Bill Irwin has a favourite joke. “It’s not a loud-laughing joke, but can I tell it to you?” asks this legendary Broadway clown, and you can hardly say no, can you?
“There is a stand-up comedian, working on the lower end of the circuit. He does his two sets in the comedy club, at 7.30pm and a 9 o’clock. He finishes, gets his pay and walks to his tiny motel room, looks at the room and wonders what he’s doing with his life.
Please log in or register with Independent.ie for free access to this article.
New to Independent.ie? Create an account
“He hears this tiny knock on the door. It’s really quite a lovely, open-faced young lady. She says: ‘I’m sorry, I’ve never done this but I saw your performance and I followed you here. And I know this was very presumptuous but I brought some food and some wine and can I just put my arms around you? And he thinks about it, and says: ‘Did you see the 7.30, or the 9 o’clock?'”
Bam. It is funny, we both agree. The self-described “elderly actor”, in town to do a new play with Druid – Epiphany, by Brooklyn writer Brian Watkins, which Garry Hynes is directing – has known a lot of comedians who take their craft very seriously: “He’s so preoccupied by himself. It says a lot about our lives.”
Another aspect of making people laugh for a living is that you will always end up disappointing them in person. “Lots of times, people say, I’m coming to see your show, do you want to have dinner afterwards? I think, ‘maybe’. I’m not always working though!”
Irwin, a Tony-winning mime artist who incorporated clowning to many Broadway plays, and television, too, feels he can’t be funny when asked to be. He used to wear a moustache and play Mr Noodle on Sesame Street. Sometimes parents pointed at him gleefully and brought their kids over to meet him. The kids were more circumspect.
Now in Dublin, he has had to adjust to Irish humour in the rehearsal room with Druid. Irwin is joining Druid company ensemble favourites Rory Nolan, Marty Rea, Aaron Monaghan and the star of the show Marie Mullen.
“I sometimes think: oh my God, they’re about to come to blows and then I realise, oh no, they’re having fun with each other.”
A boyish 69-year-old, Irwin is tall and thin and slightly dishevelled in full clown dress, like he’s just walked off a Beckett play – baggy pants and a weathered trilby hat. He wears glasses which magnify his eyes, and a school tie, left over from the year he spent at Methodist College in Belfast when he was 16 – his Irish-American family, the Mayos, emigrated from Cork many moons ago. He is gracious and amusing, an apologetic raconteur (“Just shut me up with the storytelling”). He met Beckett – a “very kind, lovely man” for orange juice in Paris, and tap-danced with Liza Minnelli in the 1990s – it’s a shame we don’t have more time for more storytelling.
He does not know who he is playing in this play, he claims.
“I don’t know him yet. I keep looking to Garry. That is the joy and the adventure and the anxiety of this work, is that I don’t know who this person is.”
On the table next to him is a very crumpled script covered in notes and markings. The play is set at a party celebrating the Feast of the Epiphany (if you’ve read the story ‘The Dead’, you will feel a strong Joycean homage) and Irwin plays a man in his seventies called Ames. He will say no more about him.
Born in 1950 in Santa Monica, California, his father was an aerospace engineer and mother a teacher. Before joining the circus, he spent years studying, partly because of “artistic restlessness” and partly to avoid the draft. “To stay in school was to have a deferment.” Conscription in the US ended in 1973 and was a hugely divisive force, he says. The Vietnam War “ate up a lot of young men my age, people I went to school with. I was not eager to go.”
His lifelong career in vaudeville began at the historic Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus, riding elephants and learning trips and falls. He went on to co-found the Pickle Family Circus, which is credited as reviving circus arts in the US.
When he began performing in San Francisco in the 1970s, Robin Williams had just landed on the scene. “Casting people would say: here’s the script, don’t pay any attention to the script, just be crazy. They were all looking for the next Robin Williams, but there was only one.” The late comic superstar became his friend and collaborator. As a young man he had a “wild improvisatorial energy” and he was “so driven that you could feel the heat off him”.
They both made their first film together, Popeye, on the Island of Malta in 1980. “It bombed in the theatres,” Irwin recalls.
They performed together in Waiting for Godot in the Lincoln Centre Off-Broadway in 1988. Irwin played the chained servant Lucky, while Robin Williams and Steve Martin played the two tramps, Estragon and Vladimir respectively. The energies of the young Hollywood stars were different: Martin had an “intellectual wildness”, while Williams was more “nuclear reactor”, with a tendency to explode.
Tickets were scarce, and every night the “subscribers” or theatre patrons had to be accommodated, a more elderly audience prone to falling asleep. “You didn’t go to sleep when Robin was doing his thing. He’d spot someone sleeping – it drove him wild.”
