But the homophobic Democratic Unionist Party avoids equality talks
ROBIN SWANN, of the Ulster Unionist Party, was among a number of Northern Ireland politicians who gathered yesterday (Thursday) to call for marriage equality, anti-bullying legislation and gender recognition reform.
Those attending the PinkNews Belfast Summer Reception – supported by Citi, Ulster Bank and charity partner The Rainbow Project – spanned Northern Ireland’s political spectrum. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) was the only party not in attendance.
The DUP has consistently opposed LGBT rights in the province for many years. Party leaders – as well as many prominent party members – have condemned homosexuality, and a 2014 survey found that two-thirds of party members believe homosexuality is wrong.
The DUP campaigned against the legalisation of homosexual acts, which it believed to be a “harmful deviance” linked to paedophilia through the “Save Ulster from Sodomy” campaign between 1977–82, and the party has vetoed the legalisation of same-sex marriage since 2015, making Northern Ireland the only region of the UK where same-sex marriage is not permitted.
Speaking in Stormont’s Great Hall, Swann, above, said he found it “disappointing” that the building remained without a functioning government a year on from the last Belfast reception.
He acknowledged that for the LGBT+ community:
It’s not as if there was an avalanche of legislation that benefited you passing through this place in the past 10 years. If and when we restore devolution Stormont must offer a platform and bring representation and legislation for our LGBT+ community.
Turning his attention to Northern Ireland’s LGBT+ youth, he called on politicians to:
Grasp the mettle and experience of those in our schools. When I spoke here last year I reflected on the horrific statistics on LGBT+ youth in Northern Ireland, where two out of three do not feel that school is a welcoming environment. Where three out of five say they have had suicidal thoughts because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Colum Eastwood, above, leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), echoed Swann’s words and called the fight for LGBT+ rights “this generation’s civil rights movement.”
Announcing that the power-sharing talks should yield a result in the “next few days,” he said:
If we walk out of Stormont next week and we have not resolved these issues then we are letting down all of our young people.
Eastwood said that the “obvious issue” of marriage equality could be delivered through Westminster as soon as tomorrow:
But if we want to deal with all of the outstanding issues that face young LGBT+ people, we need this place back.
He added that “the number one issue” in the talks process is reform of the petition of concern – the mechanism by which the DUP has blocked equal marriage legislation.
We can’t allow this veto to exist. It has to be fixed and it has to be fixed now.
Michelle O’Neill, Sinn Féin’s leader in Northern Ireland added that the “political blockade” could not be allowed to continue.
Sinn Féinn will play no part in state sponsored discrimination.