Photo: James Healy

On Tuesday 3rd November UCD’s Literary and Historical society (L&H) presented Rory O’Neill with the James Joyce Award. O’Neill is better known by his drag queen persona, Panti Bliss and has previously won the Irish Person of the Year Award. The ceremony took place in the Fitzgerald Chamber and was followed by a Q&A with society auditor, Conor Rock.

Speaking before O’Neill’s appearance, Rock said that the presentation of the James Joyce Award was based on “his influential voice for acceptance, individuality and the affect that he had on the Marriage Equality referendum.”

The referendum was held on May 22nd of this year and resulted in 62 per cent in favour of amending the constitution to allow same-sex marriage. O’Neill became a self-described “accidental activist” in the lead up to the referendum and his rallying power in favour of marriage equality helped in “putting Ireland on the international stage for change”, according to Rock.

Recipients of the James Joyce award traditionally make a five minute speech before the Q&A session with the auditor, but O’Neill opted instead for a brief thank you before answering questions from both Rock and the audience. Topics discussed ranged from his aforementioned role in the referendum to his support of both the Repeal The Eighth campaign and traveller rights.

O’Neill also talked about his experience of coming out as gay and the importance of public figures coming out in the media to bring society to a point where the process is no longer a contentious issue. Having grown up during a time when homosexual acts were still criminalised, O’Neill said that “Ireland has made an incredible journey in the last thirty years… and we should all be proud of that.”

Speaking about further positive change seen in treatment of LGBTQ+ people since the Marriage Equality Act, O’Neill said “I think if we re-held the referendum today it [the result] would be higher than that.”

Despite the concern that he is considered the only voice for gay people in Ireland, O’Neill is thankful for the privilege of his popularity as Panti Bliss. He says that he is in “a unique position for a drag queen in the world where [he is] almost treated as establishment.”

The recently released documentary about O’Neill and the referendum, The Queen of Ireland, directed by Conor Horgan, will be shown on Monday 9 November at 2pm in the Student Centre cinema.