Arlene Foster’s decision to attend LGBT event praised as ‘extraordinary’
The leader of the DUP will attend the LGBT reception at Stormont in Belfast on Thursday, after all NI party leaders were invited to address LGBT+ activists at the event.
Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK without equal marriage due to opposition from the DUP, which has blocked progress on the issue for several years.
But Foster, who took over as DUP leader in 2015, will attempt to improve the party’s relationship with the region’s LGBT community at the event.
Welcoming the move, frontbencher Lord Duncan of Springbank, who is a gay man, told the Belfast Telegraph it was “the beginning not the end of a journey.”
Duncan will join Foster at the PinkNews reception alongside Michelle O’Neill MLA, leader of Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland, Robin Swann MLA, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, Colum Eastwood MLA, leader of the SDLP and Naomi Long MLA, leader of the Alliance Party.
It will be the first time a DUP leader has addressed an LGBT event. Foster set out her plans in a speech to the DUP executive, she said: “[We must] re-engage and re-energise our people, and yes, we must take our message to places that perhaps may not be traditional to our cause.
“I want to genuinely reach out to our minority communities and show them the hand of friendship, recognising they have made Northern Ireland their home.”
But she added that the party would not be shifting from its position on same-sex marriage.
Foster added: “I believe I can hold to my principled position, particularly in reality to the definition of marriage, while respecting the diversity across our society and recognising that sexuality is a matter for the individual.
“All I ask in return is that my, and our views, are also respected and not the subject of the vilest of abuse as has sometimes been the case by a small minority.
“Just because we disagree on marriage does not mean that I can’t say that we value those who are LGBT in our society, and they should not be the subject of hate because of their sexuality.”
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The news has been welcomed by LGBT activists in the region.
John O’Doherty, director of the Rainbow Project, said: “We welcome the decision by Arlene Foster to attend this important PinkNews event.
“This is the first time a DUP leader has attended an LGBT+ event and we hope it is the first of many such invitations that will be accepted.
“While I and many in our community have been hurt by comments and actions by members of the DUP over many years, the only way we can achieve a Northern Ireland that is welcoming of all people is through dialogue, learning and of course listening.
“While this action cannot erase the decades of hurt experienced by LGBT people and their families I hope it is a first step towards a new relationship between the LGBT community based on respect.”