Public asked to support NI Gay Pride event


People have been urged to turn out in force to support today’s Gay Pride event in Belfast and send out the message that Northern Ireland is gay-friendly.

The annual parade in Belfast is taking place amid an increasingly bitter debate about homosexuality in the region triggered by controversial remarks made by a Democratic Unionist MP.

Iris Robinson, the wife of Stormont First Minister Peter Robinson, recently claimed gay sex was an abomination.

She was also quoted by parliamentary record keepers Hansard stating homosexuality is more vile than child abuse.

The Strangford MP later distanced herself from those comments and claimed they did not accurately reflect her views.

However, the born-again Christian, who is chairwoman of Stormont’s health committee, has stood by her view that homosexuality is a sin, prompting critics to call for her resignation.

Her stance has sparked a wider debate in Northern Ireland with gay rights campaigners and religious adherents exchanging firmly held views in a variety of media outlets.

That dialogue is set to be played out again at today’s event with a sizeable group of protesters expected to gather outside Belfast City Hall as the colourful parade passes by.

Political opponents of Mrs Robinson have also staged a number of demonstrations in the week leading up to the pride event.

Gerry Lynch of the Alliance Party has called on people to make the event the biggest yet seen in Northern Ireland.

“I would encourage everyone to come along to the Pride march, whether they’re gay or straight, young or old, alone or with their families,” he said.

“Pride is a carnival-style fun day out, but this year it takes on an added importance due to the homophobic comments of Iris Robinson and others in the DUP.

“A record turnout at Pride will show the world — and our own political leaders - that Northern Ireland really has moved on, that we are a society that embraces diversity and celebrates difference. It will make Belfast Pride an event we can all be proud of.”

Earlier this week high-profile gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell inflamed the debate further when he claimed that unionist folk-hero King William of Orange had male lovers.

Meanwhile, yesterday one of Northern Ireland’s main newspapers carried a full page advert from a Free Presbyterian church entitled the “Word of God Against Sodomy” stating that homosexuality is an offence in the eye of Bible believers.

The organisers of the parade have been urged to ensure there is no repeat of the controversy surrounding last year’s event when a participant displayed a placard suggesting Jesus was a homosexual.

The Northern Ireland Parades Commission, which rules on contentious marches in the region, has decided not to place any restrictions on the event despite a significant number of objections from the public.

The commission will not restrict the expected religious protests either.

However, it has told both participants and demonstrators to act in a responsible manner.

Christian groups were angered by last year’s parade when a placard with “Jesus is a fag” was held aloft by one person taking part.

However, members of the gay community said signs carried by religious protesters were equally offensive to them.