DUP councillor backs Belfast Pride as party splits spill into open
A DUP councillor has gone further than any other politician in the party on gay rights by voicing direct support for the Belfast Pride parade.
Tom Smith also backed the PSNI taking part in the demonstration, saying he is glad the "persecution and abuse" of gay people is coming to an end.
The member of Ards and North Down Borough Council went further than South Belfast MP Emma Little-Pengelly, who sent best wishes to constituents celebrating on Saturday, but didn't directly mention Pride.
Mr Smith yesterday tweeted: "For the record, I have absolutely no problem with Belfast Pride or PSNI taking part - we must end hatred!"
In another tweet, he said: "There is nothing wrong with being gay/transgender. We are all different thank goodness."
The DUP councillor also revealed that he "had friends who, because of persecution and abuse they would face, did not come out as gay - glad that's changing".
Responding to a story about TUV leader Jim Allister opposing uniformed police officers marching in the Belfast parade, Mr Smith used the hashtag #BelfastPride. He tweeted: "Regardless of views on SSM (same-sex marriage), many LGBT suffer hate crime and PSNI showing this is wrong and offering support - no problem with this."
Mr Smith was not available for interview yesterday and the DUP declined to comment on the matter.
Council colleagues described him as "an absolute gentleman" and "very liberal and compassionate" on a range of issues including gay rights.
Divisions in the DUP over the issue are becoming increasingly evident.
Veteran politician Jim Wells MLA quit the National Trust last weekend over its support for gay rights.
However, party colleague Emma Little-Pengelly voiced apparent support for Saturday's demonstration, without mentioning the march by name.
Meanwhile, it has been revealed that the organisers of Belfast Pride stopped a woman from carrying an anti-DUP sign at the parade.
Eleanor Evans told Pink News that an official at the demonstration told her that if she didn't discard her 'F*** the DUP' sign, she couldn't continue marching.
The organisers believed that her placard breached the Parades Commission's guidelines on "using words or behaviour considered sectarian, abusive, insulting or lewd".
Ms Evans told Pink News: "(A Pride official came) running towards me with such a strange sense of urgency, as if I was holding a gun or something.
"He started saying 'You can't have that sign, you can't have it'. And I was sort of like 'Why? What's going on?'"
A banner with the same slogan was carried at last month's London Pride parade.
Ms Evans complained about the Belfast organisers' response, but they strongly defended their actions.
Meanwhile, the Chief Constable yesterday defended the decision to let uniformed officers march in Pride, but acknowledged it had caused "offence in some quarters".
"People will make their own judgment on the rights and wrongs. We want to show support for that marginalised community who under-report hate crime," said George Hamilton.
"We think that was appreciated by that community, but we may have caused offence in other places, and policing is a balancing act - it's not an easy decision to come to."