It was a great blow when he died, Irwin says. “And I want to say this carefully. I think he had heard health news. He faced a question. And he answered it.”
In 2004, Irwin invited Williams to see him playing George in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, a play focused on two unhappily married couples self-medicating with catastrophic amounts of alcohol over one night. Williams had just come out of rehab at the time. “He said ‘thanks a lot, that was a good play for me to see’.”
Playwright Edward Albee (who died in 2016) had offered Irwin the role which would earn him a Tony Award. “Albee said ‘I want him to do it’. Partly because of the Beckett connection. If he can do Beckett’s plays, he can do my plays.”
In 2004, Irwin found himself watching the Tony Awards on TV having hurt his back doing acrobatics. “I didn’t know what my prospects were. Things didn’t look that great for me. Twelve months later I won a Tony. And of course, a year after that, you’re yesterday’s news. It’s a profession that moves fast.
“This might sound like sour grapes. It’s such a thrill to be involved in the Broadway scene. But you could be quite comfortable missing it.”
Irwin has an ear for Beckett that enables him to break into two or three Beckett prose pieces today, in a beautiful stage Irish accent, soft Ts and warm Os. (“Home, I can see it from here, with good eyes, with a telescope, I can see it from here”). He went on to play Vladimir on Broadway in 2009 and this year he will reprise On Beckett, his season of Beckett plays, in a theatre in California.
“One reason I was drawn to Beckett is I memorised a bunch of it at a certain age and it never went away.” He mentions another Beckett interpreter, Conor Lovett of Gare St Lazare. “Conor says he has about four hours of Beckett in his head. I have about 55 minutes. It’s a great fraternity, to have that stuff in your head.”
By the end of the interview, he still doesn’t know – or won’t say – who he is playing in this play. “The lifeline for an actor is what your character wants. So we have to find out. If you don’t know what your character wants, it becomes: What do I want – I want them to love me.”
His entrance does involve a trip and a fall – but he doesn’t intend on a lot of clowning around. “What I hope I can do is bring all the stuff I’ve ever done to support Marie Mullen, because she’s the artist,” he says of his fellow Tony-winner. Meanwhile, he is going to wait it out with his tattered script.
“Reading it and doing it and saying it in the bathtub”. You just can’t force these things, he believes. “Acting is an observer’s craft.”
Bill Irwin appears in the world premiere of ‘Epiphany’, a new play by Brian Watkins presented by Druid, at Galway International Arts Festival 2019 (July 17-27 with previews at Pavilion Theatre, Dún Laoghaire, July 12 and13), as part of Druid’s Year of New Writing. www.druid.ie
We hope you love the products we recommend! Just so you know, BuzzFeed may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. Oh, and FYI — prices are accurate and items in stock as of time of publication.
Annalise Keating, How To Get Away With MurderVia ABC
Back to Hawkins they go! The cast of Stranger Things — including Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin and Sadie Sink — celebrated the Netflix show’s season 3 premiere at Santa Monica High School on Friday, June 28.
Wolfhard, 16, and McLaughlin, 17, got the crowd riled up as they threw “shirts from the main interview stage to fans on bleachers by the carpet,” an onlooker tells Us Weekly, adding that fans went “crazy” when Brown, 15, arrived.
It was Joe Keery, however, who garnered the loudest cheers. Fans also “lost their minds” when Winona Ryder and David Harbour strolled down the red carpet.
Ahead of the screening, Noah Schnapp gave an update on his character Will. “This season he’s kind of, like, holding on to his childhood,” Schnapp, 14, dished to Us. “He still wants to be a kid again … [but] I feel like throughout the season, Will has kind of matured, he’s gotten more courageous and he’s really grown up.”
Jake Busey — who joined the Stranger Things cast in season 3 as Bruce — opened up to Us about being a part of the beloved series. “I’m just glad to be a part of this show,” the Starship Troopers star, 48, gushed. “I’ve never really experienced anything of this magnitude. I have no idea what I’m in for!”
After the event, the cast headed to the Santa Monica Pier for an afterparty where there was no shortage of dancing and fun.
Scroll down to see photos from the big celebration!
Megan Rapinoe has had a big week by anyone’s standard.
After making headlines for telling Eight by Eight magazine that she would not go “to the fucking White House” should the US women’s national soccer team win the World Cup, President Trump lashed out at her on Twitter.
“Megan should never disrespect our Country, the White House, or our Flag, especially since so much has been done for her & the team,” he wrote in a series of three tweets on Wednesday.
Trump told Rapinoe she should concentrate on winning, instead of criticizing his administration.
“Megan should WIN first before she TALKS!” he wrote. “Finish the job!”
