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Coming out on the Late Late: 'Gay mirrored the prejudice that existed at the time'

But I didn’t lose my job and after a few weeks things settled down, writes Joni Crone.

Joni Crone Playwright and gay rights activist

“I HAVE A dream”. Martin Luther King’s life inspired me to speak out for gay rights on the Late Late Show in 1980. His words had been like a theme song through my teens.

When I fell in love with my French teacher, I understood what my friends were feeling for their boyfriends. But I didn’t dare admit this to anyone. There was no one to talk to, no information anywhere, no internet, no helplines or listening ears. I felt ashamed and confused until I got to London.

I discovered Sappho magazine and met my first lesbians in the flesh there. Butch/ femme roles were the norm in the 70s. It felt a bit weird but it also gave me the strength to live my life differently.

Campaigning for equal treatment back in Ireland

When I came back to Ireland I joined IGRM – the Irish Gay Rights Movement – and Irish Women United. Newspapers would not take ads for lesbian or feminist groups back then. Putting up posters and handing out leaflets were the only way we had to get our message publicised.

A television interview was a rare occurrence and was seen as a golden opportunity to plead our case for equal treatment.

I had spoken on radio to Marian Finucane, Pat Kenny and Mark Cagney, but after I agreed to talk to Gay Byrne, I was terrified. The Late Late Show had an audience of about a million at the time. I was afraid of stumbling or stuttering or letting people down.

But I had spent years listening to stories of violence, discrimination, fear and desperation on Lesbian Line every week. I was determined to make the most of this chance to speak up for lesbians and gays in Ireland who had been forced to lead secret lives in shame for too long. I wanted to publicise the phone number and talk about the movement to give other gay people the courage to come out.

But the questions were all personal. Gay was very good at asking what the ordinary person in the street would most want to know. He mirrored the ignorance and prejudice that existed at the time. I felt subjected to a public interrogation and tried to hold my head up while I endured a kind of mental torture.

The interview got a huge reaction including some awful comments calling me a “pervert” and a “filthy person” but overall the response was positive. I didn’t lose my job and after a few weeks things settled down.

So many people were grateful that I’d taken a stand

Twenty years later people were still coming up to me and saying: “Excuse me, are you Joni? You saved my life” or “You saved my daughter or my son’s life” and thanking me for taking a stand.

After the Late Late Show, I went on to study drama and became a Community Arts Worker. Then, I qualified in psychodrama psychotherapy and later in equality studies. I wrote scripts for Fair City in the 90s and continued to write plays and facilitate drama workshops around the country.

Anna Livia Lesbia – my new play – is a semi-autobiographical piece about coming out in the 70s and 80s.

Joni Crone’s play was developed with Prin Duignan, Director of Splodar Theatre, the resident company in the Glens Centre, Manorhamilton, with thanks to the cast and Splodar players. It will show on the following dates. Dublin: Wednesday 28th June 2017 @8pm Liberty Hall Theatre, Eden Quay, Dublin 1. Sligo: Saturday 1st July 2017 @8pm The Hawkswell Theatre, Temple Street, Sligo. Castlebar: Monday 3rd July 2017 8pm The Linnenhall Arts Centre, Castlebar, Mayo. Longford: Wednesday 5th July 2017 8pm Backstage Theatre, Farneyhoogan, Longford. Galway: Friday 7th July 2017 8pm Townhall Theatre, Courthouse Square, Galway. Tickets at door €15/concessions €12.

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About the author:

Joni Crone  / Playwright and gay rights activist

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