Panti-Monium: Where Pride Meets St. Patrick’s Day
With St. Patrick's Day upon us, I bring a tale of an Irish Drag Queen who took on the reactionary media blow-hards of Ireland and won. Recently thrust into the global media spotlight, this career gender illusionist has been schooling people across the Emerald Isle and around the globe how to deal with Homophobes with grace, class and integrity.
The hard-working queen and proprietor of the famed gay club Pantibar in Dublin, Ms. Panti Bliss (aka Rory O'Neill), came to the forefront in early February after labeling two prominent Irish journalists and a right wing Catholic lobby group as homophobes in an interview on RTE, Ireland's National Television network. In response, these individuals sued both O'Neill and RTE for defamation. Lacking the protection of a U.S. like First Amendment, and fearing a drawn out battle, RTE paid out over €80 thousand (or approximately $110 thousand. ) The settlement angered people all over Ireland and some 2,000 amassed in the following weeks for a demonstration against RTE for having caved in.
After a two-week media storm that became known as "Panti-gate," Panti took to the stage of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin and gave an incredibly passionate and empowered speech about what it was like to live under the spectre of homophobia. The honesty and candor of her telling of how homophobia has shaped her own self image and the way that others perceive her is eye-opening. The video has garnered over half a million hits to date and has brought in support and praise across the LGBT and artistic communities from the likes of Stephen Fry, Madonna, Graham Norton and provided the Pet Shop Boys with the inspiration to create a dance mix featuring sound bytes of the speech.
In early March, Panti came to New York to march in the LGBT inclusive 15th Annual St. Pat’s for All Parade across the river from the famed Fifth Avenue festivities in my neighborhood of Sunnyside, Queens. This parade was founded by Brendan Fay and current New York City Council member Daniel Dromm of the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization that was refused the right to march in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Fifth Avenue. Recently, this issue heated up again with New York’s new Mayor Bill DiBlasio refusing to march on Fifth Avenue because of the exclusion of LGBT groups. Mayor DiBlasio stood alongside Panti, a handful of Irish dignitaries, and other local politicos, stating that this parade stood for the true welcoming spirit of the Irish in New York. It was one of the most well attended parades in St. Pat’s for All’s 15-year history and Panti looked right at home riding up Skillman Avenue perched on a red Mustang convertible and throwing the best Irish shade at the Anti-Gay protestors along the route.
I had the opportunity to speak with both Panti/Rory and Conor Horgan who has been working on a documentary of Panti, and joined her on the trip to New York. Rory elaborated on the whirlwind of being thrust into the public eye and the firestorm it is causing all over Ireland as they finally are approaching a referendum on same-sex marriage in the latter part of 2015. Rory was thrilled to see that the everyday people on the street were the ones cheering him on and even members of the Irish Parliament were speaking out for the need for reform of oversight of the media, to prevent this kind of censorship from happening in the future. When asked if he felt that this was going to help turn the tide towards wider acceptance of LGBT folks in Irish society he said " People just can’t continue to think this way anymore!" He intends to remain vocal in the campaign on the vote for marriage equality and expects that although it will be a long and sometimes ugly fight, that the general message of acceptance from the common people will override the politicians.
In speaking to Conor Horgan about the documentary he is working on and his own take on what has transpired since this whole thing took off, he commented, "Rory has always been very articulate, charismatic and very funny. He’s motivated a lot of change at home, speaks truth to power and puts his head above the parapet. This is not the Irish way, Ireland is a small community and there aren’t that many that are willing to do that. Not only was Rory’s speech very articulate, but it was also very personal. It’s made people all over the world understand what it is like to be the subject of homophobia."
During his time in New York, Rory was presented with a proclamation of welcome from the City Council of New York, and afterwards joined the heads of the St. Pat’s for All Parade for lunch. As he sat there listening to Brendan Fay pour out the story of his own journey and reasons for starting the parade, Rory noticed a statuesque caramel colored woman sitting at the table next to them who was very intent on their conversation. When Brendan paused in conversation, the woman interjected that she couldn’t help but overhear, and that as a trans woman in New York "it’s people like you that make it easier for people like me to live without shame." Rory said that this truly summed up why we all have to speak out when faced with the injustice of homophobia, and make people understand that it is just unacceptable.
What’s next for Panti? Well the offers are pouring in from all over the place, and she’ll be taking her one woman show to Paris in the summer. She is working on a book and writing an all new show that will premiere sometime later this year. When she’s not out stirring up the global discussion on homophobia, you can find her in Pantibar, spinning tunes, holding court and being the best Gender Discombobulist on the planet.
I’m on Team Panti! Are you?