A group of agitators are planning a protest against an adult-only drag bingo night in a few weeks time, slap bang in the middle of Pride Month.
A Facebook advert for the protest features the Eminem song Criminal.
The organisers share similar beliefs to those who managed to get a drag show cancelled in Carlow last month – one of which is, they say, a concern for children’s safety. But children are not invited to the events.
At Drag Fest Ireland, which was held at the National Stadium in May, attendees were reportedly subjected to abuse from protesters gathered outside the venue, shouting slurs such as “groomer” and “paedophile”. Gardaí attended the scene, but no action was taken.
Some of those involved in these protests appear to believe that drag events groom children into a life of homosexuality. Others are more blatant, as the “groomers” and “paedophiles” slurs suggest.
The allegation that trans people and drag queens pose a threat to children is the same hateful rhetoric from the 1970s, recycled for a TikTok age
However, it’s not just trans people who are being targeted; the same ire and revolting slurs were used against gay male politicians. Sinn Féin’s Fintan Warfield and Green Minister Roderic O’Gorman were both subject to vicious abuse in recent years.
The allegation that trans people and drag queens pose a threat to children is the same hateful rhetoric from the 1970s, recycled for a TikTok age.
We’ve heard versions of all this before: the notion that children may be indoctrinated or that it has “gone too far” is the same kind of nonsense that sent thousands to London or New York in search of a more accepting community. Many, heartbreakingly, never returned home.
We know that most Irish people do not feel this way. We have shifted from a moralistic and deeply religious society to one of moderate tolerance, with marriage equality and abortion referendums passed by the majority – which is why it’s more important than ever for others to speak out.
This is not something that is only happening elsewhere, in England or the US. We have seen protesters objecting to books on LGBTQ+ issues in Swords library. We have seen heartbreaking footage of an assault on a child in Navan – classified by gardaí as an assault with “hate as a motivating factor” – after which five teenagers were arrested and released without charge.
It is all connected, and it will not end here. Ireland is facing a crisis in housing, a rolling series of crises in health and tens of thousands of the world’s most vulnerable people are seeking refuge here. These are the circumstances that hateful actors will exploit to set us against each other.
When you can demonise one vulnerable minority and bring some of the public along with you, it’s unlikely you will stop there
The idea that this small minority of people, with the loudest voices and the ability to severely intimidate, will stop at the rights of transgender people and drag performers is laughable. When you can demonise one vulnerable minority and bring some of the public along with you, it’s unlikely you will stop there. These people seek to control and restrict other people’s sense of freedom, and they will not stop at Dr Panti Bliss-Cabrera.
Drag, a benign art form as old as Shakespeare, is a visible celebration of queer culture and acceptance. When it is targeted, the rest of the community can be targeted, and other communities after that. If you scroll through the Facebook pages of those organising the protest, some of whom joke about using violence against those attending drag events, it is clear they also stir up fears about refugees, immigrants, and Irish people of colour.
They seem to long for a time that never existed, where Irish men and women lived free of crime, free of a housing crisis, and things were better. They seem to forget that those were also the days that divorce and contraceptives were banned; days when hundreds of the Irish children they are now so intent on saving ended up in a septic tank. Do they ever post about the violence against children carried out in mother and baby homes?
Bigots never think they’re bigots; they claim they’re “defending” something. It’s a popular far-right tactic because it works. Children are vulnerable and helpless, and are constantly mentioned in populist rhetoric. Who could argue with “protect our children”? Everyone wants to protect children. It’s this manipulation of language and people’s good nature that helps such agitators succeed, yet none of these groups ever seems to campaign for anything that could tangibly help or protect children.
Last year, more than 110,000 children were on waiting lists for physiotherapy, speech and language therapy and disability services. Irish children are routinely put in adult mental health units because there are no children’s beds available.
When the therapy lists are added to general hospital waiting numbers, about 220,000 children are languishing in the purgatory of the public health service. In April, 3,594 children were homeless. According to research by Unicef published in 2017, Ireland has the fourth highest teen suicide rate in the EU/OECD region.
More time and energy is spent by these protesters debating whether Ru Paul is indoctrinating young people with eyeshadow, wigs and lip-synced renditions of It’s Raining Men than protesting about any of this.
Ireland has a long history of demonising, criminalising and incarcerating those whom society considered ‘different’. They claimed they were worried about our children too
Research by BelongTo found that 76 per cent of Irish LGBTQ+ students feel unsafe at school, and it’s no wonder; 69 per cent said they had heard homophobic remarks from other students, while 58 per cent said they had heard homophobic remarks from school staff.
Those who claim they are not homophobic and have no issue with gay people but feel drag has “gone too far” are simply doing the work of the far right for them. The United States shows us that, when given the chance, extremists will seek to roll back on healthcare, bodily autonomy and restrict hard-won freedoms.
Ireland has a long history of demonising, criminalising and incarcerating those whom society considered “different”. Those involved claimed they were worried about our children too.
The last people entrusted with safeguarding our morality traumatised and incarcerated the pregnant, the “illegitimate”, the poor and the desperate. We are still dealing with the fallout. It is up to all of us to refuse to be intimidated and offer our support to those who are targeted, because protests will not stop at drag shows.
Justine McCarthy is away