Tag Archives: LGBT

Enter The Dragon – Remembering one of Dublin’s most iconic queer venues

This story was originally published in GCN Issue 361 under the title ‘Enter The Dragon.’ It was later published online on GCN’s website.


With a stage positioned 12 feet above the bar, and nothing but flimsy scaffolding to prevent performers from toppling onto the crowd below, mishaps were plentiful and often expected. So how is it that The Dragon, a place so haphazard in design and atmosphere, is remembered so fondly by its former patrons?

Located on 64 South Great George’s Street, The Dragon was one of two dedicated queer nightclubs in Dublin until its closure in 2015. It was youth-focused and, at times, chaotic – mainly due to the club’s unusual layout.

Samuel Riggs moved from Carlow to Dublin in 2011. He first visited The Dragon with Trinity College’s Q-Soc, on whose committee he worked as Public Relations Officer. “My first impression of it was ‘This place is a labyrinth.’ You used to go through the front door, and go through, like, a corridor, and there were all these doors going off of it, and you had to go up one stairs, where everyone was congregating on the little platform, and you went up another stairs, and that was the actual dance floor, which was always just so wet. Yeah, my first memories were, ‘I’m drunk, I’m never going to find my way out of this place, this is insane.’”

The club’s unusual design was often a bone of contention for many of its patrons and performers. Philip Keogh, better known to the Dublin queer scene as his drag persona Victoria Secret, hosted numerous events, including Deal or No Deal and Dragged Up. “It was one of the most awful performance spaces you could imagine,” he says. “It wasn’t exactly the easiest space to work around. They made the most with what they had because when you’ve got such a narrow, long building, it’s very easy for that building not to have any atmosphere in it.”

Echoing Keogh’s sentiments is Cormac Cashman, who ran the queer student night PrHomo out of the Dragon every Thursday. “There was a seating area up the front, done out in this tacky Eddie Rocket’s style red, the rest of the venue was kind of a different red that you might find in a burlesque venue. The DJ was facing the staircase that took you upstairs, so you couldn’t really dance in front of them. The DJ would then turn towards the dance floor, but directly in their eye line was the ceiling for upstairs, so it was just a weird, structurally-strange, place.”

Having the stage above the bar meant many patrons had to crane their necks to see performers. However, the performers that The Dragon drew in were fresh and exciting.

Noted Dublin performer and Ireland’s Got Talent semifinalist Paul Ryder viewed the performance space as a rite of passage for queer entertainers: “As drag queens, as performers, I think we’re just thrust into a situation sometimes and told ‘That’s your stage, there you go.’

“I’ve performed on beer crates, I’ve performed on unbelievable stages, so that’s part of your art, and that’s part of your internship in this world, to get out and entertain the crowd in whatever way possible.” While the space was difficult to perform in, it often encouraged creativity, as Ryder elaborates: “You look at the likes of legends like Pixie Woo who climbed the bars for the first time… Then you go to the latter end of the scale, where you’ve got Shannon O’Hara who fell off.”

Shannon O’Hara has entered drag infamy for attempting to climb onto the scaffolding, only to fall off the stage and onto the audience below. At the time of writing, the video of her fall has been viewed over 14,000 times online. “From what I hear, even RuPaul has seen that video,” Keogh says. “The most interesting part was that she got up and kept lip-syncing even after falling.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if that bitch is in the south of France living her best life, being like, ‘Do you remember Shannon O’Hara,’ as she smokes a cigarette and wears a beret,” jokes Ryder.

Ryder created The Ringmaster’s Drag Race, which was a staple of The Dragon when it was in its infancy. In its second year, he was asked who he would want for the final. After toying with the idea of inviting reality stars, he eventually contacted the manager of RuPaul’s Drag Race legend, Jujubee. “She was only delighted to come, and it was funny because the fee that was charged back then is nowhere near the fee that is charged now,” he says.

“And we had never heard of an American drag queen coming over to Europe. These were people we could only ever see online or on social media or through a television show we watched at one o’clock in the morning and we had her in the building and it was such an experience. The Dragon was the first-ever club to book a Drag Race queen in Europe.”

From then on, The Dragon regularly booked performers from around the world. This included the likes of Drag Race stars Willam, Carmen Carrera (who stripped naked on the club’s stage), Alaska Thunderfuck, Shangela, Latrice Royale, Jinkx Monsoon and Michelle Visage, as well as pop acts such as Little Mix, Neon Jungle and Alexandra Burke. “We had DWV for one of their last gigs, and on that show, I fell off a wrecking ball and broke my wrist,” remembers Keogh. “My dancers had to take my boots off at the end of the night so I could go to A&E.”

