Politicians on parade at Belfast Pride
There were more politicians at today's Belfast Pride parade than you could shake a stick at. Or at least an Amnesty placard which, once again, was the hottest item in town.
In the wake of the now infamous series of anti-gay comments made by DUP MP Iris Robinson – not to mention the huge response of the LGBT community and their supporters – Northern Irish politicians of every party (except the DUP, of course) were out in force to prove their gay-friendly credentials.
Over the last few years I have only noticed an organised party political presence (as opposed to participation by individual party members) by the SDLP and Greens.
This year, in addition, were delegations / and or senior members from the Ulster Unionist Party, Sinn Féin, Alliance and Progressive Unionist Party.
I had a good chat with UUP MLAs Basil McCrea and John McCallister, who are determined to project a more positive, progressive and inclusive vision of unionism than that presented by their rivals in the DUP. In their collective response to the 'Iris situation', the pair have saved the UUP from being seen as similarly retrogressive and have managed to assure the large gay unionist population of Northern Ireland that there is a political home for them among unionism.
Another unionist out and about was Dawn Purvis of the PUP. While some of her fellow travellers in the associated UVF may have a reputation for being somehat less inclusive, Dawn is the model progressive of her party's title, firmly following in the footsteps of her much-missed predecessor David Ervine.
Dolores Kelly MLA, human rights and equality spokesperson for the SDLP, was doing the rounds, while party colleagues, councillors Tim Attwood and Matthew McDermott were making a family day of it with their children along for the fun. SDLPyouth were having a ball, led by the effervescent Claire Hanna.
The out and proud executive director of the Alliance Party, Gerry Lynch, was encouraging Pride-goers to "give Iris a boot in the ballots" by registering to vote (and presumably plumping for Alliance thereafter). Party leader David Ford MLA was also out in support and was joined by a decent presence of Young Alliance members, for whom the experience of a Belfast Pride parade seemed to be novel, but by no means unenjoyable.
Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Belfast Tom Hartley was shaking hands like the old pro he is, even though the glamour and sparkle of his mayoral chain was being outshone by some of the more gaudily decorated of the Pride revellers. Ogra Shinn Féin said they would be on the parade this year although, I have to confess, I caught no sight of them.
The Young Greens were in the parade, as usual, as were a few trusty SWP veterans, some of whom I also spotted at the Amnesty International Pride lecture on Monday night, which generated such interest.
A small presence of Free Presbyterians and other evangelicals at two points along the route only served to reinforce the defiant atmosphere amongst the thousands (estimate 5,000) of paraders. Belfast Pride parade may be pink and fluffy but, this year, it had an edge of hardened steel.
The biggest (non-political) presence of all, it has to be said (if a little immodestly!) was that of Amnesty activists, particularly the best-ever turnout of young activists from the Queen's University AI Group and the recently-established AI Belfast Youth Group. Their presence seemed to be everywhere and huge numbers of people signed our campaign postcards in defence of Pride parades across eastern Europe. Amnesty placards proclaiming 'nul points' for the the authorities in Russia, Belarus, Turkey, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia were seen everywhere – both on the parade and before and after in Custom House Square.
While there was a strong feeling of solidarity with other Prides in Belfast today, thoughts were focused on homophobia much closer to home. There was an unprecedented appetite for Amnesty's placards proclaiming 'Love is a Human Right'. It was Belfast Pride's way of telling local anti-gay politicians: we're queer, we're here … and we vote.
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