As a gay man in Northern Ireland, I am a second-class citizen in the most Unionist part of the United Kingdomby Stephen Donnan / August 30, 2018 / Leave a comment
By now you’ve probably heard of the DUP—most likely because of their out-of-the-blue Parliamentary deal to save Theresa May’s skin after the 2017 General Election where she managed to snatch Conservative defeat from the jaws of victory. ButBrexit aside, the DUP isn’t really that important to you if you live in London or Aberdeen. They’re just a weird little Northern Irish political party with only ten seats in the House of Commons with some funny views on abortion and gays.
But as a Unionist living in Northern Ireland, and a gay one at that, the DUP is probably the single biggest issue facing me and my community—and have been since time eternal. Originating in 1971 as the brainchild of the late Reverend Ian Paisley, the party has remained closely linked with the Free Presbyterian Church and draws much of its support from a religious, evangelical-fundamentalist base. This is a key point when considering the complete opposition of the party to supporting any progressive legislation for LGB&T people.
They may be new to the consciousness of most Westminster-watchers, but for over twenty years the DUP has been at the helm of political power and legislative control in Northern Ireland. Since 2007, they were the larger partner in the power-sharing Executive with Sinn Féin that spectacularly came crashing down under the leadership of Arlene Foster in January of last year.
Efforts by successive Secretaries of State to reboot that Assembly have failed to get off the ground. No Government has been formed and unable to pass legislation. Legal battles like marriage equality, access to abortion, or a reformed Gender Recognition Act all remain out of reach due to the flatlined Assembly—and a Conservative Government in Westminster that is both apathetic and tied to the puppet strings of the DUP.
As a gay man with a Unionist background, I grew up always being told to support the DUP without question. A vote for the DUP was not necessarily a vote against the extension of reproductive rights to Northern Ireland, nor was it a tactical vote to stop lesbian and gay couples from getting married. To many, it was a vote against a creeping Nationalist boogeyman that was always lurking over the hill, ready to plunder and ruin working-class Protestant communities.
Yet if people didn’t vote in order to stop gay marriage, it was what their votes did in practice. The DUP used Good Friday Agreement mechanisms in the Assembly designed to stop sectarian legislation being passed to stop marriage equality a total of five times—despite a majority of elected reps in the Assembly wishing to do so.
In Westminster, they have opposed every single piece of legislation, whether it would extend to Northern Ireland or not, that would have improved the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender people across the United Kingdom. Gender Recognition, employment protection, hate crime legislation, access to IVF, access to adoption, the ability for gay men to donate blood and the right to marry have all been opposed by the DUP on the green benches.
So what does my Unionism mean, exactly? People like me went from being part of the DUP’s flock to being described as “shamefully wicked and vile” on national, license-fee funded radio. A license fee that I pay.
BBC Northern Ireland and other print media in Northern Ireland continue to give airtime and column inches to Unionist politicians from the DUP and other parties to discuss LGBT people—not in the merits of whether legislation needs to be refined or whether greater funding should be given to LGBT support groups, but whether we deserve to exist at all.
To the DUP and wider Unionism I am not the same as them. When I read these articles, it is clear that they will never want to represent me, or fight my case to be as British as gay men and women in Manchester or Cardiff are entitled to be. I am a second-class citizen in the most Unionist part of the United Kingdom.
In this respect, the DUP is not a Unionist party at all. The U in their name is an anomaly; they have been at the forefront of ensuring that my Britishness is, in fact, eroded by the simple fact that I am Northern Irish. They have stood fast whilst legislation that would have brought Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the United Kingdom passed us by, or was blocked in the Assembly.
While the British media has its eyes trained on Brexit, it is the fate of people like me in NI that has always been, and remains, under threat.