustice.

"He deserves recognition for his extraordinary contribution to the happiness of millions of people who have never heard of him," says Fry

Meanwhile, Mr Tatchell says: "What keeps me going is that the homophobes who are against me want me to give up."

He now heads the Peter Tatchell Foundation - a charity which campaigns around the world against gay LGBT prejudice and for human rights in all walks of life.

Social media guru and Gay Pride promoter Edd Withers (47849409)
Social media guru and Gay Pride promoter Edd Withers (47849409)

Edd Withers who is organising next year's Kent Pride at the Detling showground, praised the film and admitted he has not been aware of Mr Tatchell's cathedral protest until he saw it on Netflix.

"As someone who lives in Canterbury and is gay, that was a really important moment for me, " he said.

"I imagine many younger people had no idea either but it definitely made the church sit up and think about its attitudes.

"And what struck me most was how Dr Carey has changed his tune."

Mr Withers said he had heard Mr Tatchell previously speak at both London and Margate Pride.

"We feel it would be an honour for him to come and speak at Kent Pride and we will certainly be extending an invitation to him," he said.

"He is an inspirational figure who is incredibly humble. While his focus has been LGBT rights, his work has had a positive impact on every single person who is being oppressed or picked on."

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