Homophobia in Honduras: growing attacks on LGBT activists

[This article is also available in Spanish]

A year after returning from exile, Honduran gay rights activist Donny Reyes still fears a murderous attack at any minute.

“I’ve been imprisoned on many occasions. I’ve suffered torture and sexual violence because of my activism, and I’ve survived many assassination attempts,” he said, in an interview with Index on Censorship.

Activists in Honduras must contend with a constant barrage of threats and, often fatal, attacks. Reyes, the coordinator of the Honduran lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender advocacy group Arcoíris (Rainbow), had spent 10 months abroad for his own safety, but felt an obligation to return to the frontline of the fight against discrimination.

“To be able to continue with my personal life and my work I have to be conscious that [death] could come at any moment,” he said. “The truth is it doesn’t worry me anymore. What worries me is that things won’t change.”

Dozens of LGBT Hondurans are murdered each year, with few of the killers brought to justice, according to figures from respected Honduran NGO Cattrachas. Journalists and activists who speak out are often attacked. One of these was Juan Carlos Cruz Andara who died after being stabbed 25 times by unknown assailants last June.

Arcoíris reported 15 security incidents against its members during the second half of 2015, including surveillance, harassment, arbitrary detentions, assaults, robberies, theft, threats, sexual assault and even murder. Other LGBT activists have experienced forced evictions, fraudulent charges, defamation, enforced disappearances and restrictions of right to assembly.

The activists consulted by Index all said that the level of homophobic violence exploded after the ousting of liberal President Manuel Zelaya in the military coup of 2009. The election of right-wing candidate Porfirio Lobo Sosa the following year coincided with the militarisation of Honduras, a rise in gang-related violence, and a clampdown on human rights.

The records from Cattrachas show that on average two LGBT people were murdered each year in the country from 1994 to 2008. After the 2009 coup that rate rocketed to an average 31 murders per year, according to figures from Arcoíris. In early 2016 there were signs the situation was escalating further with the murder of Paola Barraza, a member of Arcoiris’s group, on 24 January. In reality though it is impossible to know precisely how many people have been killed because of their sexuality because the vast majority of cases remain unsolved.

Erick Martínez Salgado, who volunteers with LGBT advocacy group Kukulcanhn, told Index that gay activists protested heavily against discrimination and the coup. He believes the government came to view his group as a threat to the traditional social order and started targeting them to “send a message” to other protesters.

One of the most prominent gay rights activists of the time, Walter Tróchez, was killed in a drive-by shooting in December 2009. Human rights groups noted that he had previously been kidnapped, beaten and threatened for demonstrating against the coup and advocating for gay rights. Four years later, Tróchez’s friend and fellow gay rights activist Germán Mendoza was arrested and charged with his murder.

Mendoza told Index he was held in deplorable conditions and repeatedly tortured in a bid to make him plead guilty. Eventually he was released after proving his innocence last year. Mendoza believes he was arrested because the government wanted to use him “as a scapegoat to wash their hands of the responsibility” for Tróchez’s death, which remains unsolved. The Honduran government did not respond to requests for comment.

Gang warfare was a massive contributor to Honduras status as the nation with the world’s highest murder rate in 2012, however the gay community’s main concern is not gangs, but the state security forces.

“The police constitute the primary perpetrator of violations of the rights of the LGBT community,” the Coalition Against Impunity, an alliance of 29 Honduran NGOs, warned last year, citing alleged “police policy of frequent threats, arbitrary arrests, harassment, sexual abuse, discrimination, torture and cruel or degrading treatment”.

As a result many vulnerable activists are reluctant to ask for protection, for fear that contact with the police would expose them to greater security risks or reprisals.

The journalists who document homophobic violence in Honduras also risk their lives. Dina Meza, an independent investigative reporter who has covered the issue extensively, was nominated for an Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Award in 2014 for her journalism. Meza said the country’s mainstream media often portrays the LGBT community in a negative light.

Meza, who launched the independent news site Pasos de Animal Grande last year to draw attention to the hardships facing the most vulnerable sectors of society, said reporters who cover violence against the LGBT community are also targeted. She said not only do journalists get physically assaul-ted by the security forces and expelled from public events, but they are also targets of government-led smear campaigns.

