Panti Bliss’ Noble Call speech dress
This dress was worn by Panti Bliss (aka Rory O’Neill), the Dublin-based drag artist and gay rights activist from Ballinrobe, Co. Mayo, at the Abbey Theatre on the night of 1 February 2014, when she gave her impassioned speech about her experience of homophobia and oppression in Ireland.
This speech was made in the aftermath of a television interview some weeks earlier, which focused attention on the nature of homophobia, in particular the use of the word ‘homophobe’ to describe those who justify the denial of equal rights to LGBTI+ people.
The controversy surrounding reactions to this interview led to it being referred to as ‘Pantigate’. However, it was her Noble Call speech at The Abbey which reached a national and worldwide audience. It also started a national conversation about LGBTI+ rights in Ireland, and was a major factor in the holding of the Marriage Equality Referendum in May 2015, where Panti became one of the key figures in the Yes Campaign.
The struggle for LGBTI+ rights in Ireland had begun in the 1970s. Homosexuality was illegal and gay men in particular were highly discriminated against and faced physical threat and violence. The first attempts to decriminalise homosexuality, brought to the courts by David Norris in 1977 and 1988, were unsuccessful, though they paved the way to success in 1993. Many people, both members of the community and their allies, fought hard for full equality since.
This dress represents many things; the Noble Call speech made by Panti Bliss on the stage of the Abbey Theatre on the night of 1 February 2014, her struggle to be accepted as equal in Irish society and the passing of the Marriage Equality Referendum in 2015. More significantly, it has come to represent the decades’ long struggle of the entire Irish LGBTI+ community for human and civil rights in the Irish state.