Gay Ulster Unionist volunteer quits party in disgust until pact with DUP has run its course
A gay Ulster Unionist worker has left the party over its pact with the DUP.
The ex-RUC man said he would send off an application to rejoin as soon as the pact ends after this Thursday's Westminster vote.
The man, who asked to be referred to by the pseudonym 'Sam', is well-known in Belfast UUP circles. He works voluntarily in the office of Belfast councillor Chris McGimpsey.
He fears if his name is published his three children, still at school in a rural part of Northern Ireland, would be teased or bullied.
He gives a vivid account of the strain of concealing his homosexuality in the loyalist community. He is from a strong military family: his grandfather was killed with old UVF colleagues in the Ulster Division in the First World War and he is a former Orangeman.
"I couldn't stay in the party during the pact because I don't class the DUP as being a British unionist party," he said.
"To me they are an Ulster nationalistic party. I remember their Save Ulster From Sodomy Campaign, calling for people to be imprisoned, when that wouldn't happen anywhere else in the UK. From dealings I have with the DUP, many of them detest gays," he said.
However, he did not tar everyone with the same brush.
"A few are OK," he conceded. "Attitudes are changing."
The DUP and UUP agreed a pact on four Westminster seats this Thursday, deciding that just one unionist candidate would run in each.
When Sam resigned from the party he did so by writing to councillor Jeff Dudgeon, who is a gay UUP councillor. Mr Dudgeon brought a case to Europe which succeeded in having homosexuality legalised here in 1981.
After resigning he was asked to join the Tories or Ukip, but decided not to after meeting the party leader.
"Mike (Nesbitt) emailed me soon after I resigned, saying he would like to meet me in person if I was prepared to meet him. I asked him if it would be OK to bring my partner Jim (not his real name), and he had no problem whatsover," Sam stated.
The meeting, in the Stormont Hotel, lasted an hour-and-a-half. Mr Nesbitt talked the two men through the negotiations that led to the pact and, although he didn't agree with it, Sam decided to rejoin the party once it ended on election day.
"Jim was born a Catholic, but like me doesn't practise any religion now," he explained.
"He was so impressed by what Mike had to say that he says he will now vote Ulster Unionist."
Mr Nesbitt confirmed the meeting had taken place. He described Sam "as a great guy".
"He has been very supportive of my leadership. It was a pleasure as well as a duty to meet him and listen to his concerns. I am delighted he is coming back. We didn't want to lose him. He is a great party activist," the party leader said.
Another strong supporter of gay rights in the UUP is Captain Doug Beattie, a Portadown councillor who was decorated in Iraq.
"I am a strong advocate of gay rights and I support equal marriage too," he said.