“It’s extremely common here for them to link human rights defenders to drug trafficking and organised crime, in a bid to sow doubts in people’s minds about the work that we’re doing,” she explained. “If we speak out at an international level they say we’re trying to undermine Honduras, discourage investment and see the country burn.”

Peter Tatchell, director of the London-based LGBT campaigning group the Peter Tatchell Foundation, called for the world to pay more attention to the killings. He said: “This extensive, shocking mob violence against LGBT Hondurans is almost unreported in the rest of the world. The big international LGBT organisations tend to focus on better-known homophobic repression in countries like Egypt, Russia, Iran and Uganda. What’s happening in Honduras is many times worse. Is this neglect because it is a tiny country with few resources and no geo-political weight? The UN, Organisation of American States and foreign aid providers need to do more to press the Honduran government to crackdown on anti-LGBT hate crime and to educate the public on LGBT issues to combat prejudice.”

Meza and the activists interviewed by Index also believe that Catholic and Evangelical Christian groups have become increasingly influential in Honduran society. Reyes from Arcoíris described the state, the church and the mainstream media as a triumvirate which has fuelled “impunity, fundamentalism, machismo and misogyny” across the country, with disastrous consequences for the LGBT community.

“At home and at school are the first two places where we’re attacked and discriminated. We flee home at very young ages because the family is built on religious values. Our families punish us in a cruel manner and this has a terrible psychological impact,” Reyes said. “Our educational and employment opportunities are diminished every day. We can be sex workers or street vendors, or stay in the closet in the hope of getting a job, but if they find out about your sexual orientation you’ll almost certainly be fired.”

Despite the risks he and his fellow activists face, Reyes said the drastic need for change is what gives them the strength to keep fighting discrimination: “We need a Honduras that’s free from violence and homophobia. We believe it’s our responsibility to fight for this so the next generation have a space to live in a better world.”

honduras english NEW

 This article is from the latest issue of Index on Censorship magazine. Order your copy here, or take out a digital subscription via Exact Editions (free trial or £18 for the year). Copies are also available at the BFI and Serpentine Gallery (London), News from Nowhere (Liverpool), Home (Manchester) and on Amazon. Each magazine sale helps Index on Censorship fight for free expression worldwide.

Homofobia en Honduras: el aumento de atracos y asesinatos de activistas LGBT

[This article is also available in English]

Un año tras volver del exilio, Danny Reyes, un activista homosexual hondureño aún teme ser asesinado en cualquier momento. “Yo estaba encarcelado en muchas ocasiones, he sido víctima de tortura y violencia sexual y todo a causa del activismo. En muchas ocasiones he sobrevivido persecuciones e intentos de sicarios,” dijo, en una entrevista con Index on Censorship.

Activistas en Honduras tienen que lidiar con constantes amenazas y atracos, a menudo fatales. Reyes, el coordinador del grupo activista para lesbianas, hombres homosexuales, bisexuales y transexuales Arcoíris, estuvo 10 meses en el extranjero por su propia seguridad pero se vio obligado a volver a estar a la vanguardia en la lucha contra la discriminación.

“Para poder continuar con mi vida personal y con mi trabajo, tengo que estar consciente de que eso [la muerte] puede ocurrir en cualquier momento.” Cada año se asesinan docenas de hondureños LGBT y muy pocos de los asesinatos son llevados ante la justicia, según las cifras del respetado ONG hondureño Cattrachas. Los periodistas y activistas que se pronuncian son atracados. Uno de ellos fue Juan Carlos Cruz Andara que murió tras ser apuñalado 25 veces por agresores desconocidos en junio del año pasado.

Arcoíris denunció 15 incidentes de seguridad contra sus miembros durante la segunda mitad de 2015, incluyendo vigilancia, acoso, detenciones arbitrarias, atracos, robos, amenazas, agresión sexual e incluso asesinato. Otros activistas LBGT han experimentado deshaucios, cargos falsos, difamación, desapariciones forzadas y restricciones del derecho de reunión.

