Una Mullally: Enda’s pint in gay bar a sterling show of solidarity

Taoiseach’s appearance in Pantibar showed a widening acceptance of LGBT issues

A small crowd of regular punters were split between thinking the whole episode was bizarre and reflecting how incredible it was that the head of the Government could casually have a pint in a gay bar

A small crowd of regular punters were split between thinking the whole episode was bizarre and reflecting how incredible it was that the head of the Government could casually have a pint in a gay bar

 

“Wow! Enda Kenny in Pantibar. That’s a first for us.” A tweet from Pantibar’s manager Shane Harte caused disbelief on Tuesday night, but there he was, surrounded by suits a few days after the Capel Street bar celebrated its seventh birthday with a rollicking drag show.

Fine Gael’s LGBT group Christmas party was also attended by LGBT activists, as well as former minister for health James O’Reilly, Minister for the Arts Heather Humphreys, Jerry Buttimer TD and others.

A small crowd of regular punters were split between thinking the whole episode was bizarre and reflecting how incredible it was that the head of the Government could casually have a pint in a gay bar.

This isn’t just any gay bar of course, but the bar under the stewardship of drag performer Panti, who was thrust into the spotlight earlier this year.

Panti herself skipped what would no doubt have been a good photo opportunity for the Taoiseach, as she was performing her theatre show at the Project Arts Centre in Temple Bar.

The LGBT community is still smarting from Broadcasting Authority of Ireland rulings on “balance” when it comes to discussing marriage rights for gay people on radio, as well as the Pantigate furore earlier this year.

It journeyed from an RTÉ scandal to the Dáil and eventually became an international news story due to Panti’s speech at the Abbey Theatre, which Fintan O’Toole called “the most eloquent Irish speech since Daniel O’Connell was in his prime”.

There’s also the question of the referendum on marriage equality scheduled to be held in 2015, but as yet without a definite date, which is causing serious impatience in the community.

The Taoiseach’s appearance at the bar will be seen not just as a show of solidarity with LGBT members of Fine Gael, but also with the wider community ahead of the referendum, which he has committed to campaign on in favour of extending marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Recently, a drive to register voters in colleges and universities around the country yielded 20,000 new names on the register ahead of the marriage equality referendum.

A casual pint it may have been, but an orchestrated statement nonetheless of a widening acceptance of LGBT issues in a society where LGBT people are increasingly politicised.

While the regulars in Pantibar might have been ambivalent towards his presence, the activists in attendance were well aware of its significance.