The Dragon also helped foster home-grown Irish queer talent. Ryder elaborates: “When I started, there was no real room for something different. Everybody wanted to see the usual drag they saw on the circuit. It was the place where my drag kind of began, because I had just started my own style of drag, and it was new to the Irish scene, especially trying to attempt that club kid gender-fuck. The Dragon for me was a blank canvas of, ‘Okay, you’ve been given this opportunity so you can try anything.’ It was a place of trial and error with regard to what was working on the scene and what was new and fresh and different.”

With a strong youth focus with events like the weekly student night PrHomo, The Dragon is a place remembered most fondly by queers who came of age in the climate of marriage equality and Repeal. On this, Samuel Riggs says, “I was like – finally I can relax into my identity, and The Dragon was a huge part of that. It was space where you could be a little more sexual, and it was where I really cut my teeth on Public Displays of Affection for the first time. And that was really important.”

Photographer Eleanor Rogers visited The Dragon a number of times in 2014. She had her first-ever kiss with a girl there. “My class in college were going out to D2 and it was over 19’s,” she recalls. “Me and another guy in my class, we lost everyone. I had been having a pretty rough time starting college because I was struggling with my sexuality, and it was at the stage where it was hanging on my shoulders. I hadn’t come out to anyone. I remember blurting it out.”

She continues: “The guy I told wasn’t even a close friend, but he was gay, so I felt comfortable telling [him]. He said we should go to The Dragon. I was wary at first and was like ‘No,’ but he said, ‘You never know, something might arise that you can test it.’ We made our way to the Dragon and it was like entering an underground world that felt wrong but right. I remember a girl was eyeing me up. It literally felt like taking the plunge, and we kissed. It was one of the most intense things ever. I’ll always remember that night so fondly, from talking to so many people in the smoking area about my confusing feelings, and everyone being so chill and not batting an eyelid. It was so strange for a country bumpkin being in this world for the first time.”

The Dragon’s closure marked the end of an era. It was the loss of one of the few dedicated queer spaces in the city. “Some of us mourn that place,” says Ryder. “The night it closed I was home at one o’clock because I couldn’t hold in the tears and I cried. It was the beginning of the end of some queer culture because we were losing venues, and club nights started to close down. I think we’re beginning to pick up and I think we’re a fresher culture than some cities, but it was a hard time when it closed down.”

In the years since The Dragon’s closure, Dublin has indeed seen a surge in club nights. Although there are now fewer dedicated queer spaces in the city, the club scene has found ways to thrive. “It’s important that we have spaces to come together, but the venue isn’t what’s important about it,” says Cormac Cashman. “What’s important about it is the people who are there, and the memories you create. It’s not necessarily tied to the venue, but to the queer community itself.”

These are the rumoured queens of RuPaul’s Drag Race season 12

This article was originally published on the Gay Community News (GCN) website on 2 AUGUST, 2019.

Following the announcement that Drag Race season 12 had officially begun casting calls, rumours have spread about who will be in the new cast.

The rumours suggest that the show has already gone into production. In a statement on the upcoming season, RuPaul said: “If you are a showgirl, if you are a drag queen, if you are a girl with the cha-cha heels and a pussycat wig honey, you better get up on this show!”

This season will air after All-Stars 5, which is rumoured to feature Blair St. Clair, Mayhem Miller, Miz Cracker, and Ongina, among others.

And if that’s not enough Drag Race to satiate the masses, RuPaul’s Drag Race UK will air in Autumn this year.

A thread posted on Reddit puts forward some suggestions as to who season 12’s contestants will be.

Brita Filter is a favourite. Brita is immediately recognisable to anyone familiar with the New York drag scene, having won the prestigious NYC Entertainer of the Year Award. She has been absent from social media since July 22nd, fuelling rumours of her appearance on the show.

Widow Von’Du also appears in the thread. A self-styled avant-garde rapper, she is associated with previous contestants such as Scarlet Envy, Willam and Aquaria. She recently did not appear at Drag Survivor, an event she hosts, which is enough for Drag Race superstans to posit her participation on the show.

Known for her cosplay, Jackie Cox is touted as another contestant. If she appears on the show, she will be serious competition in the Snatch Game.

GiGi Goode, a “Scandinavian fashion illustration come to life” is very active on Instagram, amassing a stunning 20,700 followers. Like Brita Filter, she has not posted since the 22nd of July.

Jaida Essence Hall is a regal queen: She sports gowns and has appeared in Cosmopolitan’s revered beauty series. She has been inactive on all social media since July 24th.