Todos los activistas consultados por Index dijeron que el nivel de violencia homófoba aumentó desde la expulsión del presidente liberal Manuel Zelaya en el golpe militar de 2009.

La elección del candidato de la derecha Porfirio Lobo Sosa al año siguiente coincidió con la militarización de Honduras, un aumentó en el número de casos de violencia relacionada con las pandillas, y una restricción de los derechos humanos.

Los documentos de Cattrachas muestran que de media dos personas LGBT fueron asesinadas cada año en el país entre 1994 y 2008. Tras el golpe de 2009 el número ha subido vertiginosamente a una media de 31 asesinatos al año, según las cifras de Arcoíris. A principios de 2016 había indicaciones de que se intensificaba más la situación con el asesinato de Paola Barraza, un miembro de Arcoíris, el 24 enero. En realidad es muy difícil conocer exactamente cuántas personas han perdido la vida a causa de su sexualidad porque la gran mayoría de los casos siguen sin resolverse.

Eric Martínez Salgado, que trabaja como voluntario con el grupo activista LGBT Kukulcanhn, contó a Index que los activistas homosexuales protestaron firmemente contra la discriminación y el golpe de estado. Cree que el gobierno consideraba su grupo como una amenaza al orden social tradicional y que empezó a amenazarles para “enviar un mensaje” a otros manifestantes.

Uno de las figuras más prominentes del activismo homosexual de todos los tiempos, Walter Tróchez, fue asesinado en un tiroteo desde un coche en 2009. Los grupos de derechos humanos notaron que había sido secuestrado anteriormente, batido y amenazado por manifestarse contra el golpe de estado y abogar por derechos para homosexuales. Cuatro años más tarde, un amigo de Tróchez y también activista homosexual Germán Mendoza fue detenido y acusado de su asesinato.

Mendoza contó a Index que le guardaban en condiciones deplorables y fue torturado repetidas veces. Finalmente lo soltaron tras probar su inocencia el año pasado. Mendoza cree que fue detenido porque el gobierno quería utilizarlo “como cabeza de turco para lavarse las manos de la responsabilidad” de la muerte de Tróchez, que sigue sin resolverse. El gobierno hondureño no respondió cuando se le pidió un comentario respecto al tema.

Las guerras de las pandillas fueron un enorme factor que influyeron en el estatus de Honduras como el país con el mayor número de asesinatos en 2012, sin embargo la principal preocupación de la comunidad homosexual no son las pandillas sino el estado de las fuerzas de seguridad.

“La policía y otros agentes se constituyen en el principal perpetrador de violaciones a los derechos de la comunidad LGBT,” advirtió el año pasado la Coalición contra la Impunidad, un pacto entre 29 ONG hondureños, citando presunta “política de policía de frecuentes amenazas, detenciones arbitrarias, acoso, agresión sexual, discriminación, tortura y tratamiento cruel o degradante.”

Como resultado muchos activistas vulnerables son reacios a pedir protección, por miedo a que el contacto con la policía pueda generar mayores riesgos en la seguridad o represalias. Los periodistas que escriben sobre la violencia homofóbica en Honduras también arriesgan la vida. Dina Menza, una investigadora independiente que ha escrito mucho sobre el tema fue nominada a los premios Libertad de Expresión en 2014 otorgado por Index on Censorship por su trabajo. Meza dijo que los medios principales del país retratan la comunidad LGBT bajo una luz negativa.

Meza, que lanzó el sitio de noticias Pasos de Animal Grande el año pasado para llamar la atención sobre las dificultades que sufren los sectores más vulnerables de la sociedad, dijo que periodistas que escriben sobre la violencia contra la comunidad LGBT también han sido objeto de persecuciones. Dijo que los periodistas no sólo son agredidos físicamente por las fuerzas de seguridad y echados de eventos públicos sino son también objeto de campañas de desprestigio gubernamentales.

