DUP leader Arlene Foster to attend first LGBT event

DUP leader Arlene Foster. Credit: PA

DUP leader Arlene Foster has said she will attend an LGBT event in Belfast “to recognise the reality of diversity among our citizens”.

PinkNews is holding a reception at Stormont on 28 June and organisers say Mrs Foster’s decision to attend represents an important step towards dialogue.

Northern Ireland is still the only part of the UK and Ireland where same-sex marriage is not available.

Change is strongly opposed by the DUP, with the party arguing that civil partnerships are already available and that marriage should be exclusively between a man and a woman.

Just because we disagree on marriage does not mean that I can’t say that we value those who are LGBT in our society and they should not be the subject of hate because of their sexuality.

Arlene Foster, DUP leader

Mrs Foster said: “I believe I can hold to my principled position, particularly in reality to the definition of marriage, whilst respecting the diversity across our society and recognising that sexuality is a matter for the individual.

“All I ask in return is that my, and our views, are also respected and not the subject of the vilest of abuse - as has sometimes been the case by a small minority.”

The DUP leader said her party was not changing its position on marriage, but that reaching out to acknowledge the contribution made by a section of the community.

The decision by Arlene Foster to attend the first PinkNews event in Belfast is an important step towards encouraging a dialogue in Northern Ireland, and we’re delighted that there will be a number of other senior cross-party representatives attending and speaking.

Benjamin Cohen, PinkNews

“We must be inclusive and welcome all, recognising they bring added value to a broader and greater overall sum,” Mrs Foster said.

“I want to genuinely reach out to our minority communities and show them the hand of friendship, recognising they have made Northern Ireland their home.

“If we truly believe in equality of opportunity for all in Northern Ireland, then we must respectfully engage and reach out to those who perhaps have not always been respectful of our position. We do so from a position of strength.”

John O’Doherty, director of the Rainbow Project in Belfast which campaigns on same-sex issues, said: “While I and many in our community have been hurt by comments and actions by members of the DUP over many years, the only way we can achieve a Northern Ireland that is welcoming of all people is through dialogue, learning and of course listening.”

Mrs Foster has, in recent days, met with members of the Muslim community and Fermanagh GAA as part of a series of gestures aimed towards greater inclusivity.