Tweet suggests LGBT people may finally have a friend within DUP
Over the years I've had plenty of rows on Twitter with evangelical Christians and DUP members, mostly about marriage equality. I've written heated words in this very newspaper. The one thing I've learned is that you can't shift people from their positions by shouting at them. I've tried. It. Does. Not. Work.
I've yet to hear someone say: "Wow, that guy on the internet called me an a**hole and now I accept he was totally right and I was wrong!" If anything, the rhetoric of the internet - divisive, bitter, nasty - hardens people and makes them stick to their position even more firmly.
Equally, I've seen how conversations can force people to go on journeys. Maybe someone in their family comes out as gay; maybe they meet a gay person and become friends with them. Somewhere along the way empathy makes it impossible to hold on to the beliefs they previously held about LGBTQ people. These journeys always start with a baby step. So I welcomed the tweet from the DUP's MP for South Belfast Emma Little Pengelly wishing the LGBT community a happy Pride on Saturday.
Some said it was a cynical move. Others said it wasn't enough, given the DUP's record on LGBTQ rights. I saw something different. I saw someone who has probably been quietly having conversations with LGBT people and their allies, and is starting to change their mind - or perhaps has changed it already. To me, Emma's tweet was brave. She is in a party ruled by the evangelical right; they will be sharpening their knives for her as I write. Yet she hit the send button anyways, when it would have been safer for her to say nothing.
Many equal marriage supporters think that if we can simply drive away the DUP the equal marriage vote will pass. It probably will - for the moment. The problem with progress, though, is it can be undone in an instant. Look at what is currently happening to trans-people in Trump's America.
The rights that LGBTQ Americans believed had been fought for and won under the Democrats are now being rolled back by Republicans. To make progress permanent we need to win the hearts and minds of those who oppose us, otherwise our rights will depend on the electoral fortunes of the politicians that support us. The minute they lose, we lose - and what we lose will be much bigger than an election.
Winning the hearts and minds of our enemies means allowing them to come down from the positions they previously held. Trevor Lunn of the Alliance Party did not support equal marriage. Yet, as he wrote in this newspaper, he reached a point where he could no longer reconcile that position with evidence. We shouldn't berate him for not joining us quickly enough; we should be grateful that he was brave enough to change his mind.
Arlene Foster does not give a damn what lefty liberals on the internet think. She does, however, care what her party members and voters think. We need allies within the DUP - people who will pressure the party to change and advocate on our behalf.
We need people like Stuart Hughes, a young, heterosexual UUP activist who has fought with his party colleagues and tried to persuade them to back equal marriage.
The only people who can change the DUP's stance are its members and voters. I believe people can change. I don't know for certain that Emma is going on the journey that Trevor did, but I hope she is and that, one day, she'll publicly declare that she's had the same change of heart.