Nicky Dollanother viral celebrity, is known for her high-fashion looks and mesmerising stage presence. Like Brita and Gigi, she has not been active online since July 22nd.

The Los Angeles-based is also rumoured to appear. She has come to everyone’s attention in part because of her association with Drag Race stars Vanessa Vanjie Matteo, Silky Nutmeg Ganache and Brooke Lynn Hytes.

Crystal Methyd is the Missouri-based host of Get Dusted, a drag night held monthly in The Outland Ballroom. A diverse queen, she can do both comedy and looks.

Sherry Pie is a proud HIV/AIDS activist who has campaigned for awareness of the virus for years. A camp queen, she has not been online for over three months.

Dahlia Sin, a drag performer known for her association with former Drag Race contestant Aja (her drag mother), has garnered a following on Instagram of over 50,000 people.

Rock M. Sakura takes inspiration from anime and manga for her looks. A self-described “cartoon queen,” there is a video of her lip-syncing to All By Myself by Celine Dion. She has not been active on Instagram since July 23rd.

Jan Sport is a New York-based performer and member of the drag trio Stephanie’s Child. Not only has she been inactive on Instagram, she has also deleted her Facebook.

RuPaul’s Drag Race season 12 will air in early 2020, who are you the most excited to see on the show?

Image: Jonathan Porter/PressEye

DUP only party not in attendance at Northern Ireland LGBT+ rights conference

This article was originally published on the Gay Community News (GCN) website on 21 JUNE, 2019.

Four out of five of the main political parties in Northern Ireland attended a conference on Thursday to join in a unanimous call for marriage equality, anti-bullying legislation and gender recognition reform.

The conference was organised by UK-based LGBT+ publication PinkNews, as a part of their Belfast Summer Reception.

In attendance was Michelle O’Neill, leader of Sinn Féin in the Northern Ireland Assembly, who called for Northern Ireland to join the rest of Ireland, as well as the UK, in introducing Marriage Equality.

“It doesn’t matter who you are, you’re elected to represent all people in society,” she said. “The LGBT+ community is a valuable and integral part of our society and I’m determined to ensure that people are heard.

“I’m determined to ensure that you can enjoy the same rights, the same benefits that everybody else does. That’s not a privilege, that’s just your right. There’s absolutely no room for second class citizenship in our society.”

LGBT+ equality is currently blocked in Northern Ireland by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

Marriage equality passed by a small majority in the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2015, but has not been enacted to date as the DUP used a petition of concern to prevent this from happening.

The petition of concern was designed during the peace process to prevent legislation from passing that would favour one community over another (in the case of Northern Ireland, Republicans and Unionists). However, the DUP has yet to clarify how the passing of Marriage Equality would be of detriment to Unionist communities.

The DUP was the only one of Northern Ireland’s main political parties to not attend the conference.

The blocking of Marriage Equality by the DUP is a contributing factor to a current political stalemate which has led to the collapse of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

DUP leader arlene foster speaking after death of Lyra McKee

Also in attendance at the conference was Ulster Unionist Party leader Robin Swann.

Speaking directly to the LGBT+ community, he said: “it’s not as if there was an avalanche of legislation that benefitted you passing through this place in the past 10 years.

“If and when we restore devolution, Stormont must offer a platform and bring representation and legislation for our LGBT+ community,” he said.

Speaking on the topic of mental health in LGBT+ youth, he called for politicians across the political divide to “grasp the mettle and experience of those in our schools.”

He continued: “When I spoke here last year I reflected on the horrific statistics on LGBT+ youth in Northern Ireland, where two out of three do not feel that school is a welcoming environment. Where three out of five say they have had suicidal thoughts because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

His sentiments were echoed by Colum Eastwood, leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), who called the LGBT+ Rights Movement “this generation’s civil rights movement.”

The politicians in attendance paid tribute to Lyra McKee, the journalist and LGBT+ rights campaigner who was killed while reporting on riots in Derry in April.

Alliance MLA for South Belfast, Paula Bradshaw, opened the event by noting the contributions of McKee and other “absent friends” to the fight for equality.

Recently asked why they had denied Lyra McKee equality in her lifetime, DUP leader Arlene Foster said: “We have a long-standing policy which hasn’t changed. That remains the position of the party.”

Pride in the family: Irish LGBT+ siblings share their experiences

This article was originally published in the Gay Community News (GCN) Pride issue #355, dated July 2019. It was later published on GCN‘s website.

