In the last few years in Seattle, I’ve met the Prime Minister (Taoiseach) of Ireland, the President of Ireland, and now the Queen of Ireland.
The Queen of Ireland is a documentary about Ireland’s best-known drag queen, Panti Bliss (Rory O’Neill), who became an accidental activist and the face of marriage equality in Ireland.
Filming started in 2010. In early 2014, O’Neill appeared on an RTÉ chat show and alleged that some individuals in Irish journalism are homophobic. They threatened to sue and RTÉ backed down, apologizing and paying them €85,000. This became known as Pantigate. Panti gave a “Noble Call” speech about homophobia at the Abbey Theatre, which went viral on Youtube, becoming internationally known.
The following year, Ireland held a referendum on Marriage Equality and became the first country to grant full rights to LGBT citizens by popular vote. Panti was one of the most high-profile campaigners.
The documentary covers Panti’s life, from a childhood in Ballinrobe, Co. Mayo; the blatant homophobia of Ireland during Rory’s youth in the seventies and eighties; to becoming a fledgling drag queen in Tokyo in the late eighties and early nineties; to moving back to Ireland and becoming a fixture in Dublin’s gay scene, shepherding the Alternative Miss Ireland contest for many years; to Pantigate, the Noble Call speech, and the Marriage campaign; to finally a homecoming at a sold-out show in Ballinrobe. It presents Panti, who describes herself as a “giant cartoon woman”, as a larger-than-life figure, and interviews her thoughtful alter ego, Rory, who says that being Panti has made him a better person.
As an LGBT expatriate who grew up in Ireland at the same time as Rory, I found it especially personal and moving, but I think The Queen of Ireland is of much wider interest.