- 26 Jul 18
On a Wednesday evening under Panti Bar's fluttering rainbow flag on Capel Street, I'm relieved to find two Radical Queers Resist (RQR) members sporting badges with the group's logo. These activists have remained so well-hidden, even as they have been visibly active, that they would otherwise have been unrecognisable.
Walking to the Hot Press offices further down Capel Street, they become bright-eyed at the mention of the Irish Centre for Bioethical Reform (ICBR) - and that shadowy group's recent encounter with Gardaí in Cork, in which the anti-abortion mob's graphic posters were confiscated. It isn't too long since RQR were planting themselves in front of an ICBR demonstration on this very street to cover over those same images.
On its website, stopabortion.ie, the ICBR says that its purpose is "to make abortion impossible to ignore or trivialise". With that "aim" in mind, the group engages in silent demonstrations that consist of displaying graphic imagery of terminated foetuses. Which is, of course, a deliberate misreprentation of the reality of abortion.
This year in both the run-up to and the aftermath of the referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment, the ICBR targeted universities, hospitals, roundabouts and - in perhaps its most menacing manifestation - LGBTQ+ spaces.
Radical Queers Resist, formed in February of this year by a group of college friends interested in queer activism, first came into contact with the ICBR when it set up outside Maynooth University. RQR members were among a group of students who covered the deceitful display with sheets and 'Students For Choice' banners. It was when members of Radical Queers Resist caught wind of the fact that the ICBR were aiming to set up outside LGBTQ+ bars in Dublin, that they decided to up their game.
"The ICBR actually emailed Panti Bar and The George before they did their demonstrations", says one of the members, simply known as E (all RQR members go by either the first letter of their forenames or their initials). "It was at this point that the founding members were like 'okay, we've got to take this bigger, and not just counter them when they come to Maynooth.'"
Cat-and-mouse And so they did. On April 16, RQR took the "direct action" their manifesto promises.
"At 4pm on Capel St. today, the Irish Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform will begin their 'week of of displays directed at the LGBT community'," the group announced on Twitter at the time. "We will target this... Join us in protest. Hold our banner with us. We will not allow the ICBR to punish people for their tragedies".
The ICBR did show up outside of Panti Bar with a large poster display that read 'Pro equality = pro abortion?' - accompanied by a picture of a rainbow flag and graphic imagery of terminated foetuses. RQR activists obscured the graphic imagery with a variety of pro-choice signs, a single rainbow flag and a large banner reading 'Pro-lies: is this what you want?' The counter-demonstration earned lots of support from beeping cars, and from Panti Bliss herself, who documented the event on her social media.
At one point, part of the banner that read "o-lies" accidentally cut off the 'tail' of Panti BarÕs "big gay cocktail" window display. It was worth a chuckle.
The following day, RQR again counter-protested against the ICBR outside of the George, this time holding a banner that read "ICBR out: stop punishing tragedy" and waving rainbow flags.
"They're using queer liberation as a means to spread their vile message", another member of RQR, J, said at the time. "So they're equating queer liberation with the so-called 'right to life'. We want to say that no, queer people are not anti-choice, we're pro-choice. Queer people can get pregnant too, trans men can get pregnant, non-binary people like myself can get pregnant".
Sitting in the Hot Press offices, E says she missed the Panti and George protests, as she was only made aware of RQR as a result of them. She went along to the group's open meetings shortly afterwards, and joined the group. The other member, SF, says he became involved by getting to know the founders, while studying at Maynooth. Both are now "core" members of the group. With its non-hierarchical structure, this doesn't make them leaders, just individuals who play a key role in the group's organisation and mobilisation. Following in the footsteps of Stonewall and Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, RQR are a grassroots organisation, in which everyone can make a difference. Radical Resistance.
The duo explain how diverse the group is in terms of gender identity, sexual orientation and where members fall on the political spectrum (all leaning left, but to different degrees). Yet everyone agrees on the group's core policies of being non-violent, inclusive and direct in their approach. This, they say, is what makes RQR radical.
"A lot of people think 'direct action' means confrontation", SF says. "They hear 'radical' and think violence. That's not the case. For us, it means tackling what we feel are major issues head on Ð getting loud, shouting about it and drawing as much attention as possible to it".
Getting loud surely carries risks, though, particularly on the issue of abortion.
"I'm one of the older members of the group, and I'm your typical bloke from Kildare", says SF, which is a fair assessment. He isn't the first person you'd picture when you hear "radical queer activist group".
"Nobody would really say anything to me," he states. "I've noticed that the ones who tend to get picked on are young, small in build, and more feminine-looking."
"At an ICBR counter-demonstration," E says, "one of our protestors had a sign confiscated by Gardai because it said the word 'queer'. The guards said it could be deemed offensive and took it."
That was worth a chuckle too.
"The word 'queer' is offensive," SF scoffs, "yet the ICBR can stand there with images of dismembered foetuses!"
Except in Cork, apparently!
Overall, RQR have been well-received, their demonstrations inspiring counter-protests against the ICBR in UCD and Cork. Their efforts during the repeal campaign also earned them over 4,000 Twitter followers.
"During our counter-protests I've had random people off the street come up and say, 'Can I help you hold that?'" E says. "Or even people walking by going, like, 'I can't stop, but here's some water!'"
The Eighth Amendment has been repealed and the ICBR gone quiet since their Garda encounter. RQR are now able to focus on other issues facing the LGBTQ+ community. What's next on the agenda?
"Trans rights are a big thing for us. Healthcare for trans people is largely inaccessible in this country," SF says, revealing that the group will be marching in the upcoming Trans Pride Parade at the end of July. "We also want to make sure new abortion legislation contains inclusive language so queer people aren't left behind," E adds.
"We're focused on securing legal recognition for non-binary people, too."
The group intend to put their weight behind the Sex Ed Bill, which will reform the way students learn about sex, sexuality and gender at school, as well as issues like the housing crisis and mental health services in Ireland.
"A lot of these issues disproportionately affect LGBTQ+ youth," they explain. "But that doesn't mean we're leaving everyone else out to dry."
The group intend to hold demonstrations, in co-operation with other groups.
"That's one of the ways we can raise awareness. Another way is this!" E smiles. "As we've gained popularity for the ICBR stuff, we've gotten a larger profile, which means we're able to speak with people like you - and hopefully get word out about really vital issues."