Saturday

15th Dec 2018

Interview

Panti Bliss: EU lessons from the gay rights movement

  • Armed Belgian police guarded the venue in wake of Brussels and Orlando attacks (Photo: Robin Cuvillier/ILGA-Europe)

“Private activism” is worth more than political campaigns, whether people support the EU or gay rights, Panti Bliss, a famous Irish drag queen and rights campaigner, has said.

But a “meek” or “invisible” EU will never win public support, he added.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • O'Neill as Panti Bliss: "If it weren’t for the drag queens and the leather queens being visible, we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere"

The drag queen, who spoke to EUobserver at a gay rights fundraiser in Brussels on Wednesday (29 June), compared the Irish referendum in 2015, which legalised gay marriage, to last week’s Brexit vote.

“What did it more [in Ireland] than activism per se was the private activism of people coming out,” Panti Bliss, whose real name is Rory O'Neill, said.

“In Ireland today… even your 75 year-old mother-in-law or whoever, she knows the local gay. It’s pretty much impossible not to have a gay neighbour or a lesbian granddaughter or co-worker and that’s what changed Ireland. That’s what won the [Irish] referendum,” he said.

“When people went to vote they voted for people they know rather than voting for the dry arguments of the No side,” he said.

“It was the same in the UK - the dry, economic arguments for staying in Europe didn’t win because they lost against a mostly emotional argument to leave.”

He said the EU could learn lessons from the gay rights movement more broadly.

“The EU should show its face more often,” he said.

“English people only heard about the EU when it was doing bad things. I think it’s important to remind people, whether it’s a boat in a flotilla or an [EU-funded] sports centre in Wales, that the EU did this and the EU is behind this,” he said, referring to EU plans to sponsor a boat in a gay pride event in Amsterdam in summer.

Protection of sexual and other minorities is enshrined in EU law.

But some EU states with right-wing governments, such as Hungary and Poland, are against EU action on the issue. People in Slovakia recently voted in 14 MPs from an openly homophobic party.

Panti Bliss noted that the Brexit vote had also emboldened far-right elements in British society.

But he said it would be a mistake if Brexit prompted EU leaders to shy away from its values for fear of deepening divisions.

Fuck Brexit

“They should say fuck Brexit and have the courage of their convictions,” he said.

“Now’s not the time for timidity. Now’s the time for the EU to say ‘that’s what we stand for’ - and to forge ahead."

"Now’s not the time for the EU to modify itself to suit right-wing agendas. If that means losing countries like Britain, well, it’s a pain in the ass. Maybe the EU will end up being a bit smaller, but also stronger - that’s life,” he said.

Critics of the Pride movement, which organises gay rights parades around the world, have accused it of provoking a backlash by the parades' flamboyant nature.

But Panti Bliss, who recently attended a mini-pride in Bosnia, an EU-aspirant state where gay people are afraid to show their sexuality in public, said the Pride movement was effective because it was provocative.

“The pride movement has transformed cultures around the world,” he said.

“If it weren’t for the drag queens and the leather queens being visible, we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere. You don’t get anywhere by being invisible or meek.”

Orlando

Wednesday’s fundraiser, which was organised by Ilga-Europe, a Brussels-based NGO, had armed police outside the venue.

The security came after the Brussels terrorist attacks in March and the recent massacre at a gay club in Orlando, Florida, in the US - both of which were carried out in the name of Islam.

Panti Bliss said Muslim minorities and LGBTI minorities should be able to live side by side in Europe.

But he said that religion can be a retrograde force.

He said one reason why Irish people voted Yes to gay marriage was because the Roman Catholic church and its “religiously-backed homophobia” had lost authority due to Catholic paedophile scandals.

“Irish people feel a lot more free to make up their own minds about moral and social issues,” he said. “The Irish are very much a la carte Catholics now.”

He said Islamic radicalism is more difficult to combat because of Islam's a la carte nature, however.

“There's no central institution, like the Vatican. Each individual Muslim can answer to a particular imam or [radical] doctrine. It’s a problem, but we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about it,” he said.

Speaking at the event on behalf of the European Commission, Elzbieta Bienkowska, the Polish commissioner in charge of the single market, unveiled the motto for the EU’s Amsterdam Pride boat.

“No matter who you love or who you are, we share the same dreams,” the motto says.

Bienkowska prompted laughter and applause when she said that several eastern European countries, “except Poland”, are advancing pro-gay rights laws.

But Vera Jourova, the Czech EU commissioner in charge of equality issues, recently told EUobserver she might not go to Amsterdam Pride because of her tight agenda.

Transphobia

Julia Ehrt, a campaigner against transphobia, said laws on trans people lag behind the trend.

She said trans people still had to undergo surgical sterilisation in 22 EU states if they wanted to change the gender in their passport.

Speaking on stage at Wednesday’s gala, Panti Bliss described the EU capital as “the heart of liberal Europe”.

But he said that unless there is change at the personal level, EU laws would not stop hate crimes.

He noted that the Orlando massacre occurred despite the fact that the state of Florida had some of the most pro-LGTBI legislation in the world.

He said it shocked gay people in the EU and beyond because of their common experience of gay clubs as sanctuaries of personal freedom.

“I know what boys they kissed and what music they were listening to [in Orlando], because I’ve kissed the same boys and listened to the same music”, Panti Bliss said.

"I’ve had the best times of my life there and I’ve never even been there."

UK votes to leave EU, causes shockwaves

Britons vote to leave the EU by 51.9 percent. Pound is at its lowest since 1985. Scotland and Northern Ireland at odds with England and Wales.

Interview

Hate speech costs lives, EU warns

Hate speech, whether homophobic or islamophobic, can prompt violent crime, justice commissioner Vera Jourova has warned in the wake of the Orlando and Jo Cox killings.

Opinion

Pride 2016: Let's not turn back time

EU politicians should attend gay Pride marches to stop illiberal forces in the EU from turning back the clock on basic civil liberties, such as the freedom to assembly.

News in Brief

  1. EU leaders endorse creation of eurozone budget
  2. Selmayr has no comment on MEPs' call to resign
  3. May had 'robust' discussion with Juncker
  4. UK to continue talks on EU 'assurances'
  5. EU invests €20m in AI software for self-driving cars
  6. Belgian PM 'not optimistic', urges 'no deal' Brexit preparedness
  7. Romanian president expects no Brexit summit in January
  8. Swedish MPs reject Lofven to lead new government

Opinion

EU parliament vote strengthens whistleblower protection

We must not undervalue what a massive step the European Parliament vote represents. The hard work has paid off. We can take a moment to celebrate, but the hard work begins again for finalising strong protection for European whistleblowers.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General

Latest News

  1. No further Brexit talks planned, despite May's pleas
  2. EU leaders stuck on asylum reform
  3. Orban and other PMs spread fake news, says Juncker
  4. Fishing quota and no-deal Brexit preparation This WEEK
  5. Kosovo has right to own army, Germany and US say
  6. EU needs election-meddling stress tests
  7. Russian and US obstruction was 'insult' to climate scientists
  8. EU-27 unimpressed by May, offer little on Brexit

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  2. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  3. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  5. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  6. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  8. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  10. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  2. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  3. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  5. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  6. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  8. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  10. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  11. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  12. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us