LGBTQ Stormont event: Speakers lay bare their stories of depression and isolation
It was the most excitement that Stormont had seen in a year and a half. At the foot of the stairs in the Great Hall, where the public has become accustomed to politicians and their official statements, was instead an exuberant mix of sequins, bouffant wigs and elaborate eyeshadow.
Beneath the stern gaze of James Craig's statue, it felt like the kids had broken into school in the summer holidays to throw an illicit rave. The Great Hall echoed to guffaws as drag queen Rose Tralee, aka Patrick Scullion, said she was "so thrilled to speak at Stormont, once the seat of democracy in the North of Ireland, now best known for playing the Republic of Gilead in The Handmaid's Tale".
And in a blatant broadside, writer Vincent Creelan recited his poem "Living with Dinosaurs".
But beneath the veneer of glitter and humour lay true poignancy, as stories of bullying, depression and discrimination emerged.
One by one, the 22 speakers bravely took to the stage to bare their souls.
Christian Ryan McMillan said he wanted to "address Arlene and members of the DUP and members of the LGBT+ community, my community".
He stated: "I shared your deeply-held religious beliefs for 24 years. Knowing that I was gay since early childhood, I believed God thought that I was an abomination.
"It was respect for those beliefs that drew me into 15 years of depression, isolation and fear, praying to God to end my life rather than endure the agony of a half-lived life torn between God and my true self".
He revealed that he came out three years ago not "because I wanted to, but because it was either come out, or commit suicide".
Now a member of LGBT+ Christian fellowship Spectrum, he said he has seen "LGBT people whose lives have been transformed by realising they don't have to make a choice between God and their sexuality and their gender identity."
He added: "Stop using your faith as a weapon against my community, for your faith is my faith, and my community is your community.
Gavin Armstrong revealed how his HIV diagnosis almost led him to take his own life.
"There are people living with HIV in every town and village in this sorry little place that we call home," he stated.
"HIV is not a self-inflicted disease, ignorance and prejudice are."
Bullying victim Anthony Flynn recalled how, as a child, he was repeatedly slapped on the head by his classmates "just because I was camp and an easy target".
He called for action to address the bullying of LGBT+ students in Northern Ireland's schools, slamming the Addressing Bullying in Schools Act (Northern Ireland) 2016 as "toothless and lacklustre in its approach, especially when tackling LGBT bullying".
Speaker Stevie Donnan said he was "never ashamed of being a Unionist," but has been "deeply ashamed of Unionism."
"Save Ulster from hypocrisy," he stated.
"Save Ulster from animosity and give Ulster equality."
The event's primary sponsor, Green MLA Clare Bailey, said it had been "very emotional".
"They might be hard to listen to, but we need to have space for these conversations," she said.
"This is about empowering the community.
"Here's hoping that this is a war cry from the LGBT community."