In post Marriage Referendum Ireland, LGBT+ issues are no longer discussed in hushed tones, and the likelihood of someone knowing an LGBT+ person in their family has increased tenfold.

In fact, a huge part of the campaign for Yes saw activists reach out to their families to have frank conversations about how a Yes vote would affect them. The hashtag #RingYourGranny caught on like wildfire.

For many LGBT+ people, this was a turning point: To ensure equality in civil marriage, they had to make their lives, and the lives of their friends, the focal point of conversation. They had to tell people, ‘This is about me’. Some had never had to do that with their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles before.

The stories of LGBT+ people and their families (biological or otherwise) have been documented in everything from books and TV to YouTube videos and podcasts.

However, it’s rare to hear stories from LGBT+ people who grew up with LGBT+ siblings. How do their stories differ from the expected narrative?

 

Luke and Declan Faulkner

At first glance, Luke and Declan Faulkner are very similar: They are funny, eccentric, and expressive. Sitting in a café in Rathmines, they bounce off each other rapid-fire like a queer comedic duo and seem to have a common understanding of each other’s personality quirks.

This was not always the case, as Declan informs me: “[Growing up], I didn’t really like Luke and he didn’t really like me either.”

According to Luke, this was due to the pair’s age gap: “My sister is two years younger than me, and Declan is five years older. When you’re a child, there’s a bigger age gap. Me and [my sister] were loud and annoying.”

Maturity is one reason for their newfound rapport. Another links the two in a bigger way. “I didn’t come out until I was 18, even to myself,” Declan says. “I could even pick the date on the calendar where I said it to myself.”

“I came out to myself, and then Declan came out,” Luke says. “And I was like, ‘oh I’m going back into the closet now’ [because] I felt like there can’t be two […] Then around 15 or 16 I went, ‘ah, no’.”

While Luke had no qualms about acting ‘different’ with his family and in school – by way of having a friend circle exclusively comprised of girls – Declan felt a larger pressure to conform to the norm. “I was more sociopathic. You have all these coping mechanisms to get you through, to avoid the shame.” He continues, “When [Luke] was a child, I would say that he didn’t like football, and we lived in a little GAA suburb, and that’s as good as saying, ‘I want to murder 10 million people. [He] didn’t really care about social suicide, whereas I was like, ‘what tools have I got to get through this’?”

“Declan said that I was in the closet with the door open,” says Luke.

The pair’s watershed moment came when Declan threw a house party while their parents were away. Luke had just turned 18 and was finally allowed to stay up with his brother.

Declan recalls, “I asked you if you were bisexual because I thought that might be a way to get you to open up, just to confirm it, even though I knew. It was up to me to open that dialogue.”

Once the brothers had both come out, it began to feel like their family came closer together.

“That was when the family could really begin,” Declan says. “It felt like this tiny little drawer that needed to be pulled open.”

Luke elaborates: “It’s a lot more united.”

Although Declan has always felt a degree of responsibility towards his younger brother, he always knew that he would be okay: “It was clear that he was mature enough. I admire him.”

Family photo of a new born baby on a bed, his brother beside him. A VHS tape between them
Luke and Declan

Mike and Naoise Dolan

In their youth, brother and sister Mike and Naoise Dolan had a nebulous sense of feeling different.

“The earliest signs of non-straightness were kind of on the gender-conforming side of things,” Naoise says. “Not so much wanting to do traditionally coded masculine things as not wanting to do traditionally coded feminine things.”

Mike agrees: “Where it would be different for LGBT+ siblings growing up who are the same gender, for us it was experiencing gender variants towards the other person’s direction. I think, to go back into that mindset, there may have been some latent jealousy that Naoise was able to access forms of experience and expression that I wasn’t able to.”

Naoise came out in her third year of college, when Mike, who still hadn’t told his family, was in his sixth year of secondary school.

“Naoise just randomly slipped it into the conversation, like, ‘oh, by the way, I’m gay,’ and just kind of moved on,” he remembers.

“It was a very disarming moment because obviously, in my mind, I had coded my story as being ‘the only one’ and feeling isolated, so it was really strange to discover that, not only was there one other one I knew, but they live in the same house and are my sister.”

Although Naoise’s coming out paved a path that Mike would soon follow, he says the five years between him realising he was gay and Naoise opening up about her sexuality still weighed on him. “I think a lot of the damage tends to be done when you’re a lot younger,” he says. “And I was still in a secondary school environment that was no longer as actively homophobic as it used to be, but was still a place where I did not feel comfortable sharing that about myself.”

