Northern Ireland: MLAs participate in fiece debate around LGBT issues

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Intense debate was seen earlier this week at Belfast’s Europa Hotel on Tuesday when politicians participating in the panel at an annual Belfast Pride Talks Back event were taken to task on issues affecting LGBT people.

Seven of Northern Ireland’s main political parties were represented at Belfast Pride’s popular political debating event as members of the LGBT community and public were given the opportunity of putting questions to elected representatives. Topics discussed included gay adoption, the ban on MSM blood donation, marriage equality and homophobia in schools.

The panel included Steven Agnew of the Green Party, Michael Copeland (UUP), Colum Eastwood (SDLP) Cllr Andrew Muir (Alliance), John McCallister (NI21), David McIlveen (DUP) and Sinn Féin’s chief whip Caitríona Ruane.

The TUV’s Jim Allister, who has previously stated that gay marriage is a “perversion” and that he is “implacably opposed to same-sex marriage” was invited but declined to attend the Pride Debate.

Last year, the DUP’s Gavin Robinson was the first member of his party to officially participate in a Belfast Pride event and this year North Antrim MLA, David McIlveen was present and caused angst when he told the audience that “there are two types of equality” after which he was challenged to explain what he meant but ultimately failed to do so.

The Alliance Party’s Andrew Muir spoke about the advances gained by Northern Ireland’s LGBT community since he came out as gay in 1996 – Mr Muir is the first openly gay politician to be elected mayor in one of Northern Ireland’s councils and stated to the audience that he “will join the community at the Pride parade on Saturday to show visibility and host LGBT groups as Mayor”.

According to UTV one panellist said Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act, which deals with equality legislation, needs further discussion.

Stephen Agnew of the Green Party added: “The issue of the sexual orientation strategy is one the community’s been waiting on for years, with the delay in that important issue, the issue of homophobic bullying in schools and the fact that teachers aren’t subject to Section 75 laws is also something we need to address if we want to move forward.”

Sinn Féin’s Caitriona Ruane told the audience that she would “work with the other whips in the Assembly to get consensus on Equal marriage” and later stated:

“Equality threatens no one and marriage equality is a right all couples should have regardless of gender and I would ask all the other parties to support marriage equality the next time it comes before the Assembly.

“I think it is an enormous step forward to have all the main political parties present at the Pride event tonight as this would not have happened a few years back.”