Belfast Pride: Persuasion can lead to equality
This week sees the launch of Belfast Pride, the festival celebrating the local LGBT community. Marking the 25th anniversary of the first Belfast Pride parade, it is an opportunity to take this year's festival theme about building equality and really make it mean something.
It is the perfect time to do it. Earlier this year we saw an overwhelming majority of voters back equal marriage in the Republic of Ireland. It was a wonderful moment, but it is important we send out a message that the same view exists for the majority of people in Northern Ireland.
That is not to say we need to ignore or shout down those with opposing viewpoints. Indeed, much groundwork is needed to convince people of the argument - including some within my own party.
We need to create a situation where people who hold opposing views towards the issue of equal marriage can be convinced on its merits, not just cajoled into going along with it. After all, many of the biggest advocates of the subject began as vocal opponents to it.
Alliance is committed to doing the hard work to actually deliver progress rather than grandstanding, or using it as a political football.
Belfast City Council recently backed equal civil marriage with legal protections for faith groups for the first time, following an Alliance motion. It was an important signal that the debate is moving on and history is on our side.
We need to continue positively engaging, both with faith groups to ensure legislative protections are upheld, and LGBT people on important topics affecting them, including adoption, blood donation and homophobic bullying in schools.
Sadly, any potential legislation on equal marriage in the Assembly would likely be subject to a petition of concern, but that only highlights that we need to continue working with those with all opinions and bring them onboard.
It is only with dialogue, understanding and mutual respect that we will convince people of the argument. Those cornerstones of democracy are central to our desire to build a shared future for everyone in Northern Ireland.
Belfast Pride is a chance to show those qualities to the world.
- Anna Lo is Alliance MLA for South Belfast