“Aquí el vincularnos como defensores de derechos humanos con el crimen organizado y el narcotráfico, eso es lo más normal para desprestigiar nuestra labor y para sembrar la duda en la gente sobre el trabajo que estamos haciendo,” Meza explicó. “Si vamos a nivel internacional y hablamos, dicen que tenemos una campaña en contra del estado de Honduras y que promovemos que no venga inversión, que queremos incendiar el país.”

Peter Tatchell, director del grupo activista LGBT the Peter Tatchell Foundation en Londres, pide que el mundo preste atención a los asesinatos. Dijo: “Esta violencia, extendida y escandalosa contra la comunidad LGBT hondureña apenas se reporta en el resto del mundo. Las grandes organizaciones LGBT tienden a centrase en casos de homofobia más conocidos como los de Egipto, Irán y Uganda. Lo que está pasando en Honduras es mucho peor. ¿Esta negligencia es porque es un país pequeño con pocos recursos y poco peso geopolítico? La ONG, Organización de Estados Americanos y proveedores de ayuda internacional deben hacer más para presionar al gobierno hondureño a erradicar crímenes contra la comunidad LGBT y sensibilizar al público sobre el tema a fin de combatir los prejuicios”.

Meza y los activistas entrevistados por Index también sostienen que los grupos católicos y evangélicos tienen cada vez más influencia en la sociedad hondureña. Reyes de Arcoíris ha descrito el estado, la iglesia y los medios principales como un triunvirato que ha alimentado “la impunidad, el fundamentalismo, el machismo y la misoginia” en todo el país con consecuencias desastrosas para la comunidad LGBT.

“La familia y la escuela son los primeros lugares donde nos violentan y nos discriminan. Salimos de casa a muy tempranas edades, huyendo porque la familia está construida con valores religiosos. Nos castigan de una forma cruel y la afectación psicológica es terrible,” dijo Reyes. “Las oportunidades que tenemos de trabajo o educación cada día son menos. Podemos ser trabajadores sexuales o comerciantes vendiendo en la calle o meternos en el closet para poder conseguir un trabajo, pero si se enteran de nuestra orientación sexual es casi seguro que nos despiden.”

A pesar de los riesgos a los que se enfrentan tanto él como sus amigos, Reyes dijo que la necesidad de un cambio drástico es lo que le da la fuerza para seguir luchando contra la discriminación: “Necesitamos encontrar un Honduras que esté libre de violencia y homofobia. Creemos que es nuestra responsabilidad luchar por eso, para que las próximas generaciones tengan un espacio donde vivir en un mundo mejor.”

honduras spanish NEW-2

Traducido por Caoimhin Logue. Este reportaje es de la nueva edición de la revista Index on Censorship.  Se puede probar la edición digital aquí.

Index Freedom of Expression Awards: Arts nominee David Cecil

Awards Cecil

British theatre producer David Cecil brought worldwide attention to Uganda’s homophobic criminal code after he was arrested and charged for producing a “pro-gay” play in the country.

The Anti-Homosexuality Bill, a version of which was first introduced in 2009, was passed just before Christmas and signed by President Museveni at the end of February, meaning certain homosexual acts are now punishable with life in prison in Uganda.

The River and The Mountain tells the story of a successful young businessman who is killed by his employees after coming out as gay. Cecil was arrested in September 2012, when his theatre company refused to halt its production pending a content review by the Ugandan Media Council, and staged two performances in Kampala. The Council later deemed the play to be promoting homosexuality. Cecil spent four nights in a maximum-security prison and faced a two-year prison sentence or deportation if convicted.

The case attracted media attention both in Uganda and abroad, and Index on Censorship and David Lan, the artistic director of the Young Vic, launched a petition calling for the charges against Cecil to be dropped. It was signed by more than 2,500 people, including director Mike Leigh, Stephen Fry, Sandi Toksvig and actor Simon Callow, bringing attention to the wider issue of gay rights and freedom of expression in Uganda.

The charges were finally dropped on 2 January 2013, as the prosecution had failed to disclose any evidence. However, Cecil was re-arrested in February, spent five nights in prison, and was finally deported on the grounds that he was an “undesirable person”.

