SUZANNE HARRINGTON: Panti, Iona, the Queen, and blatant homophobia

Panti Bliss on stage

AS an Irish citizen, I would have waded into this whole Panti / Iona thing earlier but I live in Brighton where everyone is busy bringing up their ordinary children in ordinary same sex households and getting married to whoever they ordinarily love without further ado, and to be honest it passed me by.

I was too busy reading dispatches from human rights’ activist Peter Tatchell and looking at uploads of Vladimir Putin done up as a drag queen accompanied by the sarcastic words ‘gay icon’, just in time for the very extraordinary Sochi games. Extraordinary in how they violate the Olympic Charter’s Principle 6: “Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.” Unless you’re gay obviously. Still, at least that wouldn’t happen anywhere in this end of the world.

Then I saw the ten-minute speech given by Panti Bliss at the Abbey Theatre on February 1st, and like that Kylie song, I just can’t get it out of my head.

It was jaw-dropping. One of the most humane, dignified, atriculate communications you will ever see.

Panti Bliss is Dr Martin Luther King in drag. This speech should be shown in schools, in workplaces, in any institution anywhere that needs to know what it feels like to be in the minority. Any place where the majority judges and debates and makes decisions about your life on your behalf, without taking into account your equality as a fellow member of the human race. Who do we heterosexual people think we are?

“For the last three weeks, I have been lectured to by heterosexual people about what homophobia is and about who is allowed to identify it,” Panti said. “Straight people have lined up ... to tell me what homophobia is ... People who have never experienced homophobia in their lives ... have told me that unless I am being thrown into prison or herded onto a cattle truck, then it is not homophobia. And that feels oppressive.”

Stephen Fry obviously thought so, as he retweeted the speech to his 6.57 million followers. “Looking at the recent debacle in Ireland,” he blogged. “With someone being berated by the straight community for DARING to say that he felt oppressed by something that seems to me to be obvious homophobia.”

Meanwhile, at Buckingham Palace, the artist Grayson Perry recently received an award from the Queen while in full drag (him, not the Queen). He is transvestite, (“art is spirituality in drag”), heterosexual, and married with a daughter. He is part of the British establishment now, in all his shiny satin glory. But then again, unlike Panti Bliss, he is not gay. Or Irish.

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