Theresa May claims to be a proponent of gay rights, and no doubt she is, in other parts of the UK. In Northern Ireland, however, she is countenance to their denial

By Eoin Tennyson

A British Government survey of 108,000 LGBT individuals has affirmed that discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity is still alive and kicking across the UK. Two-thirds of those surveyed fear holding their partner’s hand in public while five percent have been offered controversial “conversion” therapy. These results may shock some in England, Scotland and Wales; but they are all too recognisable for those of us here in Northern Ireland.

The Tories’ LGBT Action Plan seeks to “advance the rights of LGBT people both at home and abroad” – but consistently fails to acknowledge that Northern Ireland is a place apart when it comes to LGBT rights and equality, remaining one of the most homophobic places in Western Europe. At times, the report even borders on tone-deaf optimism: emphasising that that the UK is recognised as a leader on LGBT rights in Europe rather than addressing domestic disparities.

LGBT people are more likely than their heterosexual counterparts to experience a range of mental health problems such as depression, suicidal thoughts and self–harm. Evidence attributes the prevalence of mental ill-health to a range of factors including discrimination, isolation and homophobia.

Over the past twelve years, successive Stormont Executives have failed to deliver on commitments to the publication of a sexual orientation strategy. We still do not have an overarching policy framework within which statutory bodies can work to promote equality of opportunity and tackle homophobia. The British government have turned a blind eye.

In the most obvious omission, the document fails to outline a plan to bring marriage equality to Northern Ireland, despite overwhelming public support. Studies have shown that the introduction of same-sex marriage has had a positive impact on the mental health of LGBT people in other countries, allaying perceived stigma and internalised homophobia.

Where Northern Ireland finally does get its one mention in the document, it’s merely to disclaim that many of the plan’s recommendations cover policy areas which are devolved. A hollow reminder that in the absence of an Assembly, and with Westminster abdicating their responsibilities in relation to human rights, we are set to fall even further behind on LGBT inclusion.

There can be no doubt that the Tories have shied away from these issues to avoid any potential fallout with their confidence-and-supply partners, the DUP, who vehemently oppose marriage equality. Theresa May claims to be a proponent of gay rights, and no doubt she is, in other parts of the UK. In Northern Ireland, however, she is countenance to their denial.

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