Irish drag queen and performer Panti Bliss (aka Rory O’Neill) made a significant and honest speech to Irish national theatre the Abbey at the beginning of February 2014.
Bliss’ speech followed her involvement in a recent legal dispute, where the TV station RTE was forced to pay out €85,000 (about $115,490 USD) in damages to journalists and members of the Catholic Iona Institute, after Bliss alleged that they used homophobic speech on the Saturday Night Show.
According to the Irish Independent, the recipients of the settlement were offered a right to reply to O’Neill’s comments on the show, but took legal advice against it.
One of the six people compensated by the RTE, Breda O’Brien, said she will be donating some of her share to a charity the Institute intends to set up in memory of Tom O’Gorman, who was brutally murdered in his home in January 2014.
The Iona Institute is a Catholic lobbying group that campaigns on social issues in order to promote “the place of marriage and religion in society,” meaning they oppose marriage equality.
Irish Communications Minister Pat Rabbite intervened on the issue, warning against using the term homophobe to describe opponents of equal marriage. He claimed, “It is too loaded a term to be used to categorise those who hold contrary views on what is a matter for legitimate public debate.”
Since the dispute has been settled, Panti Bliss came on stage following the Abbey Theatre’s production of “The Risen People” to speak to the audience about the impact of the homophobic oppression the LGBT community experiences on a daily basis.
Bliss addressed the unfairness of heterosexual people feeling they are in a position to dictate what the LGBT community can and cannot feel oppressed by:
“Straight people—ministers, senators, lawyers, journalists—have lined up to tell me what homophobia is and what I am allowed to feel oppressed by. People who have never experienced homophobia in their lives, people who have never checked themselves at a pedestrian crossing, have told me that unless I am being thrown in prison or herded onto a cattle train, then it is not homophobia.
“And that feels oppressive.
“I do sometimes hate myself,” Bliss said. “I hate myself because I fucking check myself while standing at pedestrian crossings. And sometimes I hate you for doing that to me.”
She announced, “almost all of you are probably homophobes.” She then added, “But I’m a homophobe. It would be incredible if we weren’t. To grow up in a society that is overwhelmingly homophobic and to escape unscathed would be miraculous.”
Bliss’ speech has gone viral, with thousands of messages of support flooding in; those sending personal messages of encouragement have included Madonna and famous American drag queen Ru Paul.
Currently, Ireland’s government is in heated debates over gay rights issues, revealing more and more anti-gay sentiments: Senator Jim Walsh proclaimed, “can we deal with these dangerous, vicious elements within the gay ideological movement?” Health Minister Edwin Poots seems obsessed with retaining Ireland’s lifetime ban on gay men giving blood.
Panti Bliss was not incorrect in pointing out the significance of homophobia in Ireland, stressing the reality that it’s virtually impossible for it not to affect everyone. It seems important that Bliss also admit to homophobia within the LGBT community, in order to help heterosexual people feel less accused and more liable to reconsider their opinion on LGBT rights.
A full transcript of the speech can be read here.