In early 2014 Ireland fell into a homophobic tailspin when drag queen Panti Bliss appeared on the national broadcaster. What followed was political discord, media blackouts and a Pet Shop Boys single.
Written & Illustrated by Chrissy Curtin
Rory O’Neill (aka. drag queen Panti Bliss) is a guest on RTÉ’s Saturday Night Show hosted by Brendan O’Connor. While talking about his experience of being gay in Ireland, he is asked by Brendan to name examples of people who hold an anti-gay attitude; he names Breda O’Brien, John Waters and the Iona Institute.
After complaints of defamation from John Waters, a member of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI), and members of the Iona Institute
(a right-wing Catholic think tank), RTÉ removes the episode from their online player.
An edited version of the episode re-appears online on the RTÉ Player.
Websites, such as broadsheet.ie, are told to remove any videos & transcripts of the interview by RTÉ.
“you are hereby put on notice that the publication and continued publication of this interview and any transcripts thereof may be defamatory.”
There is a media blackout among mainstream media in Ireland while support for Panti grows online.
The incident on the Saturday Night Show is christened Pantigate.
O’Neill receives legal correspondence from members of the Iona Institute.
O’Neill receives legal correspondence from John Waters.
John Waters waves his obligations and resigns from the BAI, allowing him to pursue a case against Rory O’Neill.
RTÉ issues a payout to Waters, O’Brien and members of the Iona Institute, without revealing the amount paid to the public.
Waters is replaced on the BAI.
Brendan O’Connor issues a public apology during the Saturday Night Show on behalf of RTÉ.
An open letter is sent to RTÉ by Barrister and Equality & Human Rights expert Brian Barrington, which voices his complaints on the apology made during the Saturday Night Show.
TD Catherine Murphy’s Special Notice Question is refused at the Dáil.
“The apology and payment of damages by the national broadcaster to a private organisation without substantive just cause and the dangerous precedent for public discourse this action sets.”
RTÉ and the BAI receive an onslaught of complaints in the aftermath of the Saturday Night Show apology.
Senator Averil Power (Fianna Fáil) calls for the Minister for Communication, Pat Rabbitte, to discuss the payout and the apology.
“RTÉ has the responsibility to ensure that all voices are heard, not just those with the deepest pockets.”
At the same meeting, Senator Jim Walsh takes Iona’s side.
Team Panti badges are released to support Pantigate.
Pat Rabbitte and the government, wash their hands of the scandal.
“I have no intention of interfering in RTÉ’s management of the litigation claims against it. But I do expect that RTÉ remains fully committed to its chief obligation as a public service broadcaster — to ensure the full and free exchange of information and opinion on all matters of legitimate public interest.”
The payout amount is revealed to be totalling €85,000.
Panti Bliss performs the Noble Call speech at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, after the final performance of The Risen People by James Plunkett. The speech details her experience of homophobia in Ireland and the stifling of the word homophobic from current debates on LGBT issues.
This speech goes viral on YouTube, getting more than 100,000 views in less than two days.
Meanwhile, the Saturday Night Show hosts a debate to discuss homophobia, the use of the word and same-sex marriage.
A Speak Out Against Homophobia demonstration is led by LGBT Noise outside the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin; Senator David Norris speaks about the silencing of homophobia; 2000 people attend to support.
The Irish Times falsely report the number of supporters as being 750.
Reports that outrage over the payout belongs to an online minority leads Galway photographer and designer, Chris Tierney, to do his ‘Send a Message to RTÉ and Iona’ photo series to prove that the issue is of a public concern.
MEP Paul Murphy brings the issue to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.
“It’s an attack by the right wing conservative forces in Ireland, acceded to by RTÉ, designed to censor debate in advance of a likely referendum on marriage equality. We must refuse to be silenced.”
Graham Norton tweets his support for Panti’s Speech.
Senator David Norris calls for a debate on homophobia to be had in
More support for Panti’s speech floods in, with an email from Madonna and tweets from RuPaul, Dara O’Briain and Stephen Fry.
Live debate on Pantigate held in the Dáil. TD’s John Lyons (Labour) and Clare Daly (United Left Alliance) voice their opinions on the RTÉ payout along with members of Sinn Féin, Fine Gael and Independent parties. (No members of Fianna Fáil attend).
Feck off out of my life! I’m On Team Panti t-shirts on sale with proceeds going to BeLonG_To LGBT youth service.
Panti appears on the Channel 4 news to discuss her Noble Call speech and homophobia in Ireland.
“…well of course, you know, I’m better off here in Ireland, but that doesn’t mean to say that I have to accept the lower level of homophobia that we get here.”
Panti supporters show solidarity in the audience during Prime Time by wearing the I’m On Team Panti t-shirts.
Primary school student, Niamh inspired by Panti’s speech, writes an affecting letter to O’Neill. It highlights the stigma that still exists around the word “gay” and how it is still used as a playground insult in Ireland. Despite some politicians, in the wake of the scandal, denying that homophobia is a modern problem.
“I think all people should be treated the same and RTÉ shouldn’t have given those reporters all that money. Accept peoples life and their decision, they’re not asking you to be Gay.”
Rory O’Neill debates same-sex marriage and using the word homophobia, on BBC World Have Your Say.
David Norris calls out homophobia within the Seanad, criticises Iona and tells the government to “get the money back.”
Oppressive a remix of Panti’s speech is released for the BeLonG_To charity by artist Out!rage.
Panti is invited to New York to take part in the St. Pats for All parade in Queens.
Rory O’Neill receives an honorary Proclamation at NY City Hall.
Independent TD Stephen Donnelly proposes the Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill 2014 to remove any mention of the term “offence” from the Broadcasting Act 2009.
“Legislation that molly coddles those likely to take offence, regardless of what they’re offered, gags free speech, harms public debate, and makes uncomfortable truths, invisible truths.”
Pet Shop Boys release a remix of Panti’s Noble Call speech titled The Best Gay Possible – Oppressive Dance Mix.
John Waters officially stops writing for the Irish Times.
Rory O’Neill/Panti Bliss is nominated for three Pride of Ireland awards; Lifetime Achievement, Bravery and Special Recognition.
Marriage Referendum 2015
The moustache-twirling gay bashers of previous generations are gone (at least that’s what we tell ourselves). Some people think that’s enough — the disapproving frowns, quiet faces, small sharp threats of violence and local parish sermons is life as it should be in 21st Century Ireland.
But being comfortable with the way things are is also a political stance.
The heat from Pantigate has died down since April, yet with the Referendum for Same-Sex Marriage on the horizon, the same tactics are sure to repeat.
It’s not up to the politicians and the media to tell a minority how they feel and what is and isn’t oppressive.
The censoring of the word “homophobia” from debate on gay rights will ultimately affect how we talk about it. And when we talk about gay rights, homophobia is a part of it.
*Everyone should have an equal right to marry, regardless of gender. Ireland (and the world) needs to move on from the Stone Age and grant people this right.
Voting YES on May 22nd will make this happen.
*Added before the Referendum.