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.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty