Why ignore the Ulster Unionist councillor who single handedly ended criminalisation of gay men?

Very good piece from Finola Meredith in the Bel Tel at the weekend re the proposal to have a stained glass window in City Hall to celebrate Belfast’s LGBT citizens:

On the surface, then, this looks like a good news story – and a rare moment of forward-thinking in a place known for its backwardness. Poke a little below the shiny, progressive veneer, however, and you soon discover the same old pettiness and point-scoring.

For instance, I was astonished to hear that Campbell and McAllister, as proposers of the motion, did not consult councillor Jeff Dudgeon of the Ulster Unionist Party about their idea for a permanent tribute at City Hall to the LGBT community.

Have they forgotten who Dudgeon is? This is the man who took the UK Government to the European Court of Human Rights over its continued criminalisation of gay men – and won.

As a result the law in Northern Ireland was changed in 1982.

This was, and remains, a victory of great significance. It was the first ECHR case to be decided in favour of LGBT rights and it continues to form the basis of European law for all member states.

So the failure to consult Dudgeon on the plan is a bit like not asking the late Rosa Parks or the black caucus in Congress about a memorial to the civil rights movement in America. In other words, a glaring omission.

Which makes me wonder what the motivation for the window was in the first place.

She goes on to question the motivation for the joint SF/Alliance party proposal:

Is it really a tribute to gay people in Belfast?

Or is it just another form of virtue-signalling on the part of Sinn Fein and its allies in the Alliance Party? A way to announce how wonderfully principled, morally elevated and open-minded they are, in contrast to their benighted, bigoted enemies?

Belfast in the Seventies and early Eighties was a bleak and bloody enough place – and how much more oppressive it must have been if you happened to be gay.

A temporary exhibition currently on show at the Ulster Museum – Gay Life And Liberation – gives a sense of what life was like for those activists who were brave enough to challenge the law, enduring arrests, threats of exposure, seizing of personal papers.

What struck me most about this exhibition was not the misery of the time, however, but the sense of mutual support, hope and resilience. Photographs of young, smiling faces – out for dinner, sunbathing topless in the park, posing with broad grins in front of a Save Ulster From Sodomy poster.

But where were Sinn Fein – and indeed the Alliance Party – during the decriminalisation campaign? Did either party lift a finger to help?

Now, I’m not sure how far you can extend the politics of this, because I don’t think Jeffrey was a UUPer back in the early 80s. But he is a sitting councillor, and no one who knows him can doubt his quiet (and undemonstrative) depths of personal courage.


  • David McCann

    A few things on this;

    1) When a motion is proposed at council it typically stands referred to the relevant committee, meaning that only the proposer and seconder get to speak on it. Also Mary-Ellen Campbell is somebody who has broken barriers in her own right.

    2) The motion just said that it would be a good idea to have a window, neither Councillor said what should be included in that window and at the committee Councillors would have a chance to engage in that.

    3) I would have given Jeffrey a call over this, but I don’t think that either Councillor meant anything sinister. Jeffrey has blazed a trail on this in the 1980s and due to his work then, now there are thankfully a diversity of voices on LGBT issues in Belfast.

  • Gaygael

    Disappointing from Meredith again. Maybe she should have spoken to LGBT organisations.

    The LGBT sector and individuals have been working together on this issue for the best part of a year. Kudos to Mary-Ellen for leading this engagement as Deputy Mayor and as David has said, broken barriers herself as the first out Deputy Mayor of the City.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Hits on a great point about virtue signalling; one side of Alliance I find less appealing, I must say. Lecturing some of the liberal people with progressive values who choose to be in the SDLP or UUP for decent reasons is a bit crap really – all a bit Jeremy Corbyn. I’m all for the window by the way, just not the attempt to use these kind of issues for more negative politics (boo sucks we’re more tolerant than you etc). SF we know is an aggressive machine that weaponises “equality” issues for sectarian agitation against the hated unionists. Alliance needs to be careful not to play its game, like it did over flags. Bad error of judgment on process on a sensitive issue imho, notwithstanding the disgraceful treatment some Loyalists meted out to Alliance afterwards.

