Drive for diverse Belfast given fresh legs by Yes vote
In the wake of the triumph of the Yes side in the marriage equality referendum in the South of Ireland yesterday, Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said the Catholic Church needs “a reality check”.
He could extend that to those in the north who have set their faces against equal treatment for the gay community.
Indeed, the hostility of the unionist parties to gay rights in the North of Ireland is holding back the creation of the truly diverse society which will move us all to the bright side of the road.
The absolute ban on gay men giving blood by DUP health ministers, the DUP’s use of a ‘petition of concern’ at Stormont to stymie a vote supporting marriage equality and the demonising of the LBGT community by a series of senior unionist politicians all present an image of the North as a backwater for bigotry rather than a beacon for diversity and inclusion.
And yet the opposition from senior unionists to equal treatment for our gay and lesbian fellow-citizens is not reflective of the majority of our citizens who wish to see all our people cherished equally.
The greatest change in our society over the past 30 years has been the emergence of a proud and ebullient gay community. That change has been good for Belfast. It’s incumbent upon all of us to encourage the blossoming of the LGBT community and the marriage referendum result should give our efforts in that regard added momentum.
Frank Barry, Bloomberg editor, has even suggested the vote might bring a United Ireland closer.
Certainly, in the recent election, I found voters from a unionist background who were gay or for gay rights drifting from the unionist camp towards parties with more progressive social platforms. That shift can only be good for Belfast as work to move beyond division to a united future.
I plan to play my own small role in that work as the first NI Laureate for the Tolerentia Award following my nomination this week by the Rainbow Project. It’s a high honour and will deepen my resolve to continue contributing in whatever way I can to secure respect and full civil rights for the proud and inspirational LGBT community which is building a better Belfast for all of us. Our friends in the Irish language media site Meon Eile interviewed me about the Tolerentia award (in Gaeilge) this week.
You can be sure that the place of diversity in civic life will be discussed at the sixth annual New York-New Belfast conference from 3-5 June when Christine Quinn (pictured), advisor to Governor Andrew Cuomo, Congresswoman Kathleen Rice and New York State Assembly member Rep Brian Kavanagh will be among a roster of speakers with strong commitments to equality. You can see more about the New York-New Belfast gathering at Fordham University Lincoln Center campus in New York, which also includes a day dedicated to building business bridges, here. See you there.