Stormont party leaders to put LGBT+ rights under microscope at PinkNews’ Northern Ireland reception

Northern Ireland leaders

Leading figures from Northern Ireland’s six main political parties will discuss LGBT+ rights at the PinkNews Virtual Summer Reception on Thursday (1 July).

The event, which is being run in partnership with Citi and The Rainbow Project, will see leaders from across the political spectrum reflecting on how far Northern Ireland has come on LGBT+ issues.

They will also discuss what needs to happen next to ensure Northern Ireland’s LGBT+ community has full equality.

Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald TD will represent her party at the reception. McDonald is a sitting TD in the Republic of Ireland and is also leader of the opposition in the country’s parliament. 

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long MLA will also participate in the virtual reception. She currently serves as Minister for Justice in the Northern Ireland Executive.

Paula Bradley MLA will represent the socially conservative Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) at the event. She was appointed deputy leader of the party in May following Arlene Foster’s resignation.

Doug Beattie MLA of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) will also take part in the reception. Just months ago, he tabled a motion in the Northern Ireland Assembly that called for conversion therapy to be banned in the region.

Colum Eastwood MP, leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), will represent his party at the event.

Green Party deputy leader Mal O’Hara, a councillor for Castle, will also take part in the PinkNews Virtual Summer Reception.

The event will be moderated by John O’Doherty, director of the Rainbow Project.

The PinkNews summer reception comes after months of political unrest in Northern Ireland

Political leaders in Northern Ireland have been using the PinkNews summer reception to draw attention to the glaring gaps in LGBT+ rights and equality for a number of years now. 

In 2018, the event became the focus of significant media attention when then-DUP leader Arlene Foster attended, making her first of the party’s leaders to attend an event focused on LGBT+ rights. 

In past years, politicians in Northern Ireland have taken the opportunity to demand marriage equality and to draw attention to the discrepancies between the treatment of LGBT+ people across the UK.

The summer reception is a vital opportunity for Northern Ireland’s LGBT+ community to find out where their political leaders stand on queer people’s rights and equality.

The event comes after a number of months of political unrest in Northern Ireland. 

Arlene Foster resigned as first minister and as leader of the DUP following an internal heave against her in April. Just weeks later, Edwin Poots was appointed leader.

However, he was ousted just 20 days later by his own party after he appointed Paul Girvan as first minister – a move DUP colleagues were not on board with. 

Northern Ireland has historically been slower than the rest of the UK to advance LGBT+ rights. Marriage equality finally became a reality in 2020 after a history-making intervention from Westminster, which saw MPs push through legislative change following years of stagnation.

Conversion therapy is just one of the issues facing Northern Ireland’s LGBT+ community right now. There is broad cross-party support for a legislative ban on the practice – which seeks to change a person’s sexual or gender identity – however, the DUP has pushed back against efforts to prohibit conversion therapy in religious settings.

The Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favour of a motion put forward by UUP leader Doug Beattie in April that calls for an extensive legislative ban on conversion therapy. 

The PinkNews Virtual Summer Reception, in partnership with Citi and the Rainbow Project, will take place on Thursday (1 July) from 7pm to 8.30pm. The event will be live-streamed on PinkNews’ Facebook page.