Arlene Foster to meet members of LGBT community in landmark move
DUP leader to attend event at Stormont this month
Arlene Foster will attend a Stormont event this month to recognise the LGBT community's contribution to Northern Ireland.
The DUP leader said her party was still maintaining its opposition to same-sex marriage, but she wanted to reach out to acknowledge what the LGBT community had contributed to society and "to recognise the reality of diversity among our citizens".
She revealed her intentions in a speech to the DUP executive last Thursday, a copy of which has been obtained by the Belfast Telegraph.
Mrs Foster has been invited to the LGBT event by one of Northern Ireland's largest inward investors.
"I believe I can hold to my principled position, particularly in reality to the definition of marriage, while respecting the diversity across our society and recognising that sexuality is a matter for the individual," she told party members.
"All I ask in return is that my, and our views, are also respected and not the subject of the vilest of abuse as has sometimes been the case by a small minority.
"Just because we disagree on marriage does not mean that I can't say that we value those who are LGBT in our society, and they should not be the subject of hate because of their sexuality."
She claimed that people who didn't traditionally vote DUP were now considering doing so.
"Roman Catholics, Irish speakers and yes, those who are gay and lesbian - I know because I have met people from all of these groups who vote DUP," she said.
The DUP leader insisted that unionism needed to be welcoming. "Being Irish in the UK must be as valid an identity as being Scottish or Welsh, or Indian or Latvian. We have everything to gain from respecting cultural difference and we must set an example," she said.
It was in unionism's interests that people from all backgrounds felt comfortable in Northern Ireland, she maintained.
"Poll after poll, survey after survey, demonstrate that many who support nationalist parties would not contemplate voting to leave the Union," she said.
"The surest way to cement the Union is for Northern Ireland to be a warm home for everyone.
"We have a reputation for being the kindest and most welcoming people in the world.
"Yet, sometimes not always to those who live in the next street.
"I want to be a leader who reaches out to promote the value - and values - of the Union."
Mrs Foster said that in coming weeks and months the DUP must "re-engage and re-energise our people, and yes we must take our message to places that perhaps may not be traditional to our cause".
She said: "I want to genuinely reach out to our minority communities and show them the hand of friendship, recognising they have made Northern Ireland their home.
"If we truly believe in equality of opportunity for all in Northern Ireland, then we must respectfully engage and reach out to those who perhaps have not always been respectful of our position. We do so from a position of strength."
Mrs Foster said that often in the past year she had felt that the perception of unionists had "not been the reality of where we stand". Unionists now had the opportunity to "shape the future with a generosity of spirit".
She said representing Northern Ireland overseas had been "the greatest privilege" of her life. She spoke of her work promoting the economy with the late Martin McGuinness "who I believe also wanted to grow our economy and boost the well-being of our people".
The DUP accepted it could govern only if it was able to reach agreement with nationalist and republican politicians, Mrs Foster said.
"Sinn Fein also have to accept that partnership government can only operate by accepting and working with unionists and we will only reach agreement when it is a fair and balanced package," she added.
"We're willing to work in partnership but it cannot be on the basis of stop/start government."