If there had only been one instance of the DUP refusing to engage with the LGBT community in Northern Ireland you might put it down to an oversight. However, there have been a number of high profile instances in the last 12 months.
First we had the Cohesion, Sharing and Integration draft strategy, but seeing as that overlooked all manner of groups not just LGBT it can be seen as merely not addressing anything other that sectarianism and racism. The fact that LGBT, disability, women and victims were amongst the groups which they felt able to cohese, share and integrate without strategic assistance is beyond reproach but cannot be isolated.
Then we did of course have the DUP’s development and aid spokesperson’s inability to comment over giving aid to Uganda despite that nations LGBT record. The party’s deputy convenor on the health committee then famously failed to turn up at a discussion group on LGBT issues at Pride on the Hill in the Long Gallery at Stormont. After years of failing to engage with the DUP elsewhere you’d have thought they could at least have mustered up the courage to turn up to a meeting at their MLA’s place of work.
Lately of course we have had the health minister’s refusal to look at lifting the blood ban for men who have ever had sex with other men, and by conjecture the female life-partners of men who have dabbled in the past. I understand that there are a number of sources that I know who are seeking Freedom of Information disclosures into what advise the Minister has received on this matter (we will keep you informed once we know anything). One source of advise that the minister has not heard from is the Rainbow Project, Northern Ireland’s leading support group and advocates for the LGBT community in the province.
As soon as SaBTO issued their they requested time with the minister. He has over for three weeks later failed to even acknowledge this request let alone agree to a meeting. Yet the minister claims that he has sought all available advise before deciding that Northern Ireland will not follow England, Scotland and Wales in lifting the ban in exchange for the 12 month deferral period. One has to wonder just how complete and balanced the advise the evidence that the minster has received was.
The wider question of course is why is it that ONLY the DUP out of all the parties in Stormont* are not meeting with and discussing LGBT issues in public debate with members of the community? Why do they shy away from meeting such issues?
Some have accused them of using the Northern Irish religious angle to back away from it. But surely the same religion affects the other parties, yet the UUP, Sinn Féin and the SDLP despite the same religious norms having an impact on their members and voters are happy to address this issues based on science not bigotry, ignorance or stigma of a whole section of our community.
So the question has to be asked.
Are the DUP the last bastions (with the exception of the Traditional Unionist Voice) of institutional homophobia in Northern Ireland politics? If they are, under the terms of Section 75 and Schedule 9 of the Northern Ireland Act, are they fit to govern? Surely part of the way to go about desirable promotion of good relations and ensuring statutory obligations are implemented through Equality Schemes is to consult with people of diverse sexual orientations. This appears to be something the DUP are singularly failing to do.
* Well the Traditional Unionist Voice would have to count as well but as Jim Allister seems opposed to almost everything, including sitting down we can’t accuse him of being merely homophobic, progressphobic, co-operationphobic, peacephobic have to be thrown into his mix.