Well, dear reader, it seems she’s been doing just that.
At Friday’s game in Paris, Rapinoe led the way for her squad, scoring both goals that lifted Team USA to a 2-1 victory against host nation France.
If Rapinoe was at all concerned by Trump’s words, she certainly didn’t show it.
She scored the first goal from a free penalty kick just five minutes into the game.
She then ran to the corner of the field and flung her arms in the air majestically in celebration as supporters in the crowd roared.
Photos of Rapinoe captured the sense of accomplishment and confidence written on her smiling face.
She was quickly ambushed by cheering members of her team, who jumped on her and hugged in celebration.
On Twitter, the USWNT said Rapinoe “is on another stratosphere right now and we’re so lucky to witness it.
The image of Rapinoe celebrating was quickly hailed online as an iconic sports photograph.
Bill Simmons at the Ringer called it one of his favorite shots of the decade.
Others were simply in awe of Rapinoe’s skills/badassery.
Still, others couldn’t help take the shot of a defiant Rapinoe and link it to the political drama that has followed her this week.
For the rest of us non-sporting and/or lazy people, the pictures of Rapinoe swiftly became a hilarious meme.
The images went viral on Friday and Saturday as people used Rapinoe to celebrate their own lesser accomplishments.
So, thank you, Megan Rapinoe for your contributions to the worlds of soccer and memes.
Team USA’s next game will be against England in the semifinals on July 2.
Rapinoe, we know you got this.
David Mack is a deputy director of breaking news for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
A little while back, we asked tattooed members of our BuzzFeed Community to share the absolute STRANGEST thing they’ve ever been told about their tattoos, and they DID NOT disappoint. Here are even MORE weird as heck things people have been told about their tattoos:
1.“You know that’s permanent, right?”
“This one is BY FAR my favorite comment I get because — for the pain I went through and the price of the art — it had better be permanent.”
2.“Is…is that real?!”
“No dumbass, I just have a birthmark shaped like a green shamrock randomly on my body.”
3.“You sure you won’t regret getting that in 50 years?”
“Someone once said this to me while commenting on a memorial tattoo I got after my best friend — who joined the army after high school — was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2010. No, I don’t think I’ll ever regret getting ‘that.'”
4.“You’ll have to cover those up because they’re unprofessional…”
“Almost all of the education professors at the university I attended said this, claiming that tattoos will ‘distract your future students.'”
5.“I thought you were innocent before I saw those.”
“I was told this while I was at work by a complete stranger.”
6.“Are you in the Illuminati?!”
“I have a tattoo of the Deathly Hallows from Harry Potter on my wrist, and I teach 6th grade. My students constantly ask me this.”
7.“Those are going to cost a lot of money to get removed…”
“I was with my family at my dad’s funeral, and I hadn’t seen my aunt in ages. I had gotten a decent amount of tattoos on my arm that she was unaware of. She looked back at me and said this. Thanks, I guess I’m stuck with them then?”
8.“Why couldn’t you just get that on a t-shirt?’”
“My dad simply just doesn’t see the appeal of tattoos. My first piece was a large tree on my rib cage and he said this when I showed it to him the first time.”
9.“Are you, like, a really big fan?”
I’m currently working on a Star Wars themed half-sleeve. People constantly ask this. I think the answer is pretty obvious, but I love to make a confused face and respond with, ‘No, I’m really just a casual fan.’ They get so confused and concerned and it’s hilarious.”
10.“When you go to heaven, Jesus wont recognize you…”
“My boss told me tattoos are bad for this reason. Like, Jesus won’t realize who I am because I changed my body and will be like, ‘Whoops, I guess I’ll send you to hell instead.'”
11.“I can’t believe you have a tattoo…you looked so nice and friendly.”
“Um, I didn’t know people with tattoos weren’t nice…or that people who ‘look nice’ can’t have a tattoo.”
12.“Good, no man will ever want to touch you if you get one.”
“A stranger once asked me if i had any tattoos and, when I said I didn’t, he responded with this. Luckily my mother was there and responded with, ‘Well, I have have tattoos and my husband touches me all the time!’ People can be very ignorant.”
13.“Hey, do you know the meaning of your tattoo?”
“No sir, I have no idea. It was a completely random choice, but thanks for telling me!”
14.“And on top of it, you have a big tattoo!”
A woman at the retail store I was working at was upset with me about her coupon not being valid. While she was waiting for the manager to come over, she looked at my arm and SCREAMED this, as if it confirmed her belief that I was doing something wrong.”
15.“Why did you get a snail? Are you slow?”
“I have a cute snail tattoo…because I like snails? I once had someone ask me this to my face.”
16.“It will be easy for them to identify you when you go missing!”
