Tens of thousands march for equality at Belfast Pride

Belfast Pride has seen tens of thousands of people march for equality, with many attendees calling for same-sex marriage to be legalised across the country.

The Pride parade’s theme was “Come Out for Change,” and protesters took this to heart, campaigning in their droves for abortion rights, a ban on gay ‘cure’ therapy and for marriage equality to be brought to Northern Ireland – the only part of the UK where it’s still illegal.

However, the ugly side to the parade once again reared its head, as Ellie Evans – who had her “F**k the DUP” sign confiscated from her during the last Pride parade – once again had to endure officials’ attempts to take her placard.

This year, her sign read: “F**K THE DUP” – with the “U” covered with the face of DUP MLA Jim Wells, who vowed to boycott Primark earlier this month because of its LGBT collection – above the additional note: “Abortion rights NOW.”

This time, the 25-year-old bisexual protester – who only had an official investigation against her dropped in February – resisted and clung on to her sign, which she showed off proudly at the end of the parade, clad in a Love Equality t-shirt and with a “F**k the DUP” sign on her head.

Evans made it to the end of the parade with her newly broken sign (nifoodwarrior/twitter)

But speaking to PinkNews, Evans, who comes from Essex and lives in Belfast, said: “It was actually way worse than last year.

“I joined the parade late towards the end at City Hall. About 30 seconds after I put my placard up I had a steward in my ear trying to get me to leave the parade or put the sign down.

“She said my sign was offensive, goes against the parade’s commission and would jeopardise future Pride parades.

“I kept walking and said I’d understood what she had said, was aware of those things but was not going to leave the parade,” she added.

“So she radioed for security. Then a few seconds later another steward comes running towards me.

“He shouts that I can’t have the sign, says I need to get rid of it or leave the parade. I again said I wasn’t going to do that, so he now radios for security too.

Tens of thousands attended the parade (jandraderocha/twitter)

“Then comes along a big intimidating security guy who gets right up in my face and attempts to separate me off to the side of the parade. I told him I appreciated his request to remove the sign but was politely declining.

“And he kept getting closer to me and more intimidating and then grabbed the placard and broke it, and I just repeated: ‘Don’t touch me, take your hands off me,’ she said, recalling protestations which are clearly visible in the video above.

“So when I finally got away from the security guy the crowd in the parade were amazing, they became a human shield around me, so he couldn’t get to me.

“Then the parade manager came up to the security guy and said ‘it doesn’t say f**k so it’s ok’ and the security guy left.

The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service were present (nias999/twitter)

“I then finished the parade with my broken sign, and stood at the end of the parade waiting for my friends, and another security guy tried to take my placard again, even though I was no longer even in the parade,” continued Evans.

“Then 2 police officers came over to me and asked to have a word, and said I needed to remove the sign or they might have to remove me.

“I again said I wasn’t going to get rid of the sign. Then they walked off but about eight police gathered round nearby me and just stood there discussing amongst themselves.

“And another police officer on a bike approached me and said I couldn’t have the sign as it’s ‘a breach of the peace.'”

These officers’ actions are reminiscent of last year, when Evans accused the police of trying to intimidate her by showing up on her doorstep for an interview following the parade.

Evans, who doesn’t know if she will once again face a police investigation, felt let down by Belfast Pride, and said she wasn’t the only one.

Protesters fly Pride flags (jandraderocha/twitter)

“Security are supposed to be there to protect us, LGBTQ people in the parade, from any harm, not to harass and censor us,” she said.

“It’s totally unacceptable to try to intimidate LGBTQ activists at Pride.

“Honestly, what do they think Pride is for!?”

Evans added that “the DUP get away with constant abuse towards the LGBTQ community, and yet we aren’t allowed to say ‘f**k you!’ back because it’s ‘offensive.’

“Like denying us equal marriage and comparing us to child abusers isn’t.”

A religious counter-protest was overwhelmed by the colour, joy and noise of the march, which went around the city centre after the parade “completely outgrew the old route,” organisers told the BBC.

The religious counter-protest was overwhelmed (ryanbudgie/twitter)

Denise Hart, a volunteer for Belfast Pride, said the event showed how attitudes had changed in the 27 years since the annual parade began.

“If you think back to the first one in 1991, you would have had about 100 people – students and the likes,” she said.

“If you look around today, you will see so many corporate [parade entries] this year; you’ll see trade unions; you’ll see community groups.

“The make up of the Pride parade has changed, it really is a parade for everybody.”

She added that the march was getting “bigger and better” year after year.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland’s uniformed officers took part for the second year in a row, and the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service were also present, with one staff member explaining: “It’s important for people to see that there are LGBT people in all parts of the community.

“Visibility is very important in regards to LGBT, to show people who are maybe in the closet that there are people in all walks of life, doing all sorts of jobs.”

The theme was Come Out for Change (mikenesbittni/twitter)

David Sterling, who leads the Northern Ireland Civil Service and is widely seen as the person running a country which has not had a government since January last year, was also at the parade.

Despite holding the position for more than a year, Sterling – who is in charge of around 23,500 civil servants – chose the event to send his first tweet in the role.

“Delighted that #myfirstTweet as Head of the NI Civil Service is from @BelfastPride,” he wrote.

“As an employer to 23,000 people, the NICS respects and values diversity and is committed to delivering an inclusive workplace for all our people #NICSdiversity #ComeOutforChange.”

Love Equality, a Northern Irish campaign for same-sex marriage, used the parade to publicise its message.

Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland director of Amnesty International – which is part of the Love Equality coalition – said: “Pride is still a protest in Belfast.

“The LGBT+ community in Northern Ireland, their friends, families and allies, have come out today to demand equality for all.

“Pride is always the most colourful day of the year in Belfast. This year it is bigger and brighter than ever,” he added.

However, he said, “behind the glitter, there is real anger, but also a determination that discrimination against LGBT+ people must end.

“Northern Ireland is now years behind the rest of the UK and Ireland on marriage equality. People on the streets of Belfast today are sick of a second-class citizenship based on who they are and where they live.

“Theresa May and (Secretary of State for Northern Ireland) Karen Bradley should be ashamed that, eighteen months after the collapse of devolution, same-sex couples in Northern Ireland are still waiting to be treated as equals.

“This is now in their hands.”

Earlier this month, some of Belfast’s biggest businesses teamed up to host a summer networking party to raise funds for Northern Irish LGBT+ charity, The Rainbow Project.