Gay rights champion Senator David Norris at Belfast Pride

Really looking forward to meeting Senator David Norris later. I'm meeting him off the Dublin train this afternoon, in anticipation of the Amnesty International Belfast Pride Lecture later in the Europa Hotel.

Senator Norris at the podium to tackle prejudice and persecution against gay people at home and abroad. He has already indicated that great progress has been made towards gay equality in Ireland, north and south, but we are not quite 'there' yet.

Norris, has been described as 'Ireland's most stately homo', and was the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in Ireland, having first been elected to Seanad Éireann in 1987.  He has been re-elected at each election since and sits in the Seanad as an Independent, representing the Trinity College Dublin constituency.

He has taken an interest in Northern Ireland affairs and has been a strong advocate for peace. As a Protestant in largely Catholic Republic, he has spoken of the need to appreciate the complexity of our identities in an Irish and Northern Irish context.

A few months ago Norris declared his intention to run in the next Irish presidential race, elections for which will take place in October 2011.

David Norris is best known as the founder of the Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform and the man who took the Irish government to the European Court in the fight for gay equality… and won.

Norris took the Irish Attorney General to the High Court over the criminalisation of homosexuality. His claim was based on the fact that the law infringed on his right to privacy to have consensual sex with a man and was unlawful under the Constitition of Ireland.

Having lost in the High Court and then the Supreme Court case, Norris took his case to the European Court of Human Rights. In 1988, he won with the Court ruling that the law criminalising male-to-male sex was contrary to the European Convention, in particular Article 8 which protects the right to respect for private life.

Irish law was repealed in 1993. Norris v. Ireland is now a landmark case for all students of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Following the lecture, Norris will line up alingside (and against) other panellists in Pride Talks Back, which will feature local politicians from the UUP, SDLP, Sinn Fein and Alliance parties. I understand from organisers that yet again the largest party in Northern Ireland, the Democratic Unionist Party, has declined to put someone forward to join the annual debate.

This year, however, a long-standing critic of Belfast Pride and an opponent of gay equality will join the Talks Back line-up. Rev David McIlveen of the Free Presbyterian Church – who organises an anti-Pride protest every year in Belfast – has been confirmed as a panellist. Should make for an interesting evening.

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