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DUP minister defends £3,500 grant to festival which showed play of Jesus as transgender

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 23/11/2015

The Gospel of Jesus, Queen of Heaven on stage
The Gospel of Jesus, Queen of Heaven on stage
DUP minister Mervyn Storey

A DUP minister has defended a grant awarded to a festival that screened a play portraying Jesus as a transgender woman.

The Gospel of Jesus Queen of Heaven was part of the Outburst Queer Arts Festival.

The festival was financially supported by the Department for Social Development, and received £3,500.

Social Development Minister Mervyn Storey is a member of Caleb, a small Biblical fundamentalist pressure group.

Responding to a question from TUV leader Jim Allister, Mr Storey defended the decision to award funding.

Mr Storey said the grant was not specific to any event at the festival.

Mr Allister had asked the minister for his assessment of the use of departmental funds for the festival. He said it was wrong that public money had been used to help screen the play.

"This play was offensive to many because of its blasphemous content," Mr Allister said.

"To me this is an inappropriate use of public funds."

Mr Storey said: "The Outburst Arts Festival made an application for funding from the Belfast City Centre event grant scheme for a festival that is running from November 13 to 21, 2015 with events taking place in various venues across the city.

"The application was assessed by departmental officials against set criteria and an offer of funding was made.

"The grant was not specific to any particular event within the festival programme."

However, Mr Allister questioned how the allocation of funds squared with Mr Storey's religious beliefs.

"I do note this is money from a department which Mr Storey is the minister of," he added.

"I would have thought given his perception of these matters that he may have been a little more concerned than his answer suggests. He would certainly express views which wouldn't sit comfortably with payment from his department going to matters as offensive to many as this."

The play was screened last Sunday in Belfast.

Created by Jo Clifford, who is a practising Christian, it depicts Jesus as a transgender woman coming back into modern day society.

Protesters mounted a picket in Belfast when it was played recently at The Black Box theatre.

The event, which involved a showing of a recording of a previous performance, went ahead despite some calls for it to be cancelled.

Organisers said the event was sold out.

Most protesters were from the Irish Society for Christian Civilisation and several wore red capes as they stood in front of a banner which read: 'Enough is Enough. Stop blaspheming Our Lord Jesus Christ'.

On its website, the Christian organisation described the play as blasphemous and added: "Just the title should fill us with indignation."

But its writer hit back, saying criticisms of the play invariably come from people who had never seen it.

Jo Clifford said: "The play imagines a transgender Jesus coming back to the world today. She pitches a sermon and tells a few very familiar gospel stories."

Previously DSD allocated £4,500 to the Outburst Queer Arts Festival in 2013/14 and 2014/15.

In a previous Assembly question Mr Allister established that DSD had spent more than £230,000 on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups since May 2011.

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