DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) leaders have apologised for the party and its members’ anti-LGBTQI+ prejudice. As a bisexual man, I can safely say they may as well have not bothered.
The DUP: founded in homophobia
The DUP has a long and illustrious history of rampant heterosexism/gaycism (what some people perhaps wrongly call homophobia), prejudice, and incitement of hate. As Bernadette C. Hayes and John Nagle wrote for the London School of Economics (LSE):
What drives the DUP’s anti-gay rights agenda? A credible answer concerns the DUP’s roots as an evangelical Protestant party which frames homosexuality as a sin and an abomination against Biblical scripture.
They noted that:
Most infamously, in 1978, Rev. Ian Paisley, then an MP, collected nearly 70,000 signatures as he led a petition to stop the ending of criminalisation of homosexuality in Northern Ireland – a campaign titled ‘Save Ulster from Sodomy’.
This kind of heterosexism continued over the years. For example, former DUP MP Iris Robinson said in 2008 that LGBTQI+ people can effectively be cured. Oh, and she also compared being LGBTQI+ to child abuse, saying it in parliament.
An ongoing issue
But DUP members being rabid bigots continues to be a reality, as Pink News documented. In 2014, during Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs), Gregory Campbell MP claimed that:
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so-called equality is now being viewed by many as an oppressive threat to religious freedom, and that such freedoms should be protected by the introduction of a conscience clause
Nigel Dodds MP said similar. Campbell’s comments are unsurprising, given he once also said:
I would see homosexuality as something which merited the curse of God.
Clearly, though, the issue of the DUP’s entrenched heterosexism is becoming a problem for the party. Because its leader and deputy have decided to come out (no pun intended) and apologise.
On Thursday 1 July, DUP deputy leader Paula Bradley spoke at a Pink News event. PA reported that she said some of the things said by the party over the past 50 years had been “absolutely atrocious”:
I can certainly say I apologise for what others have said and done in the past, because I do think there have been some very hurtful comments and some language that really should not have been used.
Then, after Bradley’s comments, the new DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson weighed in on the issue. This is the same man who opposed same-sex marriage on the basis that it would lead to incestuous ones. No – really.
‘Sorry if our homophobia offends you’
On Friday 2 July, Donaldson told BBC Radio Ulster he agreed with Bradley. PA reported that he said:
There is no doubt that in the past things have been said that should not have been said across a whole range of issues, and not just by the DUP, I have seen people on marches and at rallies say things about the DUP that have been hurtful to us and our members as well.
I have seen things said about people from faith communities that have been hurtful and should not have been said.
I think it is right to apologise when we have said things that have been hurtful to others.
There are differences in our society, differences and deeply held views on social issues, and what I want to see in Northern Ireland is a discourse that is respectful of difference.
People can hold their sincerely held views without the need to say things that are hurtful to others. We can disagree but we can disagree well.
Where we have said things that have hurt others then it is right that we say sorry for that. Sorry needn’t be the hardest word.
“Sorry” is the only word suitable for Donaldson’s comments; as in, ‘sorry – what…?’ Because it’s clear from what he and Bradley said that the DUP hasn’t changed at all.
A “social issue”?
Being LGBTQI+ isn’t a “social issue”. It’s not something that needs to be debated. Nor is it something where the dividing lines of opinion merit all sides of the argument being heard. Because our sexuality is not a choice (unless you think straight people choose to be that way). It is a fundamental human right and not something that can be turned on and off like tap.
Take the issue of “gay marriage” – or just ‘marriage’ generally if you prefer not to lace your comments with tired tropes. As a bisexual man, the English state allows me to marry my current partner, because she’s a woman. I can also marry a man if I choose to. But if I wanted to live in the north of Ireland, and the DUP had had its way, gay marriage would not have been allowed. So, I could’ve married my female partner – but not a male one.
Why? Obviously I am suddenly less offensive to the DUP as a bisexual man because I’m having sex with a woman.
It’s just prejudice
So there really is nothing to “disagree” about – unless you are heterosexist. Using religion as an excuse for your prejudice just doesn’t cut it. My mother, a devout Christian, welcomed my previous male long-term partner into her life like a second son.
The DUP is institutionally bigoted, end of. Bradley and Donaldson can espouse hollow platitudes as much as they want. But unless the party’s members and MPs have all suddenly seen the light, then little will have changed. If the north of Ireland wishes to be a truly progressive country, then these bigots need to be rooted from power and work done to change the views of some of their supporters. Anything else is just lip service.
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