Belfast bursts with rainbow colours as thousands mark Pride

Campaigners renew call for marriage equality to be extended to Northern Ireland

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The streets of Belfast were bursting with rainbow colours on Saturday as thousands of people took part in the annual Pride parade celebrating the LGBT community.

But make no mistake, it’s still a protest, equality campaigners have said.

Some of those who took part in the first Pride parade in Belfast, back in 1991, when it was just 100 hardy souls walking from High Street to Botanic Gardens without the glitz, glamour and corporate sponsors, were there on Saturday for the festivities and to call for civil marriage equality for British and Irish citizens in the North.

Before Stormont collapsed in January 2017 five motions had been brought forward to the Assembly on same-sex marriage equality, however, the last vote in favour of extending civil marriage rights to the LGBT community was vetoed by the DUP using the petition of concern blocking mechanism.

Equality campaigners issued another call for the British government to extend marriage equality legislation to the region at the ‘Come Out For Change’ themed event.

Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland director of Amnesty International, one of the members of the Love Equality coalition, said: “Pride is still a protest in Belfast. The LGBT+ community in Northern Ireland, their friends, families and allies, have come out today to demand equality for all.”

Mr Corrigan said “Northern Ireland is now years behind the rest of the UK and Ireland on marriage equality.

“People on the streets of Belfast today are sick of a second-class citizenship based on who they are and where they live.

“(Prime minister) Theresa May and (Secretary of State) Karen Bradley should be ashamed that, eighteen months after the collapse of devolution, same-sex couples in Northern Ireland are still waiting to be treated as equals. This is now in their hands.”

The Love Equality campaign for equal marriage in Northern Ireland is led by the Rainbow Project, Amnesty International, Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Cara-Friend, NUS-USI and HereNI.

Hotel worker Kim McCluskey (20) from north Belfast who was at Belfast Pride for “the fun day out” said it was disappointing that the North’s LGBT community was being denied an option available in the rest of Ireland and Britain.

“It’s about being yourself,” Kim said.

“It’s weird that in society there is so much pressure telling you to get married but I can’t.

“I want to have the choice.”

Representatives from the PSNI, UU, QUB, trade unions, the Housing Executive, the fire service, Deloitte, Asda, All State, Belfast Feminist Network, NUS-USI, the Dogs Trust, Samaritans, the National Trust, RNLI, Historic Royal Palaces, civil servants and politicians from Sinn Féin, Alliance, the SDLP, the Green Party and People Before Profit, were among those marching through the streets of Belfast.

The head of the civil service, David Sterling, who is running Northern Ireland in the absence of a functioning government shared his thoughts from the centrepiece of the 10 day LGBT festival on Twitter.

“Delighted that my first tweet as head of the NI Civil Service is from Belfast Pride,” he wrote.

“As an employer to 23,000 people, the NICS respects and values diversity and is committed to delivering an inclusive workplace for all our people. NICS diversity. Come out for change.”

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