Naoise attended the same school as Mike and outlines the difference a few years can make. “It was a mixed school, and even in the three or four years above mine it was still actively homophobic then. I feel like it has changed pretty precipitously in that sense.”

Mike and Naoise, self-defined private people, have never shared a watershed moment where they addressed both of them being LGBT+. “We had a lot of the same friends in college, so he just never needed to come out to me,” Naoise says.

“I think we just started talking about it without realising,” Mike elaborates. “I think we started talking about the cultural aspects of our identities more… so it was probably something about RuPaul’s Drag Race.”

When asked if both of them being LGBT+ has brought them closer together, she responds almost instantly with an enthusiastic – “Definitely.”

Mike continues: “I definitely feel like it’s something that’s a defining feature of my personality. If it wasn’t something we were able to discuss at all, that neither of us knew about each other.“

“It would just feel insane,” Naoise interjects.

Family photo: a toddler holding a football and a little girl with a guitar, both sitting on the ground
Mike and Naoise

Maria McGrath

Maria McGrath is currently working towards a degree in Creative Music Production in NCAD. She is originally from Galway. She is LGBT+ and older than her sister, who is bisexual.

“We’re very lucky to have a father who does not give a fuck as long as we don’t kill someone. He’s very vocal on his belief that you should not be homophobic, he is very vocal on his belief in gay marriage. He has never given me a reason to think he would never accept my sister or accept me.”

When Maria was a teenager, her mother passed away. Her sister was 10. “I don’t want to say I was a mother to her,” Maria says. “It was more so that I had to parent her a little bit more.” She did not feel concerned about her family knowing her sister was bi: “I don’t think either of us experienced homophobia in the way that other people do if they’d grown up in a conservative family.”

Although only five years older, she has noticed striking differences between her coming out experience and that of her sister’s: “When I came out, I was rejected, and I had people who said, ‘I don’t want to be your friend.’ By the time she came out, the referendum had passed, Glee was on.”

Kate Butler

Kate Butler is 25. She grew up on a farm in rural Roscommon. She is the middle child of three and currently works in Dublin. Kate is younger than her brother, who is gay.

“I came out as gay to my parents on Saturday, October 11, 2014,” says Kate. “I only realised after the fact that this is National Coming Out Day. They were very open minded and my mam does a lot of work with and around LGBT+ young people.”

She continues: “I was still insanely nervous, as I think most people are, because even when you know your parents haven’t a problem with these things, you are kind of challenging the idea of your future that they had in their head and sometimes
I think that can be the part some parents struggle with.”

Kate, who came out before her brother, feels her open minded family environment may have eased the pressure on her sibling. “In a way I can imagine that it made it a little easier for him because he could see that our parents would be okay with it; but, I’m sure he still had his own concerns. My parents were always going to support us no matter what [but] he was experiencing it as the eldest and only boy in our family, and there are underlying societal expectations for boys in rural Ireland.

“Growing up he carried more of the stereotypes of being gay whereas I think I was kind of lucky because I coasted along in the background and I got to work everything out for myself in my own time. I think there was a lot more pressure for him. 

“I think sometimes people think that because you’re born gay you always know you’re gay but it’s hardly ever that easy and it can make the coming out process very difficult when people are pushing their own opinions and expectations on you.”

Coming out in the country: Growing up LGBT+ in rural Ireland

This article was originally published on the Gay Community News (GCN) website on .

I still lived in rural Ireland when I came out. I was 18.

The fifth person I told was my counsellor. We were sitting facing each other in an old renovated house in Gorey, a small market town near the Wexford/Wicklow border. After a strained silence, she spoke: “Be careful,” she warned, “gay people are promiscuous.”

This is a prime example of the micro-aggressions that typified my teenage years; the sometimes-coded, sometimes-overt language that denoted otherness, difference, queerness. I didn’t have the words then – the emotional language necessary to navigate how that comment made me feel – but I could feel the gulf between my chair and hers widen in that moment.

For the first 15 years of my life, I lived in a village called Coolgreany. Coolgreany, also in Wexford, is neatly positioned between Gorey and Arklow, a town in south County Wicklow. To suggest that Coolgreany is humble is an understatement: It contains a national school, a shop, two pubs, a prayer group, and a garage. It has more potholes than people.

Main street of a town in rural Ireland

It was here that I discovered my gayness. I was 12 years old when I looked across the classroom and caught the eye of my classmate. We had known each other five years, and we were never close, but when we locked eyes something inside me exploded. It felt like fireworks. Suddenly I wanted to spend every day with him. I wanted to know what he liked to watch on TV, who his favourite football player was, whether he preferred GAA or hurling.

