Part 1 is here
(Part 2 of 3)
There was a seed change happening in the political establishment, due in no small part to the Labour Party, Brendan Howlin’s Civil Union Bill in 2007 another small step in the struggle, one of the main reasons why I am a proud Labour member. (check for the Labour Party’s history on LGBT issues - Labour LGBT ). I remember sitting in the gallery of the Dail and feeling so dejected when the Fianna Fail led government blocked, yet again, a bill giving fundamental equality rights to LGBT people.
In 2010, the Civil Partnership Bill was passed giving many rights to LGBT people, although not full equality. Still it was a huge step in the journey of equality. Of course, another Wexford political dinosaur, a Fianna Fail Senator Jim Walsh from New Ross vowed to do everything in his power to stop the Bill. He failed (in so many ways).
Two landmark things happened in 2011. As part of the Program for Government, Labour and Fine Gael agreed on a commitment to establishing a Constitutional Convention which would report on a number of reform issues including same-sex marriage. A wide-range of other commitments to support LGBT rights was included in the Programme for Government. This LGBT agenda was lead by Eamon Gilmore and without these commitments Labour would not have entered into Government in 2011.
Also in 2011, Senator David Norris ran for President and I got involved (of course). Firstly, there was a huge problem with him even getting nominated with the establishment trying to block him. I, and many others thought this was ludicrous, believing that everyone should have the right to run for office and let the public decide. That's what democracy is all about surely. Eventually Norris got the necessary nominations but with a dreadful team around him, that ignored the political operatives & volunteers on the ground his campaign was doomed. Some very nasty press put a depressing end to the whole endeavor. At least we had the brown envelope that may or may not have existed that stopped Gallagher getting elected and we elected an amazing (and former Labour person) Michael D Higgins to the office of President. I was a happy bunny.
In 2012, the Labour Party Leader and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore became the most senior government minister to publicly say that he wanted to see same-sex marriage introduced in Ireland.
“I believe in gay marriage. The right of gay couples to marry is, quite simply, the civil rights issue of this generation and, in my opinion, its time has come.” – Eamon Gilmore TD
Over the next few years, I attended several same-sex civil partnerships of my best friends, one - Conor Vaughan Buggy married his long term partner David – who I had known for over 30 years and the aforementioned Val married David Scallan. During all this time I never had a long term partner, for me it just didn't happen and all my friends were getting hitched but that's the way the cookie crumbled. Fast forward to 2014, a catalyst moment in the battle for equality. HOMOPHOBE!
Panti-Gate as it became known happened on 11 January 2014, Rory O'Neill appeared on RTE's The Saturday Night Show with Brendan O'Connor where they discussed homophobia and O'Neill alleged that some individuals (in his opinion as a gay person) involved in Irish journalism were homophobic.
John Waters, Breda O’Brien and the Iona Institute threatened RTÉ and O'Neill with legal action. RTÉ subsequently removed that section of the interview from their online archive and shortly afterwards paid €85,000 out to the aforementioned homophobes. This they probably used to support the NO side during the referendum (IMHO). However, there was a bigger problem on the horizon. This payout by RTE signaled, by them, a fear and unwillingness to deal with the debates that would be happening in the next year. Basically the supporters of Marriage Equality were being censored and would not be allowed to call out cowards and homophobes for what they were. Instead, gay people were being branded as homophobes. HELLO! (click your fingers and sash-aaa away)
On 1 February 2014, O'Neill (as Panti) gave a speech at the Abbey Theatre in response to the events surrounding the RTÉ controversy which garnered over 200,000 views in two days and nearly a million in the next couple of months, translated into many languages via subtitles. If you have never seen it, watch it. If you have seen it, re-watch it. This was the tipping point for most (including me)...
The “Noble Call”, dubbed as such by Stephen Fry on his twitter account to his 12 million users propelled Panti’s speech around the World and support poured in.
There was a sense of revolution in the air. RTE could try silence us, but the World of entertainment that many LGBT people lived in could not be silenced. Neither could the WWW be silenced. If RTE continued in their censorship of those supporting Marriage Equality it didn’t matter, we didn’t need them. There was an excitement and burning desire to “get the party started”. Of course the whole debacle from 11th January to 1st February gave us something else that was very important and the following year would prove a huge help.
Unplanned by O’Neill it gave families and friends the opportunity to talk about equality and the rights of LGBT people. I’m sure in every household there was some degree of discussion and argument. And the normal rule of not talking about politics in the pub was postponed as many discussed it over a pint. Public discussion, discourse, disagreement and debate was happened, exactly what the NO side and RTE were trying to stop.
#Equality #LGBT #Wexford