  • BigDish

    This is a really petty piece. “But where were Sinn Fein – and indeed the Alliance Party – during the decriminalisation campaign? Did either party lift a finger to help?”

    Were SF and the Alliance Party in a position to campaign for much prior to 1982? From a SF perspective, this was in the midst of the hunger strikes but the reality is both were fledgling political parties (SF with a very narrow political agenda back then) compared to where both are today.

  • Gavin Smithson

    Ms Meredith hits the nail on the head. An article of uncomfortable truth for virtue signalling libero-fascists who negate the good that they PURPORT to support by the nefarious ulterior motives that have nothing to do with what they claim to support

    Sinn Fein and their supporters do not care about gay rights. It’s just a stick to prod the unfashionable fundamentalist Christian bear of traditional unionism into making unfashionable and Pavlovian responses which SF use to embarrass Christians in public and abroad

    Look at the SF demographic. It’s the peasantry and inner city. Tell me where else in the world is this demographic known for ‘progressive’ values ?

    Alliance are not doing themselves any favours amongst PUL community. They’re getting into bed with SF once too often and unionists are suspicious of their motives

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Naomi Long is challenged for the leadership by end of 2018. The patience of Alliance’s Christian grassroots is wearing v thin I hear from a reliable source.

  • johnny lately

    Is it not yourself MU that is weaponising the issue of equality for gay rights by reducing it to a sectarian dog fight. The reality is there’s a ever growing gay community growing in this part of the world who are being ignored by elements within unionism and standing up for those ever growing members of our society can hardly be called sectarian unless of course your a paranoid and delusionist
    unionist who believes every issue your political opponents brings into the public spotlight is nothing more than a stick to beat you with.

  • Gavin Smithson

    Can u elaborate and provide evidence if I am wrong as opposed to issuing single word adjectives?

  • Obelisk

    It’s that you make out that LGBT rights is simply a club to beat the Unionist community with rather than something that should stand on it’s own two feet.

    I am a Sinn Fein supporter and for me LGBT rights aren’t an afterthought. I would place a same sex marriage act over an Irish Language Act if I were compelled to make a choice between the two.

    Unionism does itself no favours in the long term by associating with retrograde notions of acceptable sexuality out of step with younger generations and their perceptions.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    “But to my mind the most deserving and obvious candidate for the tribute is sitting right there in the council chamber. A man of principle and conviction, who brought gay freedom to this city : Jeff Dudgeon” Totally Agree ! The True Meaning of Fighting for Equality !

  • Cushy Glen

    Perhaps Jeff is just too exotic for the UUP.
    Apart from being the lead campaigner in the 70’s to decriminalise homosexuality in NI, in his youth Jeff was a civil rights activist, left-wing radical, leading member of the Campaign for Labour Representation in the 70’s & leading light in Bob McCartney’s Campaign for Equal Citizenship in the 80s. He may even have had a flirtation with the British & Irish Communist Organisation (BICO).
    Some of this may account for UUP stalwarts giving Jeff the cold shoulder as much as his courageous stance on gay rights.
    We’re all on a journey. McGuinness wasn’t the only one.

  • Katyusha

    SF we know is an aggressive machine that weaponises “equality” issues for sectarian agitation against the hated unionists.


    Alliance needs to be careful not to play its game, like it did over flags.

    Alliance needs to play its own game and stick to their principles regardless for the threat posed by paranoid, over-sensitive groups of rioters and paramilitaries. Which is exactly what they did on the flags issue. If they’d been playing SF’s game you would have either both flags or no flags.

  • Karl

    The DUP are to be commended for their non virtue signalling approach to this matter.

    Jebus. If you do the right thing you are now accused of deliberately protraying your opponents in a negative light. The world has gone made.

    Virtue signalling cant really be a thing – surely Mick has posted this in error as an April Fools that was too wacky to publish on the correct day?

  • Ryan A

    It’s a stained glass window, not a statue of Bobby Sands. Catch yourself on.

    End of 2018? That’s a lot more time than average for a leadership coup so it sounds to me like that source is a source of one.

  • Granni Trixie

    But you have to ask yourself if JD has self respect why he tolerates being in a party where someone in a leadership role referred to homosexuality as “beastility”. Or that currently de facto it is a cold house for women.

