During the 1970s gay men were beginning to appear more frequently in the Irish media landscape. Lesbians however were still all but invisible. By 1980, that was to change when Joni Sherran, a young lesbian activist, appeared on Ireland’s most popular television programme, The Late Late Show. When Joni walked into Studio One in RTÉ to be interviewed by Gay Byrne on February 9, 1980, she was to become a beacon of hope and a source of inspiration for generations of Irish lesbians, and the LGBT community more broadly, watching at home. She later changed her name to Joni Crone.
This was not the first time that Joni was slotted to appear on RTÉ television however. During the run of The Live Mike show, Joni had agreed to appear and be interviewed in 1979. Subsequently, the production team got nervous about having a lesbian on the show and decided to drop the interview. For my part as a person working in TV Sound Dubbing at RTÉ, it caused a gulf between me and one of the producers, a rift which was to last almost ten years.
The stakes behind Joni’s appearance on the Late Late were high. As a result of coming-out on such a public platform, she later noted that she “suffered rejection from family, received threats of violence and experienced ostracism”. However, when asked by Gay Byrne what compelled her to come out, she responded: “I lived in Ireland in total ignorance of homosexuality, particularly female,” before going on to inform him that unlike gay men, gay women had never been treated like a joke, because they were not even recognised.
Joni’s bravery is highlighted further, given the negative reaction to her appearance on the show. Several callers rang into RTÉ, with one stating: “I do not pay a licence fee to see that filthy person,” and for it being an “unsuitable subject for the national airwaves”. Despite this negativity from pockets of Irish society, Joni emerged from her appearance to become one of the leaders of lesbian activism in Ireland.
Later that year, RTÉ designer, Charles Self, who designed the set for The Late Late Show in which Joni was interviewed, was murdered. His murder was the start of the greatest Gardaí oppression of members of the gay community ever, in the guise of trying to solve his death. To date they have not succeeded in finding his murderer. Edmund Lynch is the organiser of the Irish LGBT History Project. He was assisted by Paraic Kerrigan