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Gay rights activist brands Arlene Foster as ‘false’

Stephen Birkett.

A GAY rights campaigner from Strabane has said the DUP leader’s speech at LGBTQ event in Stormont was both “hollow” and “false”.

Stephen Birkett said he was initially optimistic when Arlene Foster decided to attend the Pink News occasion but because there was no acknowledgement of the hurt caused to the gay community by comments from DUP members over the years, he was ultimately left disappointed.

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Speaking after the event earlier this month Arlene Foster said that an apology to the LGBTQ community would not be “fruitful for anyone”.

“There was no acknowledgement of the hurt that the DUP and their allies have caused us over the last 40 years and Foster confirmed her opposition to same sex marriage,” Stephen Birkett explained.

“In a futile attempt to sound unprejudiced, she said that some of the brightest and best in NI were LGBT – which is true – and that she valued LGBT people as citizens of Northern Ireland – I do not believe her. If the language the DUP have used about us in the recent past is them valuing us, I dread to think what language they use about people they don’t value.”

In a comprehensive missive to this newspaper (see page 12 for full letter) Mr Birkett used several examples of DUP members referring to LGBTQ as immoral, offensive and obnoxious.

Prior to the event at Stormont, local DUP members would not be drawn on their leader’s attendance. 

Castlederg DUP councillor Thomas Kerrigan previously blasted homosexuality as “sinful” and said it could be cured through the power of prayer. 

However when contacted by this newspaper Cllr Kerrigan said he had “no thoughts” on Mrs Foster going at the Pink News event. “I don’t know the background and really have no comments,” the councillor said. “None of my colleagues have brought it up and I have heard no comments on it back home, nor do I know the party’s official thoughts.

“Perhaps headquarters could provide more information.”

Stephen Birkett continued, “Are these people going to suddenly start respecting us? I don’t think so. You can bet that there will be a group of DUP supporters standing at the Waterside Station at Foyle Pride in August respecting us with their banner, ‘Homosexuality is Sin.’”

He continued, “By repeatedly employing homophobic, dehumanising language the DUP has been able justify to themselves denying same sex couples the right to marry. 
 
“Despite the Stormont administration undertaking to develop a sexual orientation strategy in 2006, 12 years later they have been able to avoid addressing issues like homophobic bullying and LGBTQ education in schools. 

“Only this week the Minister for Children in the Irish Republic revealed their LGBT+ strategy which will be implemented and it goes much further than our stalled version.

“It’s good that the DUP felt obliged to make some gesture to the LGBTQ community but I found what Foster said hollow and false.”
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The Strabane Chronicle is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
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