My nascent queerness was developing at the same time as my school colleagues’ homophobia. Although I had no idea I was gay, I was still targeted as ‘other’ for a variety of reasons: I didn’t like sports of any kind, bar swimming. I liked comic books and reading, and was a tad sensitive. I couldn’t join in on their gentle teasing, nor could I fight (at least not physically). This was enough to mark me as a target for bullying. When I discovered that I like men I buried that part of myself so deep so as not to exacerbate the emotional and physical violence that had already found me.

By the time I started secondary school I felt lonely. I would develop crushes and hide them, and date girls to maintain a cover. I was a young gay spy. The homophobia became more overt. I was still a target, and words like faggot came as naturally to some students as breathing. Sometimes teachers even joined in.

I went to secondary school in a farming town in Wicklow called Carnew. It was a clear upgrade from Coolgreany, but had very few outlets for me outside of local drama clubs. LGBT+ issues were rarely discussed, and if they were, they were met with sneers.

A teenager in rural Ireland lying back on his elbow looking at the camera, a group of young people in the background.

My teenage years in rural Ireland were typified by suppression. I would fall in and out of love and would have to stifle my desire to reach out for intimacy. I longed for someone to love me in the way I needed them to, but could never show it. By this time I had moved to Gorey town, and there were no supports available (at least to my knowledge) for young LGBT+ people. We didn’t have the south-east equivalent of Outhouse in Dublin city.

My eventual coming out (six years after realising I was gay) was timed almost concurrently with my moving to Dublin to attend college. For me, it marked the beginning of a new chapter: to begin afresh, make new friends, build a life and find a community. I was successful. I cut ties with my home, slowly and quietly, and looked to the future. But when you move anywhere in life you carry your past with you, and if I was to ever find peace I needed to reconcile with this.

I contacted former teachers. My secondary school now has a gender-neutral bathroom policy. They fly both the Pride flag and the trans flag in their main social area alongside the nations of the world. There are LGBT+ students who exist in that space more openly than I could. There is even now an LGBT+ support service for young people in Gorey town. They convene every Wednesday on St. Michael’s Road, a short distance from where I came out to my last girlfriend. Kids in rural Ireland now have an outlet if they need help.

This is post-Marriage Equality society. Straight, cisgender Irish citizens have begun to view LGBT+ people less in the abstract, and more as people. They are our children, friends, family and teachers. It would be naive to say that all is healed, but there are more supports available now in rural Ireland than there ever was before.

Although I just missed the boat on this change, I am not bitter. I see the change in young people’s live, people who are like me, and I am heartened. I now see less fear, and less suppression.

What Is Gay Panic Defence And Where It’s Still Legal

This article was originally published on the Gay Community News (GCN) website on 3 MAY, 2019.

James Miller had developed a passion since leaving the Austin Police Department: Music. He had acquired a guitar and propositioned fellow musicians at a bar about setting up a jazz band. His 32-year-old neighbour, David Spencer, shared in his passion, and the two would play music late into the night.

On one of such nights, after a round of drinking, Spencer moved in for a kiss. He was stabbed in the back two times by Miller, and bled to death.

Miller was charged with murder, but three years later claimed he was sent into a blind “gay panic” by his neighbour. The defence was successful: Miller only served six months in jail, with a decade to be spent on probation.
This sentence was passed in April, 2018.

Although seemingly a defence from decades past, the gay panic defence is still employed with alarming regularity worldwide. It is a workable defence in all but three American states (it is not applicable in California, Illinois and Rhode Island), and South Australia (where it is set to be repealed by 2020). It was still legal in New Zealand up until 2009.

The “gay panic defence” stipulates that same-sex interactions are so repulsive to cisgender, heterosexual individuals that it sends them into a rage that culminates in murder. It reinforces our second-class status: That our inherent sexuality is grounds enough for our deaths. That non-straight sexuality and existence is of less value than straight lives. It propagates the dated and offensive idea that we are sexual predators who need to be expelled.

The defence first attained recognition in the 1960s, when homosexuality was still defined as a mental illness. Californian man Joseph Rodriguez beat another man to death with a tree branch. His defence attorney called the incident, “an acute homosexual panic brought on him by the fear that the victim was molesting him sexually”.

Other such incidents have attained greater critical examination: The 1998 murder of 21-year-old Matthew Shephard by two older men received worldwide condemnation. In Ireland, the murder of Declan Flynn in 1982 by a crowd of youths – who received minor suspended sentences – was the impetus for growth in our national LGBTQ+ movement.