  • Gavin Smithson

    You miss my point. Do you honestly think Adams and his ilk are for gay people? Really?

  • Obelisk

    So you think every single Republican views this as part of a machiavellian plan to undermine Unionism?

    Maybe Gerry does, maybe he doesn’t. But I think the new generation of the Republican leadership such as Michelle O’Neill are behind this one hundred percent.

  • Gaygael

    Michelle O’Neil as Health Minister (finally) moved on the blood ban. She awaited executive approval even though she didn’t need it.
    She didn’t move on PrEP, access to IVF for LGBT women, or a sexual health strategy. If she was behind equality 100% she should have moved.

  • Obelisk

    Then I stand corrected. They can do a better job it appears. I hope in future they do better on this issue.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    I don’t know the answer to that question Granni ! Only Jeff could answer that for you but I would guess because he is a Unionist ?

  • Gaygael

    I think though there is genuine desire for progress on these issues from SF activists and members.

  • DOUG

    To be fair, I saw Gerry Adams speak at a gay rights event in West Belfast around 20 years ago.
    I realise the mid 90’s is fairly recent, but there were older than me there who said similar – that he’d appeared at events and offered support ” years ago “.
    Anecdotal I know.

  • Granni Trixie

    I suppose what I really had in mind was that the culture within political parties, particularly values, can either inhibit or welcome diversity and that the leadership plays a crucial role in effecting change. Hence I Am genuinely curious as to why Jeff opted for UP. Has to be that unionism is most important to him. O well, we’re all a bit condradictory are we not?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Interesting logo but not sure what point you’re trying to make with it? If it’s meant to be evidence of Republicanism’s long commitment to equality, I wasn’t suggesting it has only recently started its doublespeak – it is rather foundational. Irish Republicanism in Northern Ireland has traditionally been characterised by the juxtaposition of soaring egalitarian rhetoric and petty sectarian aggressiveness. That is their main MO after all.

    And what of objections from people like me – actually an Alliance supporter and neither a rioter nor a paramilitary?

  • DP Moran

    What a waste of money. Liberal virtue signalling at its finest.

  • grumpy oul man

    ” SF we know is an aggressive machine that weaponises “equality” issues for sectarian agitation against the hated unionists. Alliance needs to be careful not to play its game”
    is this not just the politics of they said yes so i say no that your coming out with!
    Do you think that if Alliance doesn’t play SFs game then the mobs will attack the Alliance offices and issue death threats to Councillors, maybe try to burn a police constable or two to death.
    So the misjudgment over flags was what,
    Not realizing the the UUP/DUP would produce a leaflet and wind up the mob.
    Or that as a party they decided to keep to the manifesto they got elected on and voted for the same rules that unionists were happy to agree to in Lisburn and in Stormount?
    And this,
    ” notwithstanding the disgraceful treatment some Loyalists meted out to Alliance afterwards.”
    You mean the organised and viscous campaign sometimes openly supported by DUP/UUP members which cost the country millions carried out by people who don’t understand democracy. it was quite a lot of loyalists not some.

  • grumpy oul man

    Wow, a whole first paragraph of pretentious waffle,
    As for your objections, are you a member of the Alliance party,
    Do you even have a vote in Belfast Council elections.
    does the council where you live take my feelings into consideration when voting on something,
    there are several good books on basic democracy, (how it works, who votes where and why) read them and it will explain to you that if you live in London, you have no say in Nottingham council for example.
    Perhaps you could get in touch with your local council and insist the Flag is flown there every day if its that important to you.

  • AntrimGael

    The point of the article was buried amongst the full scale attack on Sinn Fein and Alliance. “Sinn Fein and it’s allies in the Alliance Party” is very ‘flegger’ talk, dangerous rhetoric and the same context used by those who left devices outside Alliance Party offices and threatened them during the ‘fleg’ issue. Very irresponsible article by Meredith.

  • grumpy oul man

    whats a ” libero-fascists ” googled it and there doesn’t seem to be any in all of Google (and it knows everything) did you just make that up,
    got a definition or is it just a way to bad mouth someone, a sort of generic insult for anybody you disapprove of!

