The National Trust has hit back after a DUP politician publicly resigned his membership over the organisation’s support for LGBTQ representation.
The Trust has been embroiled in controversy over recent weeks for its Prejudice and Pride initiative.
It was first claimed that the Trust had “outed” Wyndham Ketton-Cremer, a Justice of the Peace and the former squire of National Trust property Felbrigg Hall.
This was despite Ketton-Cremer’s sexuality being a matter of record and known to his friends and family during his lifetime.
While not “openly” gay by today’s standards, this must be read in the historical context – homosexuality was partially decriminalised only two years before Ketton-Cremer’s death.
The Trust asked its volunteers in public-facing roles at Felbrigg Hall to wear provided rainbow badges or lanyards to celebrate its Prejudice and Pride campaign, offering non-public-facing positions to those who refused – a stance it defended despite criticism.
It however reversed this position over the weekend, saying that the lanyards were now an “optional and personal decision”.
Despite the backdown, Jim Wells of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party – which has stalled progress for equal marriage in the country – has published an open letter announcing his resignation as member of the trust.
Mr Wells, who retained his seat in this year’s Northern Ireland elections, has a long history of anti-gay statements and actions.
Mr Wells was forced to resign as Health Minister in 2015 after controversially claiming that children who are raised by same-sex parents are “more likely” to be abused.
“I worked for the National Trust full time for 10 years up until June 1998,” said Mr Wells in his new statement at the weekend.
“I left their employment in June 1998 when I was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly.
“I then joined the National Trust and remained a member for 19 years. I was also a donor to the charity and was seriously considering leaving it a legacy.”
He continued: “I and my family recently resigned our membership for three reasons.
1. An article which was recently published in the National Trust magazine.
2. The events at Felbrigg Hall.
3. The apparent official representation of the Trust at yesterday’s Gay Pride parade.”
Mr Wells said: “The National Trust is an organisation which does excellent work conserving historic houses, our scenic coastline and beautiful gardens’.
“It would be very wise to keep out of controversial social issues which have little of anything to do with its main objectives.”
Should the Trust’s attendance at Pride be a genuine “deal-breaker” for Mr Wells’s support, it opens up an interesting problem for the Unionist, as to avoid accusations of hypocrisy, it could be argued that he should also withdraw his support for the British Army.
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In response, the National Trust issued a statement underlining its commitment to equality and its continued support for LGBTQ rights and promotion of LGBTQ heritage.
“The National Trust is an organisation that is for ever, for everyone,” the statement read.
“We are committed to developing and promoting equality of opportunity and inclusion in all that we do regardless of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, paternity and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.
“Prejudice and Pride is a Trust-wide initiative. We attended Belfast Pride to show the Trust’s support and to demonstrate our commitment to promoting equality, diversity and inclusion.”
It continued: “LGBTQ heritage plays an important role in the history of the National Trust and the places in our care.
“Many Trust places were home to, and shaped by, people who challenged conventional notions of gender and sexuality.
“This year, 50 years after the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality, the Trust is celebrating their contribution.
“The National Trust was established “for the benefit of the Nation” and we passionately believe our purpose is to make everyone feel welcome at our places, as our founders would have wanted.”