I turned 18 just in time to cast my first ever vote on June 23rd – to leave the EU. I then joined the Conservative Party in Northern Ireland. Part of my reason for joining was that the DUP, which styles itself as the party of the working class Unionist, could never have my support. Because I’m gay.
The DUP’s attitude to gay people is a matter of public record. In a prime example of this, Ian Paisley Junior told Hot Press magazine in 2007:
“I am unsurprisingly a straight person, I am pretty repulsed by gay and lesbianism… I think that these people harm themselves and without caring about it harm society”
In complete contrast to Sinn Fein at the time, I don’t think that Paisley should have been censured for his comments – free speech is a blessing and thankfully we still have that right. For the most part. But do we live in a free society? Well not if you’re gay, you live in Northern Ireland and you want to get married.
As someone who grew up in the wake of comments like those of Ian Paisley Junior I can say just how harmful they are. In Northern Ireland’s tight-knit communities being told that you were damaging society and that you were repulsive was not good. But having been a victim of bullying for most of my school years I can testify that being called ‘gay’ and a ‘faggot’ isn’t pleasant at all. While many have contemplated taking their own life rather than ‘harm society’, I never let it bother me because “there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families.” And I certainly wasn’t harming any of them. Being different meant being an individual, it helped me discover my uniqueness – I felt as though I was God’s gift to the world, as the saying goes!
But the job of the First Minister is to represent all of the people Northern Ireland, and not just those who think that gay people are second-class citizens, and refusing gay people the right to get married. Instead the DUP has pledged to carry on using the Petition of Concern, in the face of both majority support for equal marriage from MLAs and from the general public, to block UK citizens in Northern Ireland enjoying the same rights as everyone else in these islands. Arlene Foster – whose supposed personability has yet to reveal itself when it comes to this issue – has forfeited any right to represent me. And into the bargain, she’s alienating a significant number of people here that, as Unionists, just want the same rights as other British people.
Democratic? No. But the most baffling thing is the fact that they claim to represent ‘British Values’ whilst spitefully blocking something that is already legal in the rest of the country. It’s almost as if people want the money but don’t want the laws.