  • Gaygael

    Yeah. We should just ignore LGBT people’s contribution to this City and pretend that the only people who ever contributed were straight white middle class protestant men.

  • Zorin001

    I think its one of those new Rightist buzz words like Virtue-Signaling and Snowflake that some like to use as a perjorative and make themselves feel smug.

  • grumpy oul man

    I suspect your right.
    Bit like Libtard.

  • Even a decade ago, Sinn Fein were nowhere to be seen on the issue of gay rights. I always remember the SDLP being present at Belfast gay pride before any other party.

    Sinn Fein are still sandwiching “equality” into every sentence, but marriage equality seems to have dropped off the radar in favour of legacy and irish language.

    A cynic might say marriage equality shouldnt be a Sinn Fein priority. The longer the status quo persists, the longer Sinn Fein can beat Unionism over the head with it, all the while sending Unionists into the embracing arms of Naomi Long. I find it remarkable that Unionism has not woken up to the game that is being played rather successfully against it. I would hope the UUP gets it’s act toghether and provides a more thoughtful and socially progressive alternative for Unionist voters. I fear they can’t make up their mind whether they are a nicer version of the DUP, or the Alliance Party with a constitutional position. Social attitudes are a thousand miles apart between the oldest and youngest generations here. Unless Unionism embraces the nihilistic selfie generation whose political opinions are shaped by slogans crammed into 140 characters, then political Unionism is in trouble.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    UUP peer Lord Bew was also in NICRA and I think was possibly a Marxist at one point early doors. The UUP is quite a broad church

  • Barneyt

    Is it weaponisation or seizing an opportunity? Games or not, it’s a worthwhile exercise as the net result should be more equality. it also exposes just how out of touch some of these highly religious parties are on LGBT issues and if they find more representation within the Alliance so be it. They were in the wrong home anyhow.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    There’s only really it or Alliance or Greens if you’re liberal British in NI, as serious options. UUP is a broad church. The argument for it over Alliance is influencing the UUP can arguably better effect cultural change within wider unionism.

  • Granni Trixie

    But what about people who don’t “feel” Unionist or nationalist…or maybe identify with being Northern Irish. To be in the UUP as far as I can se pe you have to identify solidly as Unionist – and as I say it’s got even more male and I don’t think – apart from Jeff- it would be comfortable being gay. So though I see what you mean, really the sacrifice is asking too much.

  • Barneyt

    I’m not sure I understand your thinking. I know they’ve had to tread carefully of the more progressive and sensitive issues as the catholic electorate was traditionally conservative. SF however spawn from a past that is more likely to support gay rights and and equality issues. I’m not saying they always achieved it many years back but they are firmly attached to this issue now and have evolved over the last 20 years as we all have. The SDLP has not exactly embraced it but again they serve a more conservative nationalist electorate. Anti gay or non pro gay is just not a good SF fit. The DUP are way behind the equality curve and this needs expiring in my view.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Yes, different for them perhaps. I was assuming Jeff felt the Union was important.

  • Katyusha

    You really don’t recognise the emblem or the slogan, MU? It’s only the logo of one of the most significant movements in Irish history, who were the defining feature of one of the most seminal periods in Irish history.

    It’s the crest of the United Irishmen, the very first republican movement in Ireland. What it shows is that equality has been absolutely foundational to Irish republicanism from the very, very start. While the French revolutionaries founded their republic on the qualities of liberté, égalité, fraternité, and the Americans put the concept of liberty at the centre of their republic, for Irish republicans equality was and remains a central tenet of republicanism, and it has done so for over two centuries.

    The United Irishmen were founded on the principle of equality. Their leadership was, however, overwhelmingly Presbyterian, with several Anglicans also filling out the top ranks. It also predates the modern sectarian split in our society, which was fostered by the British with the aim of dividing and conquering the United Irishmen movement through the fostering of sectarianism and fear of the other.

    You think SF “weaponises “equality” issues for sectarian agitation against the hated unionists.”? You think it is doublespeak?. Don’t flatter yourself. The concept of a society founded on the principle of equality is absolutely central and integral to republican ideology from the very first years the republican ideal took hold in Ireland.

    And what of objections from people like me – actually an Alliance supporter and neither a rioter nor a paramilitary?

