Scott De Buitléir writes on a momentous occasion in Irish politics, observed from the unlikely place that is a Dublin gay bar
Some pubs play music to entertain their customers, while many others put sports games on the television in the corner. On a Thursday evening in Pantibar on Dublin’s Capel Street, however, the sound coming from the speakers was of a parliamentary discussion. While TDs spoke about homophobia in Ireland – some speaking with incredible passion on the topic -many sat in Rory O’Neill’s establishment listening intently. As I arrived into the bar, mid-discussion, no-one spoke at all. Even the bar manager spoke softly when he came to take my order.
In an absent-minded force of habit I asked for a glass of Coke, to which he (still softly) replied that they didn’t have any Coca-Cola, so I asked for an orange juice instead. It was only then that the penny dropped, and I asked the manager to confirm my guess; Pantibar has stopped serving Coca-Cola in protest at their sponsorship of the Sochi Olympics. I smiled proudly at their decision, and took a sip of the Irish-made soft drink instead.
For as long as the Dáil discussion continued to be broadcast throughout Pantibar, the venue’s patrons remained silent. We listened to every passionate word that came from John Lyons’ mouth:
“There’s two people, I think, in [the Dáil] at the moment who know what homophobia feels like. Who know what it feels like to be called a queer, to be called a fag… Only recently, I walked from my own house around to the [shop] where a bunch of teenagers called me ‘gay’, or some other name they call us. Y’know, I thought I was living in a society where this stuff wasn’t acceptable anymore…”
The words resonated with everyone who sat in the bar that evening. It was a rare moment; not just because we were listening to a parliamentary speech in a bar, but because the personal experiences of a politician were similar to what we had all felt at one point.
“…when people challenge people on these issues, and that’s what Rory O’Neill did on the Saturday Night Show, he called it what is is: When it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, looks like a duck, it must be a duck!”
It was, by far, the most passionate I had ever heard Lyons speak about any topic, let alone one so personal. He wasn’t on his own, though. Fine Gael’s Jerry Buttimer also spoke eloquently and passionately:
“I speak here, not just as a gay person, but a member of society who wants to be treated equally. I’ve been beaten, spat, chased, harassed and mocked, like Deputy Lyons, because of who I am. […] I will not, a Cheann Comhairle, in a tolerant, respectful debate, allow people who spout hatred and intolerance to be left go unchecked.”
Never had I been so proud of, and grateful for, this current Oireachtas Éireann; of TDs John Lyons and Jerry Buttimer, of Clare Daly and Catherine Murphy, and of Seanadóirí David Norris and Averil Power. It has been a long road that the LGBT community have travelled towards equality in Ireland, and while we have not achieved it just yet, yesterday’s events proved that we have many friends who roam the halls of Leinster House, and even a few in Áras an Uachtaráin.
That was the day the Dáil stood up for our community, and that is a moment which should be noted as another turning point in our history. Where we go from here can only be positive.