Police officers to join Belfast Pride parade for first time
Police's fight against hate crime to fore during event
Uniformed police officers will take part in Belfast's Gay Pride parade for the first time next Saturday in a bid to stamp out hate crime.
PSNI officers have participated in the annual festival - which kicked off yesterday - for many years, but they have never participated in the main parade in uniform.
Three PSNI Land Rovers, which have been liveried up with anti-hate crime messages, will be operational throughout the 10-day festival, and will also be used at Pride events in Newry and Londonderry. The PSNI has spelt out its message against a rainbow-coloured backdrop: 'Policing with Pride - Hate Crime is Unacceptable - To Stop It, Report It.'
The unprecedented move comes amid increased scrutiny from Britain on LGBT issues in Northern Ireland following the DUP's 'confidence and supply' deal with Theresa May's Conservative Government.
Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris said the festival, which will run through to next Sunday, is important for those in the community who identify as being LGBT.
"The Police Service of Northern Ireland see this as an opportunity not only to show support for these members of our communities, but also to highlight that hate crime, in whatever form, is wrong and the importance of reporting it," he added.
"Hate crime should not be tolerated and victims should be encouraged and feel confident that when they contact police that their concerns will be taken seriously and responded to appropriately."
The PSNI LGBT Network will also be involved in the Pride Picnic, which will start at Belfast City Hall at noon tomorrow.
Policing Board chair Anne Connolly said the board was delighted to support the message of the PSNI during Belfast Pride that any sort of hate crime was wrong.
"It's a very sad reality that homophobic and transphobic hate crime continues to be committed in our society," she said.
"This is not an issue for the police alone to deal with, but as they are often the first point of contact, the message and service provided by the PSNI is critical.
"I welcome the fact that officers will be parading at Pride in their uniform for the first time ever, demonstrating the diversity among PSNI officers and staff and PSNI support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender people across our community."
The announcement comes after a poll by the Economic and Social Research Council suggested social attitudes here were changing.
It showed that 44% of DUP voters support same-sex marriage, with 14% still on the fence.