Gay Runs for Irish Presidency

Thursday September 4th 2:07 PM PDT
By NewsPlanet Staff

SUMMARY: It could be "Bloomsday" in October if an activist gay Irish senator and Joycean scholar can beat the odds in this fall's presidential elections.

In July, bookies gave 20-1 odds against renowned gay activist Senator David Norris becoming the next President of the Irish Republic, and it may yet turn out that Social Democratic & Labour Party (SDLP) leader John Hume gets the post without an election being held at all, but the Norris campaign for the presidency is now underway. As an independent, Norris is distinctly handicapped in gathering the support of 20 members of parliament (The Oireachtas) or 4 county councils that his nomination would require, but three members are asking the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) to support him. Labour did support current President Mary Robinson in 1990, even though she was not a party member. The various parties are making their decisions in the next two weeks for an election that would be held October 30.

In writing to PLP leader Dick Spring (who says he has "the highest regard" for Norris), Senators Shane Ross and Brendan Ryan and Tony Gregory, TD, said, "Senator Norris belongs to the same tradition as Mary Robinson. An Independent Dublin University senator, he is a tireless campaigner for minority causes, a liberal champion of human rights and a Joycean scholar with an international reputation." As for the Robinson connection, Norris and Robinson were classmates at Trinity College (University of Dublin), Robinson represented Norris in his legal challenge of Ireland's sodomy law that went to the EuroCourt, and ultimately it was Robinson who as President signed into law the repeal of the hoary anti-gay statutes inherited from Britain.

While most notable for his work as chair of the Campaign for Homosexual Reform, Norris has indeed exerted himself in other human rights efforts as well (notably standing against abuses in East Timor and Tibet), and he emphasizes that, "Whoever becomes president has to put behind them all sectional interests. You don't just represent one strand of opinion." And although he retired three years ago, Norris was a Trinity College lecturer specializing in Irish author James Joyce for over 25 years and has become emblematic of "Bloomsday" celebrations.

The "Irish Times" calls 54-year-old Norris "one of the most expressive and lucid politicians in Leinster House." He's served in the Senate for a decade now, and it was what the "Times" called his "spectacularly high vote" in elections last month that gained him serious consideration as a presidential candidate. Norris is game to make it a contest even if the poll-leading Hume -- whom the PLP will not oppose -- decides to seek the presidency. A spokesperson for the Democratic Left Party, which does not want to see Hume chosen by agreement among the parties, called Norris "a very fine fellow who has made a significant contribution to public life" and said the party would be happy to discuss the Presidency with him.

Norris told the press, "I am honoured that this [nomination] process has been started, but there are a lot of hurdles still to be overcome. I would like to think I could be a reconciling factor in Irish society." He doesn't believe his sexual orientation will bar him from election, because, "People have got used to the idea that I am not a professional gay -- I do not spend all of my time doing it. I lead a respectable, decent life."

While a number of Norris' possible opponents are very gay-friendly, former Eurovision Song Contest winner and anti-abortion activist Dana has been tagged as potentially "another Anita Bryant" (referring to the singer whose religious-themed "Save Our Children" campaign won repeal of gay and lesbian civil rights in Dade County, Florida twenty years ago).

Robinson is about to become the new United Nations Human Rights Commissioner. The huge party that was to have celebrated her retirement this week was cancelled out of respect for the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

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