DUP deputy leader apologises for party’s ‘atrocious’ anti-LGBT+ record

Paula Bradley DUP

Paula Bradley, deputy leader of the DUP, has apologised for “atrocious” comments made about LGBT+ people by members of her own party.

The DUP has a long history of opposing LGBT+ rights, while numerous members have faced sharp criticism for making cruel comments about queer people.

Speaking at the PinkNews Virtual Summer Reception in Belfast on Thursday (1 July), Paula Bradley said she couldn’t defend some of the things her party colleagues had said over the years.

John O’Doherty, director of The Rainbow Project, asked if the DUP will ever “apologise” to the LGBT+ community for the hurt it has caused.

“I am not going to defend some of the things that have been said over the years, because they have been absolutely atrocious, they’ve been shocking,” Bradley said.

“I certainly couldn’t stand by many of those comments, in fact all of those comments, because I know the hurt that they caused people and I know that that fed into the hatred that some people have had to endure in their life, and I think that’s absolutely wrong.

“I think the vast majority of those people that made those comments are no longer there, and the ones that are there have said that they have learnt their lessons and that their language at times has not been right.”

Bradley said the language used by party colleagues is an issue she has raised on a number of occasions within the DUP.

“The language that we use as elected representatives has an impact on wider society so I can certainly say I apologise for what others have said and done in the past because I do think there has been some very hurtful comments and some language that really should not have been used.”

DUP deputy leader Paula Bradley said the party’s conversion therapy amendment was ‘wrong’

Elsewhere in the discussion, Bradley reflected on the controversy that subsumed the DUP in April when the party voted to amend a conversion therapy motion put forward by Doug Beattie of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP).

The DUP faced resounding backlash from the LGBT+ community for trying to amend the motion to remove a line that stated it was “fundamentally wrong to view our LGBTQ community as requiring a fix or cure”.

Bradley noted that she abstained on both her party’s motion and the Assembly motion, adding: “I think on reflection it was wrong to remove that out of there.”

She continued: “As a party we absolutely agree that conversion therapy should be banned, absolutely, 100 per cent, albeit as a party we still do believe that there should be certain protections for religious freedom, whether that is prayer or whatever that might look like, but certainly not conversion therapy.”

Notably, Bradley also criticised the UK’s Gender Recognition Act (GRA) alongside the other panellists because it requires trans people to say they are suffering from a disorder.

I just was thinking here that I probably maybe have gone further than some of my party colleagues would have liked.

The DUP’s deputy leader said such language is “absolutely shocking”, adding that she is committed to working alongside other political parties in Northern Ireland to advance trans rights.

Closing out the event, Bradley said she is trying “to bring about change and make things better” in Northern Ireland.

“I will be going back with lots of notes here and lots of offers of meetings for various people, and I give you my word that I will do that and I’ll pass that on,” Bradley said.

“I just was thinking here that I probably maybe have gone further than some of my party colleagues would have liked, but that’s me, I do that all the time anyway, so I may well not be in a position to come back in to you after this,” she added.

“But I will continue to do my bit within my party and I hope that we can continue that respectful debate that we have between each other, because I think that’s the only way forward, is to continue with that.”

The DUP has been plagued by political instability in recent months

Bradley’s comments marked a significant shift in tone for the DUP, which has remained closely tied to its evangelical Christian roots ever since its foundation in 1971.

The party has faced resounding criticism from the LGBT+ community for comments made by its members over the years. DUP founder Ian Paisley famously launched the “Save Ulster from Sodomy” campaign in 1977, and countless other party members have launched verbal attacks on queer people in the years since.

In 2018, Arlene Foster made history when she became the first DUP leader to attend an event focused on LGBT+ rights when she spoke at the PinkNews Summer Reception in Belfast.

In April, Foster resigned as leader of the DUP, with some suggesting that her decision to abstain rather than vote against the UUP’s conversion therapy motion was the final straw for her party colleagues.

Since then, the DUP has been mired in political turmoil. Edwin Poots lasted just 20 days as leader of the party, leading to Jeffrey Donaldson taking the reins in June.

Bradley was joined at the PinkNews Virtual Summer Reception – which was run in partnership with Citi and The Rainbow Project – by Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald, Alliance Party leader Naomi Long, UUP leader Doug Beattie, Green Party deputy leader Malachai O’Hara and SDLP leader Colum Eastwood.

The party representatives discussed trans healthcare, conversion therapy and inclusive education at the 90-minute long event.