    You might be an Alliance supporter but in this instance you don’t support Alliance policies. On NI cultural issues, you come down ten times out of ten with a loyalist viewpoint. You are also going to need to explain to whose sensitivities the flag vote was supposed to conform to, and why those sensitivities were more important than nationalist “sensitivities” in a city that is on its way to being majority nationalist if it isn’t there already.

    You are also engaging in some gymanstics when you say that Alliance “Played SF’s game”, what actually it was Sinn Féin and the SDLP who backed down and followed Alliance’s policy! Does flying the Union Flag on god-knows-what royal birthday, the same as is local and governmental policy throughout the UK? Indeed, if you came into the debate blind and didn’t know Alliance were striking a compromise, you could swear Alliance were actually bringing NI policy in line with regal policy and showing the flag the respect it deserves. Doesn’t sound like something out of the SF playbook to me!

    The reason why there was “sensitivity” around the flag decision was the actions of the DUP to whip up a mob frenzy against the Alliance party, and the widespread rioting and violent attacks that followed it. That is all there is to it. We should not abandon sensible, moderate policy under threat of mob violence. Let them seek election and see what mandate they get.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    What about LGBT members of the security forces? Their equality in the eyes of the Republican Movement no doubt stretched to them being equally as killable as any other non-Republican back in the day. That was after all an equality agenda they were pushing …

  • Katyusha

    Possibly so. Sounds more egalitarian than the policy of the Army, who refused to allow openly gay or lesbian citizens to serve in the Army up until, oh, the year 2000.

    Indeed, during the timeframe we are talking about, wasn’t the RUC busy arresting men for alleged homosexuality, which was a criminal offence up until 1982?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    It wouldn’t surprise me, they do all the Labour left stuff just with ultra-nationalist sectarian hatred thrown in. The good causes help them feel morally superior while hating.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Yes the result may help the LGBT community and some will be grateful for any support, though I’m not sure an association with SF is one that many LGBT people will necessarily welcome. It’s a bit like when unionists get support from say the EDL – not sure it’s actually the kind of support you want and not sure their motivation for supporting us is the best. Sometimes one should be picky about one’s friends.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I think I anticipated most of that in my post. You’ve ended up just repeating the slogans without addressing the point of how far away from the reality of actual Irish Republican attitudes and behaviour they are.

    On the flags point, I am only agreeing with the Nolan and Bryan Report of 2016 on the issue. They agreed it was an issue for a cross-party, pan-NI agreement, not something to be decided by simple majority at council level. The reason being, the symbolism and significance of the flag makes it one of those issues where we need to find cross-community consensus and buy in. I wasn’t actually against the reduction in flying of the flag, but I was against the way the decision was reached – it has to be cross-community, that is just obvious. And it needs decisions made by unionist leadership so people can be brought along.

  • grumpy oul man

    What a load of tripe, are you capable of putting a point forward without attaching a dead cat to it.
    Do you have to go back 30 years to present any argument.
    It does show the bankruptcy of unionism when in every argument you revert to mopery and whataboutry.

  • grumpy oul man

    “ultra nationlist secterian hatred thrown in ”
    More rot,
    Where you there?
    Got any examples?
    Was that hatred as obvious as what we seen at the flags protests.

  • Katyusha

    As an actual Irish republican, it chimes pretty well with my view.
    But it says a lot when someone speaks ad nauseum about Irish republicanism and doesn’t even recognise the call of the United Irishmen or what they stood for, or what the political makeup of Ireland was at the time, but instead see everything through the same tired, 1980’s-era lenses. The republican bogeyman that is often conjured up is remarkable in the lack of resemblance it has to reality, but then it wouldn’t be much of a bogeyman if it was realistic. Read some history, MU. As well as explaining the philosophy and ideals of the United Irishmen, it might help you understand why Ireland became part of the UK in the first place, or how the Orange Order gained the position in society that it did.

    Sure, we need decisions made by “unionist leadership” even when it is within the council’s remit. “Decisions made by unionist leadership” sounds like unionists should make the decisions regardless of the democratic process. The decision actually taken by unionist leadership was to incite a mob in jingoistic anger against the Alliance party. And then, having led the mob up the hill, our unionist leaders let the mob lead them back down again, attacking the homes and offices of the Alliance party, sending death threats to councilors and rioting with the police along the way. A little bit of unionist leadership would have gone a long way during the flag protest debacle; it’s a shame it was entirely lacking.

