Activist Peter Tatchell reveals he dated tragic gay footballer Justin Fashanu

Justin Fashanu

Veteran LGBTQ+ activist Peter Tatchell has revealed for the first time that he dated gay footballer Justin Fashanu in the 1980s. 

In an article for The Mail+, the Daily Mail’s premium site, the 71-year-old shared stories of the pair taking bicycle rides along the Thames while he fought – and lost – a by-election for Labour in Bermondsey in 1983.

The by-election was triggered when Labour MP Bob Mellish – who Tatchell said once propositioned him – stepped down to move to a new job with the London Docklands Development Corporation. 

The election was described as “poisonous” by Tatchell, who told the publication he kept a fire extinguisher by his bed and installed a rope ladder at his rear window because he feared he was going to be firebombed over his sexuality. 

Leaflets, which revealed his address, were delivered through voters’ doors during the contentious campaign. 

Activist Peter Tatchell in London in 1989. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

It was at this time that Tatchell met Fashanu and the pair ‘clicked immediately’.

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A hooded Fashanu – the first Black professional player to fetch over £1 million – would ‘crawl from the stairwell’ to Tatchell’s first-floor front door, “reckoning that even if someone spotted him coming into my block they wouldn’t know which flat he went to”. 

Fashanu eventually came out as gay in 1990 to much abuse from fans and the media and tragically committed eight years later.

In 1998, Fashanu was accused of sexual assault by a 17-year-old boy in Maryland, US. Although the legal age of consent was 16 – and Fashanu maintained that the relations were consensual – homosexual acts were still illegal in Maryland.

Fearing his sexuality would prevent a fair trial, Fashanu ended his life on May 2, 1998 at 37 years old.

His life story is set to be told as a major new ITV drama, which will come from BAFTA-nominated writer Kwame Kwei-Armah.

It will honour the story of his personal life and career, as well as integrating the experiences of his brother John, also a footballer, who was estranged from Fashanu when he died.