A troubling offshoot of the gay panic defence is the “trans panic defence.” Last year 265 trans people were reported murdered in 29 countries, according to the Trans Murder Monitoring.

While stringent strides have been made in the development of LGBTQ+ rights both at home and abroad, it is impossible to feel fully-accepted by society at large while our siblings are slain in incidents that are justified by archaic laws. When legislation is on our side, only then can we begin the process of feeling safe.

Dancing in the Margins: How Inclusive Are Dublin’s LGBTQ+ Spaces?

This article was originally published on June 6th 2017, on the Dublin Inquirer‘s website.

In its early days, the Hirschfeld Centre in Temple Bar hosted a few different nights.

The centre – which had opened in 1979 in what was then an underdeveloped neighbourhood – was a three-storey knocked-back warehouse with a small black-box nightclub. It had a dance floor, mirrors and mineral bar at the end of the upstairs area.

The weekend disco was called “Flikkers”, named after the Dutch word for “faggot”. It was one of the only nights for LGBTQ+-identifying individuals in the country, and soon became grounds for experimentation, liberation, and conversation between people who otherwise may not have found each other.

Thursday nights were designated “women’s nights”, but that was hotly contested by its male patrons, says Izzy Kamikaze, the LGBTQ+ activist and occasional DJ.

Thursday “wasn’t a particularly high-demand night”, she says. It would attract 20 or 30 people in a given week.

“I often went on a Saturday night [too] and there could be a couple of hundred men and maybe two or three women,” she says. “If you were looking to cop off” – she laughs – “then it certainly wasn’t the right environment.”

Indeed, some feel that even decades later Dublin’s clubbing scene, that staple of queer identity, remains focused on cis gay men, with other members of the community pushed to the margins.

Spaces

Tonie Walsh, co-founder of the magazine, GCN, and current curator of the Irish Queer Archive, says that the Hirschfeld Centre had its pluses, though.

“Despite its flaws – and we’d be silly to imagine it as a perfect nirvana – it created a space for a generation of Irish lesbians and men to imagine and embrace new identities,” he said.

As he sees it, the conversation should focus less on attendance figures, and more on how those who used the centre’s various spaces felt in coming together to build a community.

It was “a home from home for young lesbians and gay men who […] had been devalued, expunged from family and community lives […] to build a positive, holistic attitude to their lives,” he says.

Outside of the centre, there were other attempts to establish nights for women: every Saturday, the proprietors at J.J. Smyth’s on Aungier Street offered an upstairs space to LGBTQ+ women.

“There was no dance floor, [only] a sticky carpet, and a portable sound system. Most of the dyke-scene stuff was like that,” says Kamikaze. Eventually, this scene withered away.

More Public

As LGBTQ+ people have become more prominent in the public sphere, some in the community have become more introspective.

Speakers and writers are challenging omissions in present-day LGBTQ+ campaigning, to create an intersectional dialogue between sexuality and issues of race, class, and gender.

Take Anne Mulhall’s depiction of the Yes Equality campaign in 2015, as focused on white middle-class gay men.

“The failure to address migrant communities or to include LGBT migrants and people of colour in the Yes Equality campaign compounded the alienation, marginalisation and exclusion that are the experience of minority communities in a white nation,” wrote Mulhall, a lecturer at University College Dublin.

Some feel the same about Dublin’s clubbing scene, that this staple of queer identity remains focused on cis gay men.

“It’s like every area of life: trans people are not catered to meaningfully,” says Gordon Grehan, the operations manager of Transgender Equality Network (TENI).

He sees more education and awareness as necessary. “Often the people in the L, G, B parts of the community are lacking in knowledge,” he says.

Clubbing in the nineties was an important part of Grehan’s life and his gay identity, and being able to meet other gay men in a pre-internet age was exciting.

“I don’t think there is something like that for trans people, but I do think there are spaces that are very inclusive,” he said.

But Grehan questions whether the answer to this is a nightclub just for trans individuals. “Is that a bit othering?” he asks.

“What are we saying, that trans people need something that others don’t? Everywhere should be trans inclusive is where I’d be coming from, and that there would be certain spaces that are majority trans or trans-only spaces, but I don’t know if a club should be one of those spaces,” he says.

Some promoters have made an effort to create inclusive LGBTQ+ club nights. Cormac Cashman, who is behind the weekly events “PrHomo” and “Mother” held out of The Hub in Temple Bar, says he has made great efforts to make his spaces inclusive.

This includes a gender-neutral bathroom policy. “Trans inclusivity is vital on the LGBTQ scene. We’re a community,” he says, by email.