Cecil was deported from Uganda as a result of his play. He has been nominated for the Index Freedom of Expression Arts Award and spoke with Alice Kirkland about what this means to him.

Index: How does it feel to be nominated for the Index on Censorship arts award and why do you think you have been nominated?

David: The honour is bittersweet, as I am unable to continue living in Uganda because of what I did; the last year has been fraught with anxiety and uncertainty. Since meeting your representatives in early 2013, I stumbled across a load of back issues of your magazine from the 1980s. Reading through articles by Umberto Eco and Ronald Dworkin made me feel part of something bigger, a story unfolding over time.

I believe I was nominated because we were perceived as standing up for gay rights in a country where it’s hard to talk about homosexuality publicly. To me, at the time, we were just putting on a play and had little idea of how much impact it would have.

Index: You spent time in prison in Uganda for your part in the production of the “pro-gay” play The River and The Mountain. What impact has this had on your work and life since the incident? Would you or have you produced a play since on the same topic in a country that implements homophobic laws?

David: Since February 2013, I’ve been living in the UK as a deportee from Uganda, where I had spent 6 years building a career and a life with my new family (girlfriend and 2 kids, all Ugandan). With the recent (February 2014) signing of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law, plus other sinister developments, I now have to accept that Uganda is no longer safe for me and my family. So that chapter in my life is now closed and my family are now finally joining me here in London. This is a huge blow.

One colossal irony in all of this is that our play was not actually “pro-gay”. It simply portrayed a gay character sympathetically and satirised the politicisation of sexuality in Uganda. The people who targeted us have done all the work of promoting awareness of homosexual issues in their country.

Gay issues and rights are no obsession of mine. So, if I ever do tackle this subject again, it will be coincidental; I am primarily interested in the quality of a script or the enthusiasm of a moment.

Index: By having your production shut down, spending time in jail and facing a criminal trial you obviously had your right to free speech quashed. How did this make you feel?

David: Excited, then bemused, then frustrated, then furious, now a bit depressed – the latter mainly about Uganda, my erstwhile adopted country.

Ugandan prison was very relaxing and even pleasant. Initially, I was in the section for remand prisoners, short sentences and white-collar crime. The people were friendly, relaxed and understanding. Later, I was locked up for a week in a crowded, rough police station. That had its interesting moments, such as ghost-story-telling by candle-light, and a brilliant cast of characters. I rose to become “resident police” (prison boss) by slapping a Fagin-type with a flipflop.

My feelings are less important. I am not the victim in this story. The ones suffering are my family, and the Ugandan people.

Index: Can you explain about the run up to the production of the play in Uganda? Were you aware before the opening night that running the show could land you in jail?

David: It is important to note that the original genesis of the play comes from a meeting with a local theatre group, Rafiki. They, a group of young, heterosexual Ugandan actors and actresses, wanted to produce a play on the theme of “homosexuality”. I agreed to help, as long as it would be a comedy. Coincidentally, a friend of a friend was visiting from the UK at the time; this was Beau Hopkins, a poet and playwright, who agreed to work on the script according to a story developed in a collaborative workshop. Angella Emurwon, an award-winning Ugandan playwright, agreed to direct. It is important to note also that all the Ugandans involved are religious; one of them describes himself as a “devout Christian”.

Fast forward 4 months. I was told a week before the press premiere night that we needed to get special clearance from the Ugandan Media Council (UMC). I had already tried to secure this three months before and was told it was not necessary. (The junior UMC worker who told me this was correct; normally, one would not have to get any clearance for a theatre play in Uganda.) In the end, the secretary of the UMC decided to politicise what we were doing and, at the very last minute, insisted that I sign a letter asking us to desist until they had reviewed the script with their 11-strong committee. Pius, the secretary knew that this meant the play would not be performed, due to subsequent commitments of the director and the key actors, as I had already informed him of all that. The letter was cc-ed to the prime minister’s office, the chief of police, the head of media crimes CID and the minister of ethics & integrity. Because the letter made no mention of legal consequences, articles or anything binding, I signed.