“Not ‘if,’ ‘when.’ My co-worker said this to me in passing, and it was creepy as heck.”
17.And finally, this wordless (and painful) response.
“I have a realistic honey bee on the inside of my wrist. My grandma wasn’t wearing her glasses one time and smacked the holy hell out of my arm with a fly swatter. I told her it was just a tattoo, and she joked it was a good thing I got a bee and not a spider, or she might’ve sprayed Raid on me.”
Now it’s your turn! Can you top these? What’s the weirdest/rudest/most random thing YOU’VE ever been told about your tattoos? Share in the comments below — and, for the chance to be featured on BuzzFeed in the future, follow the BuzzFeed Community on Facebook and Twitter!
Some entries have been edited for length or clarity.
Did you think about suicide? It is six minutes into the interview when the subject of childhood intrudes — specifically, how it felt to be 12 years old and know that you are gay.
“I didn’t think I’d live very long,” says Ruth Hunt, the CEO of Stonewall, Europe’s largest LGBT rights charity. “I couldn’t imagine a future. So I didn’t think it mattered very much. I didn’t see myself getting beyond 25.”
Twenty-seven years later, Hunt is about to leave the most powerful job in LGBT politics, but the 12-year-old is still there; still here.
“I was completely alone,” she says, her voice tightening. “The loneliness was astonishing and extraordinary, and I think it’s taken me until 39 — now — to be able to acknowledge that, and the impact it had.”
We sit opposite each other in a café in North London, neither Hunt nor BuzzFeed News saying what we know to be true: that there is no contradiction here, between being one of the most influential LGBT people in Britain — responsible for the rights of her community, an £8.5 million budget, and 150 staff — and being that frightened gay child.
The one chases the other.
“It was this real anxiety that I would be left out, left behind,” she continues. “That I was a freak.” It wasn’t just the fact she was a lesbian, but how. Fancying girls is one thing. Being butch, a “tomboy”, is another. Hunt characterizes the chant, echoing through adolescence, from those around her: “Why would you choose to be a dyke when you could just be a normal gay woman?” The poison seeped in.
“I remember trying on one of my dad’s old suits and feeling amazing and very quickly feeling shame. That takes a huge amount of unpacking.”
Stonewall marches at Pride in London, 1996
Today Hunt wears what once shamed her. Her manner alternates between authority and vulnerability, delivered with flashes of sarcasm and old-school camp. She says “darling”. She uses your name. She tries to keep boundaries rigid — keeping quiet when it’s unwise to comment — and defences concrete. Until she can’t.
Hunt will shortly round on the BBC, on British newspapers, on the Labour party, and on the Conservative government. She will lose her temper: railing against commentators who never supported lesbians before yet now claim to do so to justify opposing trans rights. But first, the past intrudes again, rapping on the door to offer explanation for everything that is to come.
The alienation of those early years, unquantifiable and profound, damaged her sense of self, she says. “That stays with you.”
And so, after Oxford University, then nine years in various roles rising up the Stonewall hierarchy, the time would come, in 2014, to act. She was made CEO. She knew what she had to do. “No kid should grow up feeling that lost,” she says. “You can’t leave anyone behind. That’s my philosophy.”
The motto would inform all her decisions at Stonewall: to boost BAME LGBT causes much more, bolstering UK Black Pride (among other ventures); to focus more on schools and sports; and to implement the most radical repositioning in the charity’s 30-year history: the inclusion of transgender people and the campaign for trans rights — in particular, support for easing the process of legally changing your gender.
“In the olden days [ofStonewall], we’d gone, ‘Gay is two people who love each other,’ and that haddone a massive disservice to people who didn’t fit into that neat story, andtrans kids are completely left behind in that.” Gender identity and sexualorientation are, while separate, also interwoven, she says. To separate themout, when there are, for example, gay people who transition and trans people who arebisexual, all of whom face discrimination, makes no sense.
Society was also changing. To shun trans people would have been disastrous, she says. “Stonewall could fail to speak to a generation who were speaking very differently about identity.” There was another reason, too. “The person who abuses the trans woman and the trans man will abuse me tomorrow and you the next day.” She inhales sharply, something she repeats whenever anxiety hits.
The decision to embrace trans rights led to her and Stonewall being engulfed in hostility. Regular deluges on social media. Weekly, sometimes daily, criticism in the media. High-profile lesbians and gay men criticising her and her charity, withdrawing personal donations, signing petitions in protest — moves all eagerly published by right-wing newspapers. (It hasn’t worked overall, though: donations are up 11%.) Some celebrated when her forthcoming departure was announced.
