DUP leader Arlene Foster challenged to finally stop ignoring the LGBT+ community and start listening

Arlene Foster

Arlene Foster has been challenged to meet with LGBT+ people in her role as Northern Ireland’s first minister after years of “lecturing at the community”.

Foster’s absent relationship with her LGBT+ constituents was highlighted by Green Party deputy Malachai O’Hara after the DUP leader justified a meeting with loyalist paramilitaries by saying it was “important that all communities have a voice in the political process”.

O’Hara suggested she extend the same goodwill to the LGBT+ community as he urged her “reflect” on her lack of engagement thus far.

“I think the time has long passed for the first minister to have met with LGBTQ organisations,” O’Hara told Belfast Live.

“There are issues faced by the community that need to be addressed, whether that’s hate crime, access to IVF, risk of homelessness, health inequalities, poorer mental health etc  – and the first minister really needs to reflect on that, the fact that she has never met those organisations.”

Arlene Foster became the first DUP leader to attend an LGBT+ event when she addressed a PinkNews reception at Stormont in 2018.

Her attendance was at the time hailed as a possible sign that the DUP was changing direction, but O’Hara, who is gay, said Foster simply used the opportunity to “effectively lecture at the community”.

In her speech the DUP leader praised the LGBT+ community as some of the “brightest and best” of Northern Ireland, but maintained her opposition to same-sex marriage and asked people to respect that.

She also declined to apologise for the DUP’s past treatment of LGBT+ people, saying it wouldn’t be “fruitful for anybody”.

Foster opted not to attend the event a second time in 2019 and sent no other representative in her place, meaning the DUP was the only party across the political spectrum not in attendance. She does not appear to have made any public appearances with other LGBT+ groups in the years that followed.

She has, however, led the DUP in repeatedly using an Assembly veto mechanism to block change in Northern Ireland, including the introduction of same-sex marriage.

Even after marriage equality was finally passed in 2020 Foster continued to undermine the ruling by complaining it had been “imposed” upon Northern Ireland.

Her outdated opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage is now prompting younger people from unionist backgrounds to turn away from the “social conservatism of the DUP and other elements of unionism”, O’Hara said.

“And they’re beginning to vote for other parties. They’re voting for our party and they’re voting for other parties, because traditional unionism with its conservatism is switching people off,” he added.

A representative for Arlene Foster told PinkNews: “The first minister is always open to meeting with representatives of all views and backgrounds, including further engagement with LGBT+ groups. Her private office has no record of any outstanding requests or invitations.”