Panti Bliss: Leo Varadkar showed ‘bravery’ in publicly coming out

Minister for Health has ‘open invitation to come to Panti Bar, says gay rights campaigner

Entertainer and gay rights activist Rory O’Neill known as Panti stops for a selfie with a passerby, at the launch of #ShareTheLove , a crowd funding campaign aimed at securing a Yes vote in the upcoming referendum, in Dublin. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

Entertainer and gay rights activist Rory O’Neill known as Panti stops for a selfie with a passerby, at the launch of #ShareTheLove , a crowd funding campaign aimed at securing a Yes vote in the upcoming referendum, in Dublin. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

 

Leo Varadkar showed “bravery” in publicly coming out, entertainer and gay rights activist Rory O’Neill, better known as Panti Bliss, has said.

The Minister for Health has an “open invitation” to the Panti Bar on Capel Street, he said at Marriage Equality Ireland’s ‘Share The Love’ event.

Mr O’Neill criticised the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) for a ruling which he said has “chilled the debate” around same-sex marriage ahead of this year’s referendum.

“He has an open invitation to come to Panti Bar. And I hope now that it’s all out in the open fully, he’ll feel more comfortable being able to go and have a drink in a gay bar,” she said.

“There’s some bravery involved because to be in his position, he knows everyone is going to focus on him for a few days... My hope is that all the Leos in the world can come out when they’re 20, and by the time you become Minister for Health everyone already knows and it doesn’t matter,”said Mr O’Neill.

Mr O’Neill’s Capel Street Dublin bar received a surprise visit from Taoiseach Enda Kenny last month during a gathering for the Fine Gael LGBT group.

In the interview on RTE Radio 1 this morning, Mr Varadkar recounted telling the Taoiseach of his decision to go public. “He asked me if I’d ever been to the Panti Bar... and I said actually no I haven’t, and he said: ‘There you go Varadkar, I’m ahead of you already’.”, Mr Varadkar said.

Commenting on a BAI ruling in November, which partially upheld a complaint against broadcaster Newstalk after one of its programme hosts said he would be voting in favour of same-sex marriage in next May’s referendum, Mr O’Neill accused the authority of a lack of clarity over its balance and equality directives.

“It has chilled the debate. Even this morning when Miriam [O’Callaghan]was talking to Leo about his own personal life, Miriam felt the need to say ‘well now just to put the other point of view..’.

“You’re talking to a man about his own private life, and she feels she has to provide balance by giving an anti gay marriage agenda as a point of view. It’s absolutely rubbish,” he said.

Mr O’Neill was attending Marriage Equality Ireland’s ‘Share The Love’ event, which aims to drive donations for the Yes campaign ahead of the spring referendum. Although latest polls show strong support for the introduction of gay marriage, he says that victory for the Yes campaign is far from guaranteed.

“It’s very easy to tell a pollster ‘yes I think gays should have equality’. It’s very different then going into the polling booth after a three or four month campaign where all sorts of things have been dragged up, and all sorts of scaremongering happens.

“The history of all polls in this country has shown that once the campaign picks up, it doesn’t matter what the polls say beforehand, it gets closer and closer,” said Mr O’Neill, citing the close result of the 2012 children’s rights referendum after high approval rates for the yes side in early polls.

He also accused the Catholic church of stupidity after remarks made by Pope Francis during his trip to the Philippines, in which the pontiff said gay marriage constitutes an attack on traditional family values.

“What the Pope said the other day is incredibly disappointing because he raised a lot of hopes by taking a softer line on LGBT people recently,” said Mr O’Neill.

“I don’t know why I was disappointed or surprised, because the Catholic church has this stupid line on human sexuality and they’re sticking to it, and it’s just sad.

“The Catholic church’s voice is given weight in this country still, in a way that it doesn’t deserve, so when the Pope comes out and says stuff like that it gives succour to homophobes and people who believe that gay people shouldn’t be treated equally,” he said.