Irish performer and “occasional and accidental gay rights activist” Rory O’Neill (often known by the alter-ego Panti Bliss) brought the audience of Dublin’s Abbey Theater to its feet on Saturday night after giving a very personal speech on homophobia and the “oppression of gay people.”
Following a performance of James Plunkett’s drama, The Risen People, O’Neill explained to the crowd how the use of epithets and even the tone of the public debate over gay rights can feel, at times, “oppressive.”
A forthcoming referendum in Ireland on the issue of marriage equality has prompted a debate in the Irish media. “The only place that you see it’s OK to be really horrible and mean about gays is on the Internet in the comments and people who make a living writing opinion pieces for newspapers,” O’Neill said of the debate during an appearance on Irish broadcaster RTÉ last month.
O’Neill’s comments sparked controversy, prompting weeks of intensifying debate in Ireland’s newspapers and on news programs over homophobia and gay rights. Protesters gathered Sunday in Dublin to demonstrate against some of the media coverage.
So Saturday, dressed as alter-ego Panti Bliss, O’Neill brought the debate to the Abbey Theater audience. “Have any of you ever come home in the evening and turned on the television and there is a panel of people… having a reasoned debate… about you? About what kind of person you are… about whether or not God, herself, thinks you’re an abomination?”
“That feels oppressive,” O’Neill told the crowd.
O’Neill continued: “Have you ever gone into your favorite neighborhood cafe with the paper that you buy every day, and you open it up and inside there’s a 500-word opinion written by a nice, middle-class woman… and she’s arguing over 500 words so reasonably about whether or not you should be treated less than everybody else?”
Again, O’Neill concluded the question by stating, “that feels oppressive.”
You can watch O’Neill’s full remarks below. And a word of caution: O’Neill uses a couple off-color words during the speech to emphasize to his frustration.