DUP leader Arlene Foster calls for respect for her views on same-sex marriage at PinkNews summer reception in Belfast

Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster made history on Thursday night by attending PinkNews’ summer reception at Stormont in Belfast, supported by Citi.

By doing so, Foster becomes the first DUP leader to attend an event focused on LGBT+ rights.

Foster said: “I want to acknowledge the contribution of the LGBT+ community in Northern Ireland and recognise the diversity [in the country] … some of the brightest and best are part of the LGBT+ community.

“We are not always going to agree. We should treat each other with good manners and respect.

“In Northern Ireland we have a strong faith community we should respect people’s [views]. Just because we disagree on marriage doesn’t mean I don’t value the LGBT community. I ask that my views and my party’s views are respected, while not agreed with

“If we truly believe in equality for all in Northern Ireland, we must respectfully engage and respect each other’s view points.”

This is the third of many regional receptions held by PinkNews to bring politicians and campaigners together to discuss achievements and shortcomings of Northern Ireland in terms of LGBTQI+ rights. 

Foster’s party has been responsible for blocking same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland, making it the only part of the United Kingdom to prevent gay and lesbian couples to marry. Currently, civil partnerships are the only legal union same-sex couples can undertake.

For many politicians, including the Alliance Party’s Naomi Long MLA, and LGBT+ rights activists, Foster’s attendance on Thursday was considered a sign of hope that the DUP would engage with the LGBT+ community on issues such as same-sex marriage.

Northern Ireland Minister Lord Duncan of Springbank, who is a gay man, told the Belfast Telegraph it was “the beginning not the end of a journey.”

Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Arlene Foster (Charles McQuillan/Getty)

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.”

Foster announced her intention to attend the event earlier in June to her DUP executive, saying that she wants to engage with minority communities in the country.

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.”

She said that the party would not be shifting from its position on same-sex marriage.

Arlene Foster addresses audience (Charles McQuillan/Getty)

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.”

Foster was joined at the PinkNews summer reception by 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.

The PinkNews summer reception in Belfast was supported by Citi.