  • Cináed mac Artri

    The advice you offer, “read some history”, is useful.

    Wolf Tone and the other leadership of the United Irishmen were indeed non-sectarian Republicans, possibly the last generation of the like to try to advance Ireland’s cause. (I wonder what the bold Wolf makes of the chancers who fetch up at his graveside each year?)

    Unfortunately the UI had allowed within its ranks Catholic ‘Defenders’ who couldn’t resist their impulses to attack fellow Irish people who were guilty of being Protestant.

    Setting a trend that far too many Irish ‘republicans’ have carried forward to the present.

  • Katyusha

    Well, then Cináed, what the youth of this generation need to do is carry those principles into the present day, and reclaim that legacy from said chancers.

  • Obelisk

    Your post literally begins with ‘what about’.

    But it wasn’t in response to some sorrowful dirge on Republican dead, it was in response to ‘are Sinn Fein doing enough on gay rights?’ which is a hugely important issue.

    Instead you reached and tried to twist it into a narrative on the crimes of Republicans decades ago. That isn’t a different point of view that’s just changing the subject to once again retread old ground. We can do that elsewhere.

    THIS thread should be about gay rights and this particular part of that thread is about is Sinn Fein doing enough for LGBT rights.

    Can you at least let it go on one thread and let it be about something else other than the troubles?

  • Obelisk

    It’s the old canard isn’t it? Anything not useful to me or my group is the government wasting time on pandering.

  • Gavin Smithson

    I’m sure you can parse it

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Until SF renounces the IRA it is an open goal every time.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I’ve read plenty of history and am well aware of the United Irishmen. SF’s link to them is extremely tenuous. In any case the United Irishmen, as John Bew has written, “was a struggle of people against government, virtue against corruption, not Ireland against Britain.” (“The Glory of Being Britons”, Ch1) It’s relative – and post-Union, when the Napoleonic Wars became the context, the narrative shifted. In particular, in the opening decades of the 19th Century radicals in Ulster repositioned themselves within a British political frame of reference. A figure like William Drennan for example, once an influential separatist thinker, as the 19th C progressed “did more to shape the language of liberal unionism than influence the anti-Union nationalist movement …” (ch2).

  • MainlandUlsterman

    How was homosexuality treated in Ireland generally in that era? Anywhere? Catholic Church a big fan of it?

    There are all sorts of rules in the Army around gender and sexuality that are different from civilian life, some justified and some not. Ultimately the Army tries to move with the times, minus about 20 years! It is obsessed, understandably I think, with “unit cohesion”, units being the key threads of the social fabric of the Army. And it is conservative – it is very wary of changing what it sees as a winning formula. That’s a lot of what lies behind resistance to more women in the teeth arms and it was a reason for dragging their heels on changing attitudes to LGBT issues.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Indeed – and the rebellion cost an estimated 30,000 lives. Puts our Troubles in perspective. People inspired by the United Irishmen should perhaps remember exactly how well all that went and the fact it did descend into a sectarian bloodbath. Not an episode I take much pride in personally.

  • Gaygael

    It’s hugely frustrating.

  • The Irishman

    Well said grumpy oul man.

  • grumpy oul man

    No since you made it up, you tell us what it means​.
    Unless it is just a generic insult with no meaning.
    Oh by the way ever heard of Godwin’s law!

  • Anon Anon

    I’d be quite happy for the DUP to do some virtue signalling by dropping opposition for an ILA. They can do it for as nakedly political reasons as they like, as long as they do it.

    In the meantime, maybe SF could come up with some other dastardly wheezes to wind up the Prods, like making sure women who’ve been raped don’t have to fill in a long form to get child benefit, or free puppy hugs.

    If your political opponents can very successfully cast you as a “benighted, bigoted” enemy, maybe – and I’m going out on a limb here – you might want to look at your own position, rather than the “virtue signalling” of your opponents. Just in case, your on the wrong side of history or something.