I go to sleep every night with a siren alarm, a fire extinguisher and a rope ladder beside my bed, in case of another attack. I've had hundreds of attacks over the years: bottles and bricks through the windows, three fire bombs and a bullet through the letterbox. My flat is a fortress, with iron bars over the windows and a steel-reinforced front door, and the hallway is fire-proofed.
During my 46 years of LGBT and human rights campaigning, I've challenged and upset a lot of dictators, fascists, homophobes and racists. Hate mail and death threats are a regular part of my life. There have been plots to kill me by neo-Nazis, Islamists, agents of the Mugabe regime and supporters of the Jamaican "murder music" dancehall singers who incite the killing of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. For periods I've been under armed police protection.
Fortunately, the worst that's happened to me is a bloodied face, smashed teeth and some minor brain and eye damage from beatings by President Mugabe's goons in Brussels in 2001 and far-right nationalists in Moscow in 2007. I got off lightly compared with heroic human rights defenders in countries like Iran, Russia, Pakistan and Zimbabwe. Many of them have been jailed, tortured and killed.
Despite the menaces I've experienced, I enjoy what I do. My daily life is an exhilarating roller coaster of excitement, chaos, improvisation, crisis, idealism and fulfilment. It's often stressful and exhausting, but I love human rights work. It is much more rewarding than any cushy, well-paid professional job.
Being underfunded and with only one assistant, I have to do most of the hard graft and routine tasks myself. I make placards, deliver leaflets and organize my own travel. Usually, I work 14 to 16 hours a day, seven days a week. No wonder I am single. What man would put up with me? In the middle of a busy campaign, like the current movement for marriage equality in the UK, I sometimes get by on one hour's sleep. I last had a proper holiday in 2008. I often joke that holidays and nights off are for wimps.
I mostly work from my tiny, one-bedroom council flat, which is on a huge, sprawling municipal housing project about a mile south of Big Ben, in a neighbourhood called Elephant and Castle. I've lived there for 34 years, not by choice but by poverty. Having been unpaid for most of my last four decades of campaigning, I haven't been able to afford to move to something better. Never mind!
A typical day starts at around 9 a.m., after having gone to bed sometime between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. and having had way too little sleep. I work a lot in the after-midnight hours, to meet early-morning deadlines to deliver articles for publication, and to prepare campaign briefings and news releases for the coming day. I operate on a 24-hour clock, constantly connecting with activists and media in different time zones. At midnight in London, I am hooking up with campaigners in New York (five hours behind London) and Sydney (10 hours ahead of London). It sometimes gets confusing.
I begin my day with a raw lemon juice detox, which is also a big energy boost, and then I do a workout in the hallway: sets of 60 push-ups and 120 sit-ups on alternate days. Keeping fit makes me a more effective activist. If I did not look after myself, I'd be quickly worn down by the stress and the workload.
Most days I receive around 800 emails, phone calls, tweets and Facebook messages. Some are requests for help from victimized individuals, mostly concerning asylum, discrimination and hate crimes. A volunteer, Raks, now does most of this individual casework. There are also lots of invitations to speak, write and be interviewed. It is such an honor to be asked. I feel so humbled. But a majority of the messages relate to my several simultaneous campaigns in the UK and abroad.
In addition to the issue of equal marriage, my UK campaigns deal with economic democracy, alternatives to austerity, asylum reform and challenges to homophobia in sport, religious fundamentalism and far-right extremism. My international work involves supporting democracy, human rights and LGBT movements in countries such as Uganda, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Baluchistan, West Papua and China. To me it is really important that campaigners in rich, democratic countries support and empower our brothers and sisters who are campaigning in poor countries and under dictatorships. LGBT rights and other human rights are universal and indivisible. Everyone's freedom is important.
Either I or my assistant James tries to answer the daily deluge of messages, but it is impossible to keep up with the vast volume. I want to say "yes" to everyone, but, sadly, I can accept only a tiny fraction of the invitations I receive. I feel bad that I am letting people down.
At around noon I have breakfast-lunch, normally oats with yogurt, nuts and mixed fruits, plus a multivitamin pill. I'm quite fierce about eating healthfully. Sometimes the phone rings almost nonstop. I often end up eating only one mouthful between calls. Finishing a meal can take an hour or more.
The rest of the day involves either writing an article, giving a speech, doing media interviews, organizing campaigns or joining a protest -- and sometimes doing a bit of all of them. There's never a repetitive or dull moment. I am always rushing from one task to the next -- so many campaigns, so little time. I'm trying to cram too much into every day. Invariably, I nearly miss trains and planes and arrive at speaking engagements and interviews at the very last minute. I am time-impoverished.
The pressure of so many tasks to cram into each day means that I often eat way too late, at 10 p.m. or midnight. My evening meal is usually lots of fresh, uncooked vegetables with a mix of nuts, cheese, eggs (no meat) and pasta or bread drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with crushed garlic, all washed down with a glass of red wine. It's delicious and nutritious. Then I go back to work for another few hours.
By bedtime I am knackered. I'm so tired that I never have problems sleeping, despite all the strain and pressure I am under. In two minutes I'm out like a light.
What keeps me going day after day? Idealism, passion and a belief that something better is possible. My motto and inspiration is this: "Don't accept the world as it is. Dream of what the world could be -- and then help make it happen."
"A Day in a Queer Life" is an ongoing blog series that documents the unique struggles, joys, triumphs, setbacks, hopes and desires of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people living in one of the six countries currently featuring a HuffPost site (Canada, France, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States). Each week a different blogger from one of these countries shares his or her personal story and perspective on what life is like wherever he or she resides. Want to share your own story? Write us at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how you can take part in "A Day in a Queer Life."
Photo copyright Peter Tatchell
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