The DUP is expected to be the only major Stormont party not to send its leader to an LGBTQ+ event on Wednesday.
Representatives from each of Northern Ireland’s five main parties will take part in the summer reception hosted by PinkNews, a UK-based online newspaper marketed to the local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, at Stormont.
Michelle O’Neill, deputy vice president of Sinn Fein and leader of the party in Northern Ireland, will join the Alliance Party’s Naomi Long, SDLP’s Colum Eastwood and Ulster Unionist Doug Beattie – all leaders of their own parties – alongside DUP South Antrim MLA, Pam Cameron, at the two-hour conference in Belfast’s Parliament Buildings.
The DUP’s Sir Jeffrey Donaldson appears to be the only party leader to not attend the panel.
Former DUP leader Arlene Foster was at the event in 2018, but there was some criticism when she used her speech to defend her party’s stance on same-sex marriage
Ahead of the recent Assembly elections, an article published by PinkNews remarked that “a Sinn Fein victory in Northern Ireland could spell much-needed change for the LGBTQ+ community”.
Sinn Fein of course did go on to win the most seats at the election for the first time in Northern Ireland’s history, and the piece noted that “the DUP’s decline probably doesn’t have much to do with the party’s staunch opposition to LGBTQ+ rights – it’s likely more to do with the Northern Irish protocol and Brexit – but the result could still have a positive impact on queer people”.
It added that the party has done “little to win support” from the queer community since it was founded by Ian Paisley in 1971, with the late reverend’s “Save Ulster from Sodomy” campaign arguing that homosexuality should continue to be criminalised because the Bible said it was a sin.
In more recent times, the DUP has been seen attempting to make amends, with deputy leader Paula Bradley remarking last week that some of the things said by party colleagues in the past had been "absolutely atrocious".
The former North Belfast MLA made the comments during an online event which was also hosted by PinkNews and she added that previous views from her party members "fed into the hatred" endured by LGBT people.
Sir Jeffrey backed Ms Bradley's apology during an appearance on the BBC's Good Morning Ulster programme on Friday.
However, former DUP politician Jim Wells responded that "the vast majority of comments that have been made by public representatives of the Democratic Unionist Party on this issue have been measured, they have been sensible and they have been reflective of the views of a large number of people in Northern Ireland”.
He said he did not believe Ms Bradley was speaking for the whole of the party and insisted that he himself “had nothing to apologise for”.
Wednesday’s PinkNews summer reception will see party representatives joined by speeches from the organisation’s CEO, Benjamin Cohen, partners of the reception CitiBank and charity partner The Rainbow Project, which promotes the health and wellbeing of the LGBT people and their families in Northern Ireland.