Belfast Telegraph

I wanted to send a clear message we are all somebody's child: Arlene Foster speaks at LGBT+ event

By Michael Sheils McNamee

DUP leader Arlene Foster has spoken at a LGBT+ event at Stormont.

Mrs Foster's address at the PinkNews reception in Northern Ireland's Executive building on Thursday marks what is believed to be the first time a leader of the DUP has attended an LGBT+-focused event. 

The DUP leader said by appearing at the event she wanted to "send a clear message from this event that we are all someone’s child, and we are all part of this wonderful place we call home".

"As a mature democracy we must all enter into a new spirit," she said.

"[Part of that is] understanding that we are not always going to agree, but we should always try to treat each other with good manners and grace."

"We need to be in a space where we accept each other for who we are and we respect people’s conscientious position," she added.

"Sexuality is for each individual. The value of each of us should not be based on whether we are heterosexual or homosexual."

She added that her party's opposition to same-sex marriage did not mean it should not maintain good relations with the LGBT+ community.

Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, UUP leader Robin Swann, and Alliance leader Naomi Long were all also in attendance.

Taking to the stand, UUP leader Robin Swann said much had been made of his traditional background when he became the leader of his party last year.

"This evening let me say - who I am doesn’t mean that I can’t or won’t embrace who you are," he said.

"Life can be difficult enough sometimes.   Yours has wrongly been made harder through prejudice and ignorance.

"It is to all our benefit for Northern Ireland to be a society where everyone can live a full life and feel valued as a member of society."

Sinn Fein's leader in Northern Ireland Michelle O'Neill told the PinkNews reception that a "political blockade" still existed in the Assembly for "true equality for our LGB and T community - but their resistance is not sustainable".

"As legislators we must put citizens’ rights before our personal beliefs in order to fulfil our public duty, and to protect everyone equally before the law," she said.

“This means ending the veto in particular to marriage equality, but it also means addressing issues relating to gender recognition, adoption, transphobic and homophobic bullying, the reporting of domestic violence as well as employment equality."

Her appearance has been welcomed as a progressive step by many, including Conservative cabinet member Lord Duncan of Springbank, who is openly gay and attended Thursday's event, and said it "the beginning, not the end, of a journey".

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