All of which was despite the fact that incorporating trans rights is in line with similar lesbian and gay organisations across the rest of the world. But in Britain, a conservative howl grows: keep the T away from the LGB, keep trans women away from cisgender women, fortify divides, preserve a binary notion of sex, and certainly don’t make legal transition easier.
Hate crimes against transgender people rose by 81% in the 12 months prior to April 2019, an increase the Home Office attributes to better reporting, but still a clear snapshot of Britain today.
Some of those who have attacked Hunt most vociferously describe themselves as radical feminists, but is there anything radical about fighting to keep people in the sex to which they were assigned? “No, I don’t think so,” says Hunt. “I’m pro trans because I’m a feminist, not despite it.” Such opponents have always been thus, she adds.
“I remember radical feminists complaining about [same-sex] marriage and complaining about the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act that granted more rights to lesbians to have babies, so this idea that the radical feminists loved Stonewall until we brought in trans [rights] is laughable.”
Hunt admits, however, to previously having “mixed feelings” herself about trans inclusion; that as a student in the late 1990s at St Hilda’s, then a women-only college at Oxford, she read feminist theory, and in particular the pioneering work of Germaine Greer, who in 1997 quit as a fellow of Newnham College, Cambridge, after opposing the college’s job offer to a trans physicist. “Why not listen to Germaine Greer?” Hunt says, invoking her mindset at the time. “As a woman at an all-women’s college where they were having these discussions, it was quite complicated.”
But in addition toreading Greer, Hunt studied Judith Butler, the celebrated feminist theorist whocritiqued the idea that sex is a simple biological binary and the strictboundaries placed on what constitutes a woman. More importantly still, however,were Hunt’s experiences. “As a 19-year-old, I started to meet trans people, andthat changed my journey. Thank God.”
The theoretical debates have not abated, however. Increasingly, feminists who oppose trans inclusion self-identify as “gender critical”, believing that gender is simply a patriarchal social construct, and therefore to move from one to the other colludes with a system designed to benefit men, to the detriment of women.
But for Hunt, such ideology has increased hostility not only to trans people but also to anyone who doesn’t conform to gender norms.
“It gets me chucked out of toilets,” she says, referring to the furore surrounding trans women’s use of women’s lavatories that has resulted in many butch lesbians being hounded out of public bathrooms, in the UK and the US. “It happens all the time.” Especially, she says, when she’s with her partner, Caroline.
“We’re told we’re in the wrong place. Women look at the sign [saying ‘ladies’] just to check, while they look you up and down. That’s happening more and more. We’re very polite and say, ‘No, we’re definitely in the right toilets.’” Is she ever tempted to confront the person questioning their right to use women’s toilets?
In a flash, Hunt replies, “No, but I’d love the woman behind me who’s definitely ‘read’ as a woman to do that. We forget you have no power in that situation, and what you need is the person next to you saying, ‘What?!”
In this, perhaps subconsciously, Hunt invokes Stonewall’s No Bystanders anti–hate speech campaign and anti-bullying work, which sees hundreds of schools visited by the charity and given resources to tackle classroom hostility.
The irony for Stonewall’s CEO is that where once she might have felt most attacks from homophobic straight men, now it is also from other women, other feminists, other gay people, whose premise is that trans people are a problem — or a threat.
Using fear of sexual violence, for example, to incite hatred of trans women in the name of feminism is “despicable”, says Hunt. “The assumption that any trans woman is a potential threat is an extraordinary starting point.” Instead, she says, the questions need to originate not from hostile propositions but from good-faith enquiry: What might we learn from trans women about sexism? Are testosterone levels a fair way of deciding who can participate in women’s sports? How do we best manage women’s prisons?
But this is not where the debate is. Some of it is being played out on Mumsnet, where women who use the site tell Hunt to “fuck off”, accuse her of “destroying Stonewall”, and describe hers and Stonewall’s position as “misogynistic” and “evil”. These quotes derive from just a tiny proportion of comments made on one day, under one thread.
Feminist columnists such as Janice Turner at The Times accused Hunt and “extreme trans activists” of campaigning for the “dismantling of safeguards” for women and accused Stonewall of being “taken over by extreme biology-denying activists”. (Biologists refute the idea that sex is binary.)
The Times also interviewed the only one of Stonewall’s founders to disagree with its inclusion of trans people, ignoring, for example, Lisa Power, its lesbian cofounder, who champions trans rights. Similarly, in October, the newspaper published a letter signed by various public figures criticising Stonewall’s trans campaigning, with an accompanying report noting singer Alison Moyet’s signature. The newspaper did not report that Moyet changed her mind the next day, withdrew support for the petition, and stated that she supports trans rights.
Some of the newspaper commentary on trans issues has argued against trans inclusion for the sake of protecting lesbian and women’s rights. At this, Hunt raises her voice, louder and louder, as fury grips.
