Ireland’s most famous drag queen and gay rights activist Rory O’Neill aka Panti Bliss is the subject of Irish Director Conor Horgan’s documentary on last year’s marriage equality referendum in Ireland, Rory’s life and the struggle for LGBT equality more generally. Fresh off the plane for the Australian premiere of ‘The Queen of Ireland’ at the Sydney Film Festival, Rory and Conor sat down to chat about the film.


Full audio above, highlights below


On the film

Conor: “This is the story of Panti Bliss also known as Rory O’Neill who is Ireland’s premier drag queen and also a very vocal and articulate spokesperson on issues to do with social justice and in particular on marriage equality – Rory and Panti became very instrumental figures in last year’s marriage equality referendum in Ireland which was the first time ever in the world that marriage equality was put in place legally by public vote.”


On Panti Bliss

Rory: “When people ask me what the film is about I say that ostensibly its about Panti but really it’s about a changing Ireland and how Ireland has changed particularly with regard to its treatment of gay people since the seventies on. In Ireland we only decriminalized homosexual sex in 1993 so it’s a remarkable journey from 1993 to have full legal equality following the referendum last May.”


On the referendum

Rory: “I had campaigned long and hard about it as thousands of others had. We were living for that moment and when we got the result we wanted it was a really spectacular day, it was a really beautiful day, even the weather played ball, it was a beautiful, gorgeous sunny day in the middle of May which was not normal in Ireland. We were in Dublin city centre and the whole city just erupted in a spontaneous day-long party – they closed down the streets – there was no way of stopping it. It was a really incredible and amazing day and especially for Irish LGBT people it felt like something really special.”


On Panti’s early days

Conor: “We were really lucky with the archival footage not least of all because Candi of CandiPanti which was the double drag act in Tokyo at the time – Candi had kept all this footage from various TV shows, home movies and a lot of the really wild clubs in Tokyo so we had all of that material.”

“Archive is a really important part of the first half of the movie and then it kicks into the present as we head towards the marriage equality referendum.”


On Rory’s family

Rory: “My parents totally steal the movie – my dad is 81 and my mother is coming up on 80 – they’re incredible people. They come across in the movie as what they are which is kind, loving, supportive people and especially in Ireland they’ve become sort of stars in their own right because a lot of people identify their parents with that or wish they had parents like that – I’m very lucky.”


On Panti’s famous speech

Rory: “Conor started making this documentary six years ago and in the beginning I think we both thought we were making a small character documentary and a couple of years into it I got into the middle of a huge scandal in Ireland on a TV talk show… it sparked off a huge national conversation about homophobia and about how Ireland it treats its gay citizens. That all happened before the referendum campaign started so when the campaign came around we’d already had this massive national conversation about homophobia.”

“In the middle of that huge scandal I made a speech at our national theatre about the situation I was in and about homophobia and Conor filmed it for the documentary and then put it up on Youtube and it went viral around the world. It was a really amazing thing to happen, totally unexpected and that’s all captured in the movie – this scandal is happening in real time in the movie.”


On Marriage Equality in Australia

Rory: “I was here in March over Mardi Gras with my live show and watched Q&A and it was amazing to me, like stepping back a year in time, it was exactly the same arguments we were having in the run-up to our referendum, almost word for word the same arguments were being made.”

“The argument is exactly the same – thankfully in Ireland our argument won out and I certainly hope that in Australia the same thing will happen.”


‘The Queen of Ireland’ is screening as par tof the Sydney Film Festival on Monday June 13, Thursday June 16 and Saturday June 18, for tickets head to the Festival Website

Glen Falkenstein on 2ser