There are 2 undeniable facts that must be considered during any debate about the importance of Pride:
- Homophobia is prevalent in society.
- Heterophobia is not.
At the root of that is that our society still tolerates, to an unacceptable extent, discrimination in many forms against people based purely on their sexuality. Now clearly, society is far more advanced in it's tolerance than it was 30 or 40 years ago. Excellent, but it's not good enough. Yes, homosexuality is now legal but it's less than 30 years since that was the case in Northern Ireland. Some of the most vociferous opponents of that law are still politically active today. Consider that: right now, we have representatives and people shaping the political landscape in this country who wanted (and presumably still do) to ensure that gay people are criminals by definition.
Considering the above, it came as no surprise that the DUP have once again, shown what many believe to be their true colours regarding LGBT issues. Asked to attend 'Pride on the Hill' - an opportunity for political reps to engage with LGBT constituents and representatives - the DUP declined, rather predictably. The excuse was that not enough notice was given. That's nonsense. They have known for a year the event would happen. The date for the event was set weeks ago, and the DUP declared they wouldn't attend in advance of an invitation.
Fortunately, Jim Wells MLA was prepared to reveal the real reason for the DUP's non attendance. In a text message to one of the organisers of Belfast Pride, he declared that he found those taking part as 'repugnant'. When someone of Wells stature - he is to be the next Health Minister - says something like that, the devil's advocate in me goes looking for the mitigating circumstance that led to such a thing. In this case, there is none. Offered countless opportunities to clarify or retract his statement, he did neither.
For many of us, this was merely a slight glimpse of the beliefs that many in the DUP hold. While there is no doubt that the party and it's public representatives are now far more careful when talking about Homosexuality, the underlying message is clear to those who pay attention: Homosexuality is wrong. Repugnant, even. Of course this is no surprise considering the past form of the party that wanted to 'save Ulster from sodomy' and in 2007 returned an MP to parliament (Iris Robinson) who felt that homosexuality was a worse sin than sexually abusing children.
Northern Ireland is, I'm afraid, well behind the times in driving homophobia from society. Iris Robinson would never have been elected in England with those views. Jim Wells would never get anywhere close to front bench politics having said what he said. For evidence of that, look to Jim Grayling who was denied a cabinet role because he supported the view that B&B owners should be able to refuse people on the grounds of sexuality.
Much of this latent homophobia in Northern Ireland is because of the strength of Christianity here. Our government is almost exclusively Christian. The same can be said for Westminster of course, but here they pay a little more attention to it (though only when it suits, of course). When challenged on homophobia, those who practice it will point to their faith as a defence. Well, this is where their argument really falls down because how can something be wrong if God created people that way? "But he didn't!" they cry, "it's a lifestyle choice!".
Well, if they can't be convinced, even in the face of overwhelming evidence pointing to sexuality being a genetic issue and not a lifestyle one, then we are never going to convince them. What is ironic though is that those who point to the fact that science has yet to prove, beyond all doubt, that sexuality is genetic, as evidence that it isn't, are the same people who place their faith in a God that science can not prove exists. That's an astonishing amount of inconsistency right there. It's almost as if they're picking and choosing factors that only support their view.
Belfast Pride is essential in countering such homophobia. It is about making people understand that sexuality is irrelevant in society. That is why Pride is inclusive. This is not just an issue for LGBT people, but for all of us. It is essential that ALL of society stands up and says we won't tolerate our fellow citizens suffering prejudice or discrimination because of their sexuality. It is about showing those who continue to practice homophobia that they are the abnormal ones, they are the ones with issues and they are the ones who need to change.
At some point I hope that Belfast Pride becomes utterly redundant because then it will truly have achieved it's aim.