“Mainstream newspapers running consistently transphobic articles, day in, day out, ostensibly expressing concern about the fate of butch lesbians?!” Hunt sniffs with contempt before finally letting go.
“It’s like, ‘You have not written a SINGLE positive piece about butch lesbians in my ENTIRE ADULT LIFE. Your style pages have not reflected me; your problem pages, your look, your discussion about lesbian identity, has never included me. Don’t you DARE pretend that you are now advocating for me as an excuse to attack trans people. THAT makes me angry.”
Fellow customers in the café look round.
What effect have all the attacks had on Hunt? Her face freezes.
“The way some of the discussions have become highly personal isn’t always easy,” she says, staring, rigid. “The way individuals have personally attacked me and my integrity, that has been a little wearing.” The understatement is delivered almost theatrically, as if to emphasise how much she is performing it. She begins to use words extremely carefully, aware that this is the most high-wire line of questioning: To admit to feeling devastated would be to give a victory to transphobes; to deny it would be to deny the effect of bullying.
So she attempts deflection: “It comes with the territory”, “It’s bad tactics”, “Compared to what Shon Faye [the trans writer and campaigner] gets…”
Hunt eventually offers: “I’ve given 14 years of my life to making the world a better place for LGBT people. Sometimes I haven’t done that very well and sometimes I’ve made mistakes, but I’ve done my bit. To have all that reduced to being dismissed and written off was very uncomfortable. And to be told as a lesbian that I’m not doing enough for lesbians was hard because I’m a very proud lesbian. It’s not been easy.”
From across the table, she locks eyes, now reddened and held wide as if to convey, “There is so much more, but I cannot say.”
Irony hovers, unacknowledged: The woman in charge of anti-LGBT bullying measures, whose organisation implores children to speak out and seek help, finds herself trapped, contained by the need to underplay how, even as an adult with power, public slurs affect her.
Have there been times when she’s been concerned for her well-being?
“I think so,” she says, before swiftly referring to the personal toll that working at Stonewall takes generally, for everyone there, because the nature of it draws on one’s experiences of discrimination. “It’s bruising,” she adds, again diverting from herself to credit those around her — her partner, her staff —– for their support.
But in this, there is an intriguing nugget: When social media was particularly aflame following the government’s announcement in 2017 that it would launch a public consultation about the Gender Recognition Act, and when Hunt’s experience of Twitter was an endless shelling against trans rights, the charity sought external help — specifically, to investigate what exactly was happening on social media and what it meant. It looked as though those against trans inclusion and attempts to simplify gender recognition were a large proportion of the total.
Stonewall hired a company called Build Up, which examines how social media is used amid conflict zones — usually ones with actual bombing. Its analysis stunned Hunt and her team. What she thought was a huge contingence central to public debate, and central to her experience of social media, was in fact a distinct cluster of accounts that she happened to be following, unaware of how many others were saying the opposite. “You are”, Build Up told Hunt, “utterly preoccupying yourself with this [cluster]”.
By shifting perspective, widening whom they were following and reading, Hunt and her team found that their overall view looked very different. “It was a really important intervention for the whole of Stonewall,” she says.
A similar distortion played out in the media earlier this month. The Sunday Times published a letter from 30 academics urging universities to “sever their links” with Stonewall for “stifling academia” because it encourages universities to oppose transphobia. It appeared to represent, in its dozens of signatories from across British higher education, a predominant position within academia.
But just days later, a counterpetition of academics, supporting Stonewall and opposing transphobia, attracted 3,600 signatures. This was not reported in the Sunday Times. And earlier this week, a YouGov poll found two-thirds of women believe transphobia to be “somewhat” or a “great deal” of a problem, compared with just 47% of men.
Hunt is heartened by the number of pro-trans feminists there are, despite appearances to the contrary. “I think it’s grossly underestimated quite how many people are completely fine with this,” she says. “They’ve been characterised as these millennial, hippy, queer-identifying [people], but no, these are just people getting on with their lives going, ‘What is your problem?’”
It is these people who help keep Hunt going. “I feel very optimistic about the future,” she says. “This has been rough, and I also think it’s indicative of the increasing polarisation of the world, the need to weaponise and dehumanise. Trans [people] were the first in line, and they won’t be the last.”
She also blames the government.
To wait a year between announcing it would hold a consultation on the Gender Recognition Act and actually doing so was a “cock-up” which “didn’t help” because it “created a vacuum where everyone decided to have their hot take on trans issues”.
