David Norris very nearly became president of Ireland, which would have been a first for that country and a first for any gay man globally. Polls showed the independent senator from Dublin outpacing competitors -- until attacks painted him as sympathetic to pedophiles. At his lowest point, the longtime LGBT rights activist withdrew from the race. When support persisted, Norris made a failed comeback bid. In his new autobiography, A Kick Against the Pricks (the title refers to a Bible passage), the James Joyce scholar writes intimately about his life and the scandals that Norris says haven't allowed him a complete night's sleep ever since.
You are the reason homosexuality is no longer criminalized in Ireland. How have things changed since then?
When I started off 40 years ago or more, we had a relatively unsophisticated opposition. For example, with the abortion debate, they colonized language, and it became what they called the "pro-life" movement.... It didn't mean that we were antilife, but we were defined into it. And I see the same thing happening with people now that are talking about being pro-family. And I think it's very dangerous. The right and integrity of people who take a different point of view has to be defended. Language systems must not be yielded, without a struggle, to fundamentalist groups.
This is the sort of thing you could have talked about on a world stage if elected president.
It's why I was stopped, I have no doubt. Because the firestorm that surrounded me was unique in Irish political life. It also went viral. It went all over the world. My election would have been a tectonic change...but the establishment wasn't prepared for it. I regret that I was actually forced out in the beginning, but I am very glad that I went back in and completed the course. The other thing is: I am still here. The last gag has been removed, and I intend to keep speaking out.
Should gay people see yours as an inspirational story about what's possible or a warning about the homophobia that we still all face?
Oh, absolutely both. One of my colleagues said you're mad to go back in because it's going to be a crucifixion. I'm a religious person, and one thing they forget is that after Good Friday comes Easter, after the crucifixion is the resurrection. I do not intend to stay silent.