“Honestly I don’t know why people get so worked up over bathrooms. Why the fuck should anyone care who is in the next cubicle to them?” he says.

Emily Scanlan has also worked to address the omissions present in Dublin’s LGBTQ+ community.

She has, in her career as a club promoter, organised nights for queer-identifying women such as “Cake,” and “Crush”. She set up the latter after the end of the lesbian-and-bi night K.I.S.S, which was around for about 10 years then weaned out.

“And at that stage there were absolutely no lesbian or bi nights whatever, and so I set up Crush with GCN, and that was really successful,” she said.

These days, she runs “Spinster” once a month out of Sycamore Street near Dame Lane. It’s mostly marketed to queer women but she strives to make it as inclusive as possible, she says.

“It’s not a ‘gay’ night, I never said that anywhere, I want it to be really inclusive […] There are a lot of lesbian and bi women at it, of course, but it’s very open. It’s the kind of place anyone can come to and have fun. I feel it’s the most inclusive thing I’ve ever done,” she says.

It is harder to run a commercially viable club night for a smaller and more marginalised group of people, though. “I don’t know if [Spinster] would work every week,” says Scanlan.”[It is] a hobby for me. I have a full-time job.”

Grehan echoes Scanlan’s sentiments: “In the trans community, the cohort of people who are interested in going out every week or every month is much, much smaller, so I don’t think you could create a club around that.”

The Rise and Role of Drag

One of the mainstays of LGBTQ+ club nights in Dublin are performances by charismatic drag queens. It’s a draw.

Drag queens grace the dance-floors of “PrHomo” and “Mother”. The George has also hosted a drag-themed bingo night every Sunday for 20 years. It was a platform for performers such as Shirley Temple Bar and Veda.

But as drag has become more mainstream, some have begun to cast a critical eye on the stereotypes and the ideas of femininity that it can spread – and have asked whether in some forms, it can alienate groups in the LGBTQ+ community.

For some, drag has served as a way to explore gender identity.

“As I started to perform, I suddenly realised that, just by putting on a frock and a wig and clown make-up, that I was challenging the norms and stereotypes of gender,” said Noel Sutton, who has performed in drag regularly since the nineties.

When you perform outside of the rigid stereotypes inscribed onto you, “you become a magnet for people who feel different”, says Sutton, who is also the manager of Dublin’s LGBTQ+ film festival GAZE.

But that’s changed a bit as drag has moved from the margins.

Says Grehan: “Some trans women have a problem with drag queens in terms of creating an idea of femininity that isn’t real. That causes confusion around what it means to be a trans woman, or to be a woman.”

There’s a move in drag towards being as glamorous as possible, or to be as passing as this incredible attractive cis woman, he says.

“But that holds up an idealised version of how women should look, and particularly trans women, which is reductive and unhelpful.”

To some, it’s unsurprising that as drag has gone mainstream with RuPaul’s Drag Race – in a particular form, and with a particular attitude – there are questions raised about the potential dilution of drag.

“The judging on that show has given the impression that only a certain presentation of drag is worthy – and this is a hyper-feminine, padded and contoured version,” said Declan Buckley, known for his drag persona Shirley Temple Bar.

But while there are many who take to the stage without considering the political currency of drag, who simply want to entertain, there are many others “who are challenging the norms and the stereotypes,” he said, by email.

Sutton says that the idea that some would cater their personalities to fit an established ideal is disappointing. “I never set out to look like anyone when I dress up,” he said.

For Buckley, however, the idea that someone can “do drag wrong” is counterintuitive. But it’s a conversation worth having, he says.

“While the visual aspect of drag – through exposure and over-familiarity – may have lost some of its capacity to be impactful, the performative aspect still allows us to do what we have always done: poke fun, raise questions, rally the troops and entertain,” he says.

It is not just sections of the trans community that have come to challenge contemporary drag. Some queer and feminist critics have also criticised such performances, in particular what is presented, and indeed mimicked from, RuPaul’s Drag Race.

In this critique, drag is often seen as an outlet through which cisgender gay men can express a certain kind of misogyny: with gendered slurs and harmful stereotypes of women as ditsy, promiscuous or dangerous.

Club promoters in Dublin may be isolating some of the LGBTQ+ community by supporting drag acts that spread these ideas.

“I think there is something very challenging for trans women in that this is a cisgender man performing and being able to take the layers off and live [his] life and not have people take that second look at [him],” Grehan says.

“Really thoughtful and good drag is aware of that, and aware of the binary and what they’re doing,” he says.