The Stonewall National Monument, New York City, and the Stonewall Inn with survivors of the 1969 riot
The BBC, which has never once made Stonewall’s list of Top 100 Employers for LGBT inclusivity, isn’t without fault either, she says. It “can’t work out its relationships with inclusive leadership and its output”. It has “internal challenges”. Such “challenges” were exposed last year by BuzzFeed News through leaked WhatsApp discussions by BBC staff in which senior female producers complained that trans women could be included in on-screen gender-parity targets. Younger female staff disagreed.
Hunt damns BBC journalism as “reportage rather than investigative”. By contrast, Channel 4 is “great” and led by a CEO, Alexandra Mahon, who “gets it: the programmes are better, the staff is better”.
But whoever contributed to the acidifying of discourse surrounding trans rights, the outcome was the same: swarming transphobia, online and in the street, with heat on Stonewall and its CEO never before seen — quite like this, anyway — in its 30-year history.
Why, then, is Hunt leaving? Is it, as rumoured, because the attacks became too much?
She pauses. “No, I think it’s…” She goes on to cite any number of perfectly good, plausible reasons that would not sound alien in her next job interview: She thinks Stonewall needs “a fresh pair of eyes” who can “take this to the next stage” and “shake it up”; she “always intended to do five years”; she thinks CEOs “always stay too long”.
She insists there’s nothing more to it. For the next few years, she will be going into business with her partner, setting up a consultancy firm to advise organisations on a range of matters, including what surely will be cathartic for Hunt: how to detoxify them. Certain political parties could do with some of that, suggests BuzzFeed News.
“Exactly. How do you have an organisation like the Labour Party that’s so dysfunctional and not including people?”
Until August, however, she remains in a job unlike any other she will ever have again. Was the position what she hoped?
“It was more lonely than I thought it was going to be,” she says. “You’re not one of the gang when you’re CEO.” She repeats that she made some mistakes in the early part of her tenure. A clanking example came in 2014 when she wrote in the Telegraph that Stonewall would not join the boycott of the Dorchester hotel over the then-proposed plans of its owner, the sultan of Brunei, to stone gay people to death.
“We need to avoid easy solutions that make us feel better and instead seek the solutions that work,” she wrote, even though her charity had been named after the riot at the Stonewall Inn in 1969 that helped spark the entire LGBT rights movement.
Hunt nods. “It was a massive comms fail…I didn’t know what I was doing. What I was trying to say was that boycotting is all very well, but what do the activists on the ground want?”
Her successor cannot afford to make such mistakes and will, BuzzFeed News suggests, need to have a supreme talent for navigating the media. Hunt adds to the list of attributes an “excellent lobbyist, business manager … who can talk to kids in their hoodies and to Footsie 100 companies”, and ends with a fairly noticeable jab: “Yep, so sorry I fucked up on the Dorchester.”
In a few years, Hunt says, she may enter politics. “Now”, she says, referring to the noxious bonfire ablaze in Brexit Britain, “is not the time”.
We end our discussion close to where we began: what it is to feel powerless.
Being on the street in 2019 is a “whole new level”, says Hunt, invoking the slew of recent violence against LGBT people. Her own reactions, when she was homophobically abused, have spanned “the full range”, she says.
“Someone shouted at me in Shoreditch [the ultimate in supposedly liberal gentrification]: ‘Fucking dyke’. I was on my bike and said, ‘You can’t say that!’ and suddenly all his mates were around.”
Panicked and shocked, Hunt and her partner rode off, escaping — that time. But there is no real escape. “We forget how much we brace ourselves for that,” she says. “Gay men who say it’s all fine now? They also know that they let go of their partner’s hand on a certain street. It’s instinctive. You read that street. You know instantly it’s no longer safe; you adjust and adapt. It’s hardwired into us, that anticipation, navigation, prevention.”
It is what psychotherapists call hypervigilance: heightened awareness of danger, born of consistent or extreme exposure to it. An entire community of people who never feel fully safe. Fifty years, this week, after the Stonewall riots. Thirty years after the launch of the Stonewall charity.
However much some might detest her positions, Ruth Hunt is nothing if not brave. In this, it is not too much of a stretch to imagine that Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera — two of the trans women who fought back at police that night in the Stonewall Inn — would say, “She’s one of us.”
The soon-to-be former CEO adjusts her gender-nonconforming trouser suit, stands, exhales, and, before walking out into the sunlight, offers an insight into herself that any LGBT person would understand: “You have to be really determined to be OK.”
If you are feeling suicidal The Samaritans free helpline can be reached 24/7 in the UK on 116 123 and The Trevor Project for LGBT people in the US is on 1-866-488-7386.
Thousands are expected to turn out around the country for the Dublin Pride parade today… here’s everything you need to know.
There is both rain and sunshine forecast today – so come prepared with suncream, hats, drinking water, and something waterproof too.