I immediately visited a friend of mine, a human rights lawyer, Godwin Buwa, whose prognosis proved remarkably accurate in all but one regard. The letter was indeed a threat – it could not stand up in a court of law – however, one of the agencies cc-ed may try and act on it. I could be charged with something, possibly, but since the letter was so badly phrased, the worst I would suffer would be a few nights on remand. Since the case would have no water, I would be guilty of no crime and would not be deported.

We had a meeting with the cast. My name was on the paper, they were not in danger. We had worked too hard to be bullied into silence by a badly-phrased letter. We agreed to go ahead and face the consequences.

Perhaps I carried over an element of bravado from my experiences organising underground raves and music festivals in Europe, sometimes in the teeth of official sanction. At worst we had our sound system seized and threatened on numerous occasions, but always continued doing what we loved doing.

Index: Your trial brought global media attention to the situation in Uganda regarding the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, but did this attention do anything to change the laws in the country?

David: To make a faintly disgusting analogy, I think that much of the attention (from our case and others) has been like squeezing a pimple. It has brought the pus to the top.

It was never my attention to directly talk about minority rights or the laws in Uganda — I would not presume to do so. It is none of my business, in every sense. What we were trying to do was to make fun of the nonsense surrounding attitudes to gays – the very bigotry and politicisation that took us down – without getting involved in a “right or wrong” argument. Our play was funny; it was entertainment. I hope that we changed the attitudes of some audience members.

I believe communities are the source of meaning. The law either follows or clashes with that meaning. Sometimes a law may be passed to protect a minority; maybe…

The problem with international activism is that it plays right into the hands of people who argue that homosexuality is a “foreign menace”. At least, people who care about these issues should spend a significant amount of time in the countries to understand why ordinary, sound people may be homophobic.  Then they can judge and engage with them.

Activism is a label with revolutionary connotations. I am certainly no activist. At most, we wanted to get people talking.

Index: What role does freedom of expression have to play in discussions about homophobia, especially in countries where it is a crime to be gay?

David: Without freedom of expression, government propaganda and lazy “common sense” prevails, especially regarding taboos or controversies. In a country where religious, ethnic and gender identities are so important and politicised, it is essential that we can discuss politics in terms of our identity, without fear of arrest.

Index: How important are awards like the Index on Censorship one in advocating free speech as a human right?

David: In Uganda, there’s a fantastic organisation called “Freethought Kampala”. They’d benefit from exposure and affiliation. I’d love to see the Index organising an event with their founder James Onen and his friends.

This article was posted on March 11, 2014 at indexoncensorship.org

Ireland: Legal threats from Catholic commentators put drag artist Panti in a twist

Rory O'Neill's alter ego Panti

Rory O’Neill’s alter ego Panti

Is it possible to be opposed to gay rights without being homophobic? Is belief in a “cure” for homosexuality proof of prejudice against gay people?

On the other hand, is it libelous to call a Catholic commentator “homophobic”?

Ireland has been dealing with these questions for the past week.

On Saturday, Rory O’Neill, a well-known drag artist who has performed for many years under the name Panti, appeared on RTE’s The Saturday Night Show.

O’Neill made some interesting points at the progress gay people have made in Ireland, suggesting that because of the country’s small population, societal change can happen much more rapidly. He told chat show host Brendan O’Connor:

So much has changed. And I think em a small country like Ireland sometimes we get a bad rap because people think “oh small conservative country blah blah blah”. But actually I think a small country like Ireland changes much faster than a big country because absolutely…I’m..think about it every single person in this audience has a cousin or a neighbour or the guy that you work with who is a flaming queen. I mean you all know one. And it’s very hard to hold prejudices against people when you actually know those people. And Ireland because it’s such small communities grouped together, everybody knows the local gay and you know maybe twenty years ago it was okay to be really mean about him but nowadays it’s just not okay to be really mean about him. The only place that you see it’s okay to be really horrible and mean about gays is you know on the internet in the comments and you know people who make a living writing opinion pieces for newspapers.”

When pressed on whether he meant anyone specific, O’Neill named Irish Times columnists John Waters and Breda O’Brien, and also the Iona Institute, a conservative Catholic think tank whose founder, David Quinn, makes regular appearances in print and broadcast media (though O’Neill did not mention Quinn in person).

