Belfast Telegraph

DUP MLA says Queer Ulster LBGT event was 'a disgrace'

By Victoria Leonard and Gareth Cross

DUP MLA Jim Wells has slammed a Stormont LGBTQ event, which was co-sponsored by his party colleague Paula Bradley, as an "utter disgrace" that "brought embarrassment" to the Assembly.

The inaugural Alternative Queer Ulster event on Saturday night saw 22 speakers including drag queens, a HIV victim and members of the trans community call for equality in marriage, healthcare and education in Stormont's Great Hall.

At one point, attendees chanted "DUP change your policies", and MLAs were urged to "come out for marriage equality".

Despite the event being co-sponsored by Ms Bradley and Sinn Fein's Megan Fearon, no representatives from the two main political parties were among the crowd of 200 at the sold-out event.

Of the 90 MLAs invited, only Green MLA and primary sponsor Clare Bailey, outgoing Green Party leader Steven Agnew, Alliance MLA John Blair and UUP MLA Mike Nesbitt attended.

Ahead of its launch, the event was criticised by TUV leader Jim Allister for including drag queen Electra La Cnt as a speaker after she wore a tiara coated with dried HIV-infected blood to Belfast Pride in 2016.

Yesterday, Mr Wells told the Belfast Telegraph that "no MLA should have sponsored or attended the event".

He had the party whip withdrawn in May following criticism of the DUP leadership. During his time as Health Minister, he supported a ban on gay men donating blood here.

All events and tours with hospitality at Parliament Buildings must be sponsored by at least three MLAs to reflect cross-designation support.

Despite Ms Bradley's involvement, Mr Wells said that sponsors "should have withdrawn their support immediately" after Ms La Cnt's participation became clear.

"I have had a lot of people who think that this went too far and that this event should not have been held at the seat of the government of Northern Ireland - it would have been more appropriate in a private venue," he said.

"I believe that once it became apparent on Thursday the nature of the event then sponsorship should have been immediately pulled.

"The event should have been cancelled.

"Sponsors vouch for the conduct of those present and it's a reflection on you.

"This event was tasteless and has brought the Northern Ireland Assembly and Stormont into disrepute. Steps must be taken to prevent a similar type of event taking place in Parliament Buildings again."

During her speech, Ms La Cnt hit out at opposition to the event.

"Those who oppress us are bigots, bigots who refuse to change their mind and instead prefer hate over love and I will not engage with those people any longer," she said.

She added: "Queer Alternative Ulster cannot be hijacked by bigots and it should not be."

Lead event organiser Malachai O'Hara of the Queer Greens told the audience Ms Bradley had taken "a big risk", which should be reciprocated by the LGBTQ community.

He added: "We want a fully-resourced sexual orientation strategy which would systemically address all the inequalities that our community faces. Specific actions around bullying, sexual education in schools, a sexual health strategy which would address the sexual health inequalities, a mental health strategy because our community is disproportionately affected by poor mental health, hate crime review and then obviously marriage.

"In terms of the trans community, we need a gender recognition review and we need more resources and healthcare to enable people to transition.

"I think it's a small minority of political reps who are holding us back, the vast majority have moved on this issue. We want MLAs to come out for change."

Mr O'Hara said he hopes to hold the event annually.

Alliance representative Mr Blair, the first openly gay MLA, said it was "very disappointing" that no DUP or Sinn Fein MLAs were present.

Mr Agnew said it would have been a "tremendous statement" if Arlene Foster had attended the weekend event, but added he was "not surprised" that no one else from the DUP was present.

Former UUP leader Mr Nesbitt, who left the event early due to another engagement, said: "I think Stormont has been a very cold house for LGBTQ people, but it's been a cold house for many people down the years.

"Surely the whole idea 20 years ago was that this was about inclusion and inclusion for everybody. That's why this is a good thing to do at Parliament Buildings."

Commenting on Ms La Cnt's actions at Belfast Pride 2016, Mr Nesbitt said that those who live in a democracy are "going to see and hear things that you don't like, but as long as things are done with a legitimate purpose in a lawful, respectful manner I think that's fine".

Last night the DUP said: "An event held in Parliament Buildings sponsored by the Green Party's Claire Bailey was co-signed by Paula Bradley in her own capacity and not on behalf of the party. Paula had not been fully briefed on the event and who was participating.

"We stand by our position on marriage. Comments about the DUP at the event do little to show respect to the people in Northern Ireland who vote DUP and do not want marriage redefined."

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