The first LGBTQ rights demonstration in Ireland took place when eight people protested anti-gay laws outside the Department of Justice in June 1974. Over the course of four decades, it has become one of the biggest national – and international – celebrations.
The first-ever Pride parade took place outside Liberty Hall in Dublin back in June 1983. Three months before this, people marched through the streets of Dublin demanding gay rights and protesting the violence members of the LGBTQ community suffered from.
In particular the march was for Declan Flynn, a 31-year-old gay man who was killed in Fairview Park in Dublin. The gang of teenagers who killed him were not jailed, which led to outcry from LGBTQ people.
Since the 1990s, there has been a Pride parade in Ireland every summer and this year, thousands of people are expecting to march and attend Pride events across the country. Globally, millions of people attend Pride festivals and parades to celebrate LGBTQ people’s lives, and to march for their rights.
Here’s what’s on in Dublin today….
The Dublin Pride parade will be the first parade and takes place on Saturday, June 29 at 1pm. The Parade will start at Parnell Square.
Over 7,000 people from 150 different groups are expected to attend. The parade will feature floats as well as people.
The route starts on O’Connell Street, turns on to Eden Quay and goes past Liberty Hall, a significant spot because the first march for LGBTQ rights started here in 1983.
The parade will then cross the Liffey at Talbot Memorial Bridge and travel along City Quay, Lombard Street, Westland Row and end with a free outdoor event in Merrion Square.
There will also be an alternative Pride Parade in Dublin on the same day at the same time, organised by Queer Action Ireland. According to the organisers of this parade, they cannot take part in Dublin Pride this year because uniformed Gardaí will be attending, as well as RTÉ which are the media partner of the Dublin Pride festival.
“The participation of Gardaí in uniform in this year’s parade is in direct opposition to the liberatory principles of Pride,” Queer Action Ireland said in a statement.
“A broadcaster who welcomed transphobic hate speech on to the air not months ago, and whose commitment to so-called ‘balanced’ reporting has led to the perpetuation of dangerous ideas and rhetoric around the island of Ireland, that endangers the lives of the queer community,” they added.
And here’s what’s on elsewhere in the country in the coming weeks…
Limerick city will have its Pride parade on Saturday, July 13. The parade will start at 2.30pm at city hall. Admission to the Pride Parade is free for individuals and community groups, but pre-registration is required for all groups taking part.
After the Limerick parade, Pridefest will take place in the Hunt Museum. This is a family-friendly event and will have a cafe, bar, ice cream van and bouncy castle (for the children only).
Belfast too will have a Pride parade, also taking place on Saturday, August 3 at 1pm. The route will start at Custom House Square.
According to Belfast Pride, their parade will be one of the most regulated in all of Western Europe, due to Northern Ireland’s special laws on parading that were formed during the peace process. The organisers also say equality is a major theme. Gay marriage is not legal in Northern Ireland.
Cork will have its Pride parade on Saturday, August 3 and there will be a street after party once the march finishes. There will also be a Pride Village in Bishop Lucey Park, featuring music, entertainment and food.
Galway’s Pride week will start with a flag-raising ceremony in Eyre Square on Monday, August 12. That Wednesday will be a mental health day, with talks in Teach Solais and a candlelit vigil. Teach Solais is Galway and the West of Ireland’s only LGBTQ resource centre, and is in danger of closing in Autumn due to a lack of funds.
Galway’s pride parade will not take place until Saturday, August 17. The parade will start at 2pm outside City Hall. However, in the lead-up to Pride, many events will take place across the city. On Thursday, June 27 a variety show will take place in the Róisín Dubh, with tickets being €15 for adults, €10 for students. All proceeds will go towards Galway Pride.
Other Pride events will take place across the country. Belfast will have a Pride Village with information stalls, food, children’s entertainment, bouncy castles, health testing, as well as a quiet space. This Pride Village is an alcohol and smoke free environment.
Dublin’s events include The Pride Rebel Tour at the GPO. This historical guided tour will celebrate the diversity of the women and men that took part in Ireland’s struggle for social freedom and justice. There will also be drag queen competitions, a queer dog show and a tour of the National Art Gallery focusing on LGBTQ works.
We hope you love the products we recommend! Just so you know, BuzzFeed may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. Oh, and FYI — prices are accurate and items in stock as of time of publication.
1.A very fitted Backstreet Boys T-shirt to celebrate their 20th anniversary…back in 2013 — yup that’s right, BSB has been gracing us with their harmonies for 26 YEARS. Feel old yet?
The reviews for this post have been edited for length and clarity.
Looking for the perfect gift for any occasion? Check out all of BuzzFeed’s gift guides!