On 21st September, United Nations Cinema screened the ‘Queen of Ireland’ in the first of a series of events planned in partnership with the British Museum in London. Organised in the context of the Ian Hislop exhibition ‘I, Object’, the film was screened to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to highlight the UN’s Free and Equal Campaign.

The Queen of Ireland is an uplifting documentary about Ireland’s superstar drag queen Panti Bliss as she rises from ‘giant cartoon woman’ to a high-profile activist in the LGBT+ community. It is the story of the ongoing evolution of Ireland into a truly equal society, as seen through the eyes of one of its most vivid, morally courageous and downright entertaining citizens, Rory O’Neill, who was the accidental face of the Yes campaign in the 2015 same sex marriage referendum in Ireland.

The 300 people in the audience gave the film and Rory a standing ovation and stayed on for a conversation with guest speakers Rory O’Neill, Julia Ankenbrand representing the British Museum and Claude Cahn from OHCHR, moderated by Caroline Petit (UNRIC).

Claude began by saying that “the film honours bravery, bravery in small places as Eleanor Roosevelt said. LGBT+ communities have shone a light on the way forward and the community has rebuilt itself as society has progressed”.

Stating that “the film is about something courageous – someone who can say the unsayable”, Julia added that there was a need for LGBT+ voices in the Museum. “I am really happy that this event could happen at an institution like the British Museum. Museums are about creating conversations, not just objects and dust. The film is courageous, touching and human”.  Julia underlined that the Museum has continued to highlight the LGBT+ community and its history by creating an LGBT+ history trail ‘Love, Identity, Desire’, and in 2017 raised the rainbow flag for London Pride.

Caroline Petit then invited the audience to ask questions, one of which was about the situation of LGBT+ rights across Europe. Claude replied that “the referendum was important for OHCHR but being able to have an open and honest debate in a democratic society is not always the case. Take Romania, who will suggest a ban on same sex marriage in an upcoming referendum, and Slovenia who recently took a step backwards in saying NO to same sex marriage. Countries going backwards is our biggest concern right now.”

The conversation ended with the star of the film, Rory O’Neill, who told us how he maintained his energy and what the referendum meant for the LGBT+ community in Ireland. “ I get a lot of energy from young, brave people everywhere who make a physical statement when they could face a backlash in their own countries. . There has been a huge change in attitudes achieved by a community that was despised 40 years ago. The most powerful statement that could advance gay rights was to come out. Society and attitudes change based on knowing people, having a conversation. It’s easy to hold prejudices against people you don’t know. . The referendum has given gay people confidence and has been transformative for the LGBT+ community in Ireland.”

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