Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks, you’ll have seen the amazing speech that Panti Bliss gave at the Abbey theatrein relation to homophobia in Ireland. If you haven’t seen it, or you’d just like to watch it again (because honestly, it’s that good) then you can find a good quality version of it here.
The speech is probably one of the most effective speeches I’ve ever heard about homophobia. It clearly and eloquently outlines what oppression is and how it works in our every day lives, and consequently, what privilege is and how that works in our every day lives. Sure, Panti is talking about heterosexual and cisgender privilege/gay and transgender oppression as it applies to herself and other transgender and gay people in Ireland, but her speech is so well crafted that you can easily see any privilege/oppressive constructs in its place. And that, in my opinion, is truly the sign of a great speech.
Another fantastic element to the speech is her unrelenting claim on the word “homophobia”. Too often in our society, the ones who are oppressed are denied access to language that can call attention to their oppression. The words are made taboo for everyone, and thus denied to those who need them the most. Women, for example, shy away from terms such as “feminism” or “sexism”. People of color shy away from the term “racism”. Gay and trans* people shy away from the term “homophobia”. Using these terms is so packed with dangerous connotations, and so embedded with dire consequences that we back away from the terms as if they’re contagious.
Think about it: How often have you called somebody out on their sexism/racism/homophobia? How often have you thought the term too harsh to be applied to that situation? How much do you fear being judged for using those terms?
I know I’ve been guilty of it. Guilty of remaining silent as a work colleague tells me that they agree that the female students should have to wear skirts, while the boys can wear pants. And even when I have spoken up, I shied away from the word “sexist” as if it were a career breaker. Which, in all honesty, it could be. And that’s where privilege comes in, this is where I’ve had to check myself, where I’ve been oppressed. Where I, as a woman of authority, was silenced by the fear of using the term “sexist”.
Listening to Panti’s speech gave me hope for a better Ireland, and a better world. This speech will go down in history as a marker for social movement, as representative that the times are changing, and an example of the fantastic people who can still emerge from such an oppressive country.