University of Limerick
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Making a scene: The Diceman's queer performance activism and Irish public culture

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journal contribution
posted on 2017-10-26, 14:53 authored by Tina O'TooleTina O'Toole
This essay explores two key interventions in the twentieth-century urban history of Irish LGBTQ+ protest. Over the past five decades, there has been a transformation in attitudes to / representations of sexual identities in Ireland. LGBTQ+ claims for political legitimacy were never more visible than on 23rd May 2015, when the courtyard of Dublin Castle courtyard erupted in celebration (carried live on national television) in response to the 62% majority vote in favour of the Marriage Equality referendum. One iconic image of that day stands out, that of drag queen Panti Bliss onstage with arms aloft in jubilation. Panti’s crucial speech on another landmark Dublin stage, that of the Abbey Theatre, called out Irish homophobia in the run-up to the referendum; this proved decisive in achieving the “Yes” vote. While Panti’s noble call is a recent iteration of performance/play in Irish protest history, it is not a new tactic. Ever since 1983, when a broad-based protest march moved through Dublin in response to the gaybashing and murder of Declan Flynn in Fairview Park, street demonstrations, guerrilla theatre, and public performance have been used by Irish queer activists to protest the pathologising of sexualities and impact of biopower on all of our lives. Focusing on the street theatre of “The Diceman” [Thom McGinty], associated by many of us with HIV/AIDS activism, this essay captures the public staging of Irish queer resistance in 1980s/90s Dublin. Drawing on Judith Butler’s theory of performance activism (and its roots in Hannah Arendt’s work), the essay explores the The Diceman’s key role in creating a public identity for Irish LBGTQ+ people in the period before the decriminalization of (male) homosexuality in 1993. Extending the analysis to queer Irish migrants in New York in the same period, specifically those involved in the ILGO protests, the essay argues that performance activism was crucial to the emergence of queer political action in the Irish public sphere.



Études Irlandaises;42.1, pp. 179-185


Presses Universitaires de Rennes





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