Belfast Pride: repugnant or still needed after all these years?

The fact that Jim Wells MLA apparently finds me and other participants in the Belfast Pride parade “repugnant” would cause me scarcely a thought if he were not the Deputy Chairperson of the Health Committee at the Asssembly and scheduled by Peter Robinson to take over as Minister for Health in 2013.

As reported by the Irish News today (subscription required), in a text message to Pride organiser Simon Rea, Mr Wells – in rejecting an invitation to take part in the Pride political panel discussion, which took place yesterday (as previously blogged by Mick) – noted:

Dear Mr Rea, I understand that you contacted my Kilkeel office regarding what is termed a ‘Belfast Pride’ debate. I find the behaviour of those who take part in this march repugnant. I do not wish to be associated in any way with this event. My position on this will not change in the future and I would politely suggest that any further requests of this nature will be a total waste of your time. Jim Wells

Given the serious health and social services issues which relate to sexual orientation – suicide, self-harm, sexual health, adoption, etc – the unwillingness of Jim Wells (or other DUP members) to engage in this debate and, apparently, to regard the Pride parade participants as “repugnant”, is extremely worrying and requires a serious response from the party.

Two years ago I challenged the DUP to take part in the annual Pride political debate, saying: “If the DUP want to be taken seriously on equality, then they need to prove themselves to the whole community.”

As Mick has noted, they’ve failed again this year. The challenge remains.

I’ve been taking part in the Belfast Pride parade since 1997. I’ll be there again on Saturday, highlighting the need for Pride participants to stand up not just for their rights, but also the rights of gay people in other countries where sexual orientation can mean outright discrimination, persecution, imprisonment and even death.

For the sixth year in a row the Moscow authorities refused permission for Moscow Pride.

In January Ugandan LGBT gay rights activist David Kato was murdered.

In May in Mexico, Pride organiser Quetzalcoatl Leija Herrera was also murdered, again in an apparent homophobic attack.

In countries like Cameroon, homosexuality itself is a crime. Jean-Claude Roger Mbede is serving three years in prison after he was found guilty of homosexuality and ‘attempted homosexuality’ in April 2011. (You can write to the President Paul Biya about the case here.)

Pride is still needed and will be for just exactly as long as we have people in positions of power who regard the behaviour of its participants as repugnant.

See some of you on Saturday?