This week marks, we hope, a significant change within the DUP. We welcome the apologies but now we must see action to tackle the significant inequalities and discrimination that still face the LGBTQIA+ community.
We recognise that for many these apologies do not go far enough — the hurt and harm caused to LGBTQIA+ people in Northern Ireland by the actions and words of DUP representatives is felt by many across our community. It is imperative that those within the DUP, and particularly its leadership, reflect upon its actions and rhetoric and seek to address and take accountability for the decades of trauma they have inflicted against our community.
For over 50 years the DUP has stood in opposition and actively sought to stop every step towards LGBTQIA+ equality whether it be decriminalisation, age of consent or equal marriage.
There are many examples that I could list of high-ranking DUP politicians making outrageous and offensive comments about the LGBTQIA+ community. Our relationships have been called immoral, offensive and obnoxious. Its representatives said they were repulsed by gay people or that members of our community were akin to child abusers.
Some even went so far to say we are in need or a cure or a fix, and that we should go see “a very lovely psychiatrist”
Time and time again the Northern Ireland Assembly has consistently failed to ensure equality and equity for the LGBTQIA+ community and the DUP has been a barrier to change. But with support from Westminster, and sometimes the courts, we have achieved significant change on these islands in legislation around equal marriage, adoption rights and the lifting of the ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood.
On many of those campaigns, such as Love Equality, it was the people of Northern Ireland who said very clearly that they wanted to see change —they stood with us at rallies, they campaigned and lobbied their MPs and MLAs.
Over recent months we have seen shift in faith organisations across the UK, who are recognising the positive aspect of inclusion of LGBTQIA+ and their families by affirming their value and worth of their relationships by providing services.
But many LGBTQIA+ people of faith are still denied the option to have their relationship and commitment recognised by their church. We want to move toward creating a more inclusive and equal place to live for all of us. We hope that Sir Jeffrey Donaldson will meet with the LGBTQIA+ community and show leadership in working with us to tackle the significant inequalities that still affect us — issues around healthcare, access to services, that our identities, our families and our relationships be respected.
Apologies are important, but action mean so much more.
Aisling Twomey is policy and advocacy manager with The Rainbow Project