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Free Presbyterians stage protest against first rural pride parade in Northern Ireland

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The Mid Ulster Gay Pride launch in Cookstown. Credit: Mid Ulster Pride

The Mid Ulster Gay Pride launch in Cookstown. Credit: Mid Ulster Pride

The Mid Ulster Gay Pride launch in Cookstown. Credit: Mid Ulster Pride

Free Presbyterians held a protest against the first rural LGBT pride parade to be held in Northern Ireland. 

Around 80 protesters gathered outside the Royal Hotel in Cookstown on Thursday evening when Mid Ulster Pride announced plans for a "Blessed are the Queer" conference on April 1.

Mid Ulster Pride has also organised a pride parade in Cookstown on June 13. It is billed as being the first of its kind in a rural area of Northern Ireland.

Free Presbyterian minister Rev Marcus Lecky from Coalisland called for opposition to the parade through "prayer and other lawful and peaceful methods".

Protesters held placards carrying scripture about homosexuality, the "true" meaning of love, the gospel message and the "love of God towards sinners".

On a social media post Rev Lecky said: "A sad, stark and significant choice has been forced upon the people of Mid Ulster; will they accept and perhaps even support the reported forthcoming ‘Rural Pride’ event, or will they follow the teachings of Jesus Christ?"

He added: "The very last thing that Mid Ulster needs is more "Pride"....Mid Ulster cannot afford to brazenly parade the sin of homosexuality through its streets in this proposed ‘Pride’ event."

Louise Taylor, from Mid Ulster Pride, said that one protester who spoke at the event told those present that homosexuality was wrong.

"It takes a lot to get the LGBTQ community to engage publicly in rural areas and as the wellbeing officer of Mid Ulster Pride my concerns were with regards to their mental and emotional safety," she said.

"This community has been oppressed and repressed for a long time as a result of spiritual abuse and they need to be protected by those who try and control and condemn them by trying to shame them for being who they are.

"Whilst we respect all opinions and beliefs, to infiltrate our event and target young people was unacceptable. We hope there were lessons learnt by these individuals last night and we hope in future they will adopt more peaceful and respectful forms of protest."

Two high profile speakers from Presbyterian Church in Ireland are due to speak at the conference in April.

Professor Laurence Kirkpatrick, a former lecturer at the church's Theologicall Training College in Belfast, and Rev Cheryl Meban, a Presbyterian Chaplain at the University of Ulster, are speaking at the conference.

Mr Kirkpatrick was dismissed from the training college in 2018 after saying he would be "horrified" if a student at the college was taught that a same-sex marriage was sinful.

"I am coming along to speak about fundamentalism in our country and the view that is taken," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"I think we are in 2020 and we have got to move on.

"I am coming from what was the Queen's University equality and diversity policy, which is to treat everyone - no matter what they believe or practice - with the same dignity and respect. It is as simple as that."

"This is highly emotive for some people. It comes down to whether you take the Bible absolutely literally.

"You can take a verse from Leviticus that says that this (same-sex relationships) is an abomination and they should be stoned to death.

"The Free Presbyterians doesn't take that literally but they are highly condemnatory of what the law of the land is now.

"That is their right but why are they protesting against what other people think?"

Steven Smyrl, who was dismissed as an elder from the Presbyterian Church because he is in a same-sex marriage, said: "I’m very pleased to hear that Rev Cheryl Meban in speaking at the event.

"Too many ministers in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) believe that as the official church policy is not to recognise same-sex relationships then they can airbrush LGBT people out of any sort of church identity.

"Denigrating the lives of people who happen to be gay is simply wrong.

"Cheryl and so many others in PCI know that but are just too afraid of the Church House leaders to dare put their head above the parapets. People with the bravery of Cheryl are rare.

"The Free Presbyterians are very welcome to demonstrate, but in doing so should recognise the right of others to do likewise."

Cheryl Meban added: ""As a chaplain, I meet people from all walks of life, with all kinds of experience. I want them to know that God knows them and loves them - and that's why I want to be involved in this event.

"The Gospel is for everybody - not just for people who conveniently fit our ideas of what's normal. "We are all made in God's image." she said.

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