Exclusive: Ireland’s LGBTQ activists are covering up graphic anti-abortion images with rainbow flags

In an act of “solidarity,” LGBTQ campaigners in Ireland are covering up graphic anti-abortion images with rainbow flags, as the country prepares to vote on whether to repeal its abortion ban.

Activist group Radical Queers Resist (RQR) is targeting anti-abortion campaigners outside Dublin’s maternity wards, children’s hospitals, parliamentary houses and university campuses.

In what the group is describing as a “counter-protest,” the queer activists are hiding distressing pictures of unborn baby foetuses, which are being displayed by pro-life campaigners from the Irish Center for Bio-Ethical Reform (ICBR), using LGBT-friendly paraphernalia.

Now, in a bizarre move, the ICBR has released a video on YouTube showing RQR obscuring graphic anti-abortion images at various counter-protests. This was meant to cause outcry, but instead it is boosting the profile of the queer, pro-choice supporters.

RQR activists protesting against ICBR anti-abortion campaigners outside The George, a gay bar in Dublin. (Arielle Croitor)

The video shows RQR and student union campaigners silently standing in front of banners held up by pro-life protesters, so as to obscure graphic images of baby embryos shown beneath slogans like “Killing Irish children” and “Is this human dignity?”

Comments posted below the video – titled “THE COVER UP” – include “Fair play for making RQR look class,” and “This video highlights the fantastic work RQR and the students union are doing in protecting the public from the hurtful, hateful and deliberately provocative lies the pro-birth lobby are peddling.”

RQR activists in front of ICBR anti-abortion campaigners outside The George, a gay bar in Dublin. (RQR)

Speaking to PinkNews, an RQR member described ICBR’s “wonderful, high-resolution and quality” video as “amazing,” adding: “A lot of people initially thought it was a fan made video.”

The RQR member, known only as J, explained: “We like to use pride flags because we find them very empowering, and it totally encourages a lot of other queer people to get involved.”

Irish voters will be asked next Friday (May 25) if they want to repeal the eight amendment, which means that unborn foetuses have an equal right to life as pregnant women and effectively bans abortion in the country in all circumstances, except when the mother’s life is in danger.

Ireland is the only western democracy to have such strict laws on abortion.

RQR activists in front of ICBR anti-abortion campaigners outside Rotunda Hospital, a maternity hospital in Dublin. (RQR)

J added that the group’s actions send a message of solidarity to the pro-choice movement, and protect people from seeing traumatising images.

“We definitely support people who make that decision [to have an abortion], and it’s not ours to say anyway,” said J. “The LGBT community supports you, and we have compassion for you, and we hear you.

“And your pain, and your trauma is totally valid and legitimate, and we understand that….There’s a solidarity there, definitely.”

J also said: “Our primary goal was to cover [the anti-abortion images] up so no-one had to see them.”

“The ICBR has targeted our [university] campuses – we know students that have had abortions and we know that they’d be re-traumatised by that.”

RQR said that it has been supported with donations of rainbow flags, including some from Dublin LGBTQ Pride. The group said that the counter-protests were taking place in Dublin and Cork, but that it hoped the action would spread nationwide.

The queer activists started to target the anti-abortion campaigners after the ICBR picketed outside LGBTQ spaces in Dublin last month, including The George bar, Pantibar, LGBTQ community space Outhouse, and the Gay Community News offices.

Another member of RQR, called S, told PinkNews: “We asked [the ICBR] several times during the protests why they were targeting these spaces and what the logic was, and they gave very confusing, unclear and mixed answers of ‘not wanting people to equate being gay with being pro-choice’ and that ‘being pro-equality was a misleading statement.'”

J added: “Obviously, a lot of LGBTQ people were very upset by this… they were targeting places where we’re supposed to feel safe, which was a big no-no for us. It was queer anger that brought that out.”

In response, the RQR obscured the horrific anti-abortion images on display outside the city’s LGBTQ venues with rainbow flags and other queer paraphernalia, alongside their own pro-choice banners.

RQR, with the support of university students, then decided to extend its peaceful direct action to other places the ICBR was targeting across the Irish capital.

RQR activists protesting against ICBR anti-abortion campaigners outside The George, a gay bar in Dublin. (Arielle Croitor)

Women who want to have an abortion and live in Ireland currently have to travel to a country where the medical procedure is legally available, like England.

As a result of the strict legislation, some women in the country have resorted to buying “abortion pills” online or have had a so-called “backstreet abortion” – both options are illegal and viewed by many medical experts as unsafe.

Illegal abortions in Ireland can result in a prison sentence of up to 14 years.

J also said that getting abortion legalised was a matter of LGBTQ freedom.

“We can’t have LGBTQ liberation if we don’t have bodily autonomy and if everyone is not equal under the law. So that’s why we’re definitely pro-choice,” said J.

Describing the positive reaction to the video, J said: “People were initially confused and then thought, ‘This is awesome.’”

“A lot of people have said they were moved to tears by it, some people said it made their day and it gave them hope.”

An ICBR spokesperson told PinkNews: “By covering our signs with rainbow flags [RQR] utilised an international icon for equality to cover the photographic evidence of the greatest inequality of our day. Few acts could be so ironic.

“By blocking people with a disfavoured perspective, they also actively deny ICBR’s expressive rights to hold displays. By chanting ‘Whose streets, our streets,’ and covering a countervailing opinion on abortion, they prove they don’t permit any opinion other than their own to be seen or heard.” 

RQR activists protesting against ICBR anti-abortion campaigners outside The George, a gay bar in Dublin. (RQR)