O’Neill went on to suggest that while these people may not actually describe themselves, or see themselves, as homophobic, their position on gay marriage, for example, was essentially homophobic:

What it boils down to is if you’re going to argue that gay people need to be treated in any way differently than everybody else or should be in anyway less, or their relationships should be in anyway less then I’m sorry, yes you are a homophobe and the good thing to do is to sit, step back, recognise that you have some homophobic tendencies and work on that.”

Robust, perhaps, but not an unheard of position, and one that the likes of Quinn, O’Brien and Waters could have responded to in their respective columns.

That’s not quite what has happened.

On Saturday night, the same night O’Neill was on TV denouncing the Iona Institute, a researcher for the organisation, Tom O’Gorman, was brutally killed in his home in Dublin, apparently after an argument over a chess game.

On Wednesday, news site thejournal.ie reported that the national broadcaster had removed the edition of The Saturday Night Show from its RTE player website, edited out references to the various columnists and the Iona Institute, and uploaded the show again. RTE confirmed to the Journal that:

Last weekend’s The Saturday Night Show was removed from the Player due to potential legal issues and for reasons of sensitivity following the death of Tom O’Gorman as would be standard practice in such situations.”

The sensitivity question is an interesting one: While anyone would feel sympathy towards the members of the Iona Institute following the loss of their colleague, the slain O’Gorman himself was not named by O’Neill, and the fact of a brutal murder does not put the Institute’s views beyond debate.

So what were the “legal issues”? Could they be related to the murder investigation? Hard to see how.

Yesterday, Broadsheet.ie, another news site, published a transcript of the deleted scenes, along with correspondence in which the national broadcaster warned them “You are hereby put on notice that the publication and continued publication of this interview and any transcripts thereof may be defamatory.”

“Concerns” had apparently been raised about the interview, though RTE did not say by whom.

Meanwhile, O’Neill tweeted that he had started receiving legal letters – again, he did not say from whom, except that some were expected and some were not.


The Irish Independent reported, however, that Waters lawyers had been in touch with RTE, and that O’Brien was seeking advice. The Iona Institute refused to comment.*

Just as that case moved into another stage, The God Slot, RTE radio’s flagship religion programme managed to start a whole new row over how Ireland talks about gay people. The show’s twitter account, trailing the contents of the Friday evening episode, tweeted: “Can gays be cured of being gay? Try The God Slot Fri 17/01”.

The crass wording led to an avalanche of criticism, which the poor soul running the account did not handle very well at all. In fact, they ended up saying critics who objected to the implication that gay people could be “cured” were, in fact, engaging in “fascism masquerading as liberalism” Both tweets have since been deleted, and RTE has attempted to explain that the item on the show is actually dedicated to refuting claims for “gay cures”. But the defensiveness with which the show initially handled criticism suggests that the RTE employee handling the account did not understand what people would perceive as wrong with the post.

The irony is that LGBT rights have made enormous progress in Ireland since homosexuality was decriminalised in 1993. People such as Panti were at the forefront of making gay people visible back then. These days, even sports stars such as hurler Donal Og Cusack can talk about their sexuality and get widespread support. Civil partnership is available for gay people, and there is a strong push for gay marriage.

There remains, though, a rump of conservative Catholicism which is moving from a point of authority to a point where it sees itself as victimised by a progressive, metropolitan elite. Hence the reported legal action against Panti. If the Catholic right was more confident in its arguments, it wouldn’t attempt to censor the other side. As commentator Gavan Titley put it: “Top tip: when you start losing the culture war you long hankered after, sue.”

*UPDATE: Panti has posted the following on Facebook regarding legal letters: “There has been a lot of speculation so for the sake of clarity: I have not received any correspondence, legal or otherwise, from John Waters. I have received four solicitors letters on behalf of Breda O’Brien, David Quinn, Patricia Casey, and John Murray, all of whom are associated with the Iona Institute. If you are going to comment, please be careful and measured!”

HT Niamh Puirseil on Twitter