Rory O’Neill (aka Panti Bliss) is a nationally recognised figure who has campaigned on LGBTQ issues for many years. In 2014 he gripped the hearts of the nation with his Nobel Call from the Abbey theatre. To date, his speech, which offered a deeply personal account of homophobia in Ireland, has been viewed over 800,000 times.
Perhaps the most poignant moment came when O’ Neill made a plea for others to empathise with his lived experience. Living with oppression gives victims a unique lens to speak on their own behalf. It is also extremely important that others don’t speak for you, a point that O’ Neill made with great power and dignity,
“Have any of you ever come home in the evening and turned on the television and there is a panel of people – nice people, respectable people, smart people, the kind of people who make good neighbourly neighbours and write for newspapers. And they are having a reasoned debate about you……And even the nice TV presenter lady who you feel like you know thinks it’s perfectly ok that they are all having this reasonable debate about who you are and what rights you “deserve”….And that feels oppressive”.
Just as important was O’ Neill’s insistence that the fight to end homophobia and oppression is a political one. This means there is a need for unity and support from those who suffer the given oppression and those who do not. It also meant being militant.
When debating the issue of Yes Equality, O’ Neill was adamant that nothing less than full equality would be acceptable. He was not for civil partnership or second class citizenship, he was for full marriage rights and total equality. In many ways Yes Equality was a victory for those of us who never accepted the need to be cautious. The fight was one for social justice alongside those who were suffering oppression.
Unfortunately O’ Neill is not nearly so progressive when it comes to the issue of Repealing the 8th. When interviewed in the Irish Independent he stated that the referendum would hinge on the middle ground whose minds were open to change.
“Those two sides (pro and anti) will never reach a consensus,” he said. “What I would like to see in the public sphere is a grey-area view. That view should be given a platform to work out the issues. “The vast majority are somewhere in between and we need to make a concerted effort to hear those middle-ground voices.”
Surely O’Neill can see the hypocrisy in these words. Just like the ‘nice commentators’ who assumed to speak on his behalf, he is now offering opinions about women’s bodies from a male perspective. O’Neill will never be pregnant or receive medical treatment without informed consent. Neither will he ever feel the need to end a pregnancy when faced with 14 years in prison or leaving the country for a termination. In other words, he lacks the lived experience of a form of oppression perpetuated against thousands of women annually. This makes it all the more objectionable that he wants the Irish people to seek the so-called middle ground.
The reality is that the vast majority of Irish people want action immediately. In a series of polls taken over the last 12 months around 80% want to Repeal the 8th – meaning that the ‘middle ground argument’ has largely been constructed by the right wing media. Anti-choicers constantly talk about term limits, replacement and abortion on demand as a tactic designed to muddy the waters. O’Neill is clearly far from this camp, but his recent interview has given legitimacy to right wingers on the issue.
Far from having to leave our so-called “metropolitan, elitist safety bubble”, groups like the Abortion Rights Campaign, PBP Pro-Choice and the Coalition to Repeal the 8th have been building grassroots support for women’s bodily autonomy across the country. Our main argument is that women won’t wait any longer and this is proving immensely popular with a new generation of Irish women.
Most people have been won to a more liberal abortion regime. The only minds that have to change are those of the right wing politicians who continually insist on a “national conversation” to stop the people from having their say. Now is not the time for passivity or conservatism, it is time to seize the moment like Yes Equality in 2015. Like the LGBTQ community we want full equality with the rest of society. This means full bodily autonomy and nothing less, not the spineless middle-ground of compromise and retreat.