Tatchell: Iris Robinson has united the gay community

Peter Tatchell and last night's Amnesty International Pride Lecture have been at the centre of something of a Northern Ireland media storm for the last couple of days.

Peter, with his widely reported comments on Iris Robinson MP, King William III and the global struggle for gay rights, has been on just about every news outlet here over the last 48 hours. While not everyone has received his comments warmly(!), walking down the street today in Belfast he was hailed by strangers saying 'well done, mate' and the like.

While much of the attention has focussed on his remarks about King Billy's sexuality, this was really a sidebar in his Amnesty lecture yesterday evening as part of Belfast Pride.

He published his own thoughts on the local and global struggle for gay rights in yesterday's Belfast Telegraph. It doesn't seem to be online, so for the record, I am copying below.

Iris Robinson has united the gay community

Peter Tatchell, well known for his campaigns for gay equality and his attempts to perform a citizen's arrest on Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe will deliver the Amnesty International Pride Lecture in Belfast this evening. He gives us his take on Iris Robinson and homophobia at home and abroad.

Bigoted. Ill-informed. Divisive. Sectarian. Unchristian. Iris Robinson's anti-gay views are all these things. They are also dangerous. It is this sort of high profile homophobia that gives inspiration and succour to those who attack innocent people in the streets of Northern Ireland just because they are gay.
Iris might deny it, and she may selectively quote scripture to justify her views, but if she asked the victims of homophobic discrimination and violence, they'd tell her that words have consequences. Like 27 year-old Stephen Scott, who was given a kicking on his way home in Newtownabbey.

There are politicians who hold similar views to Iris Robinson in many countries. They, too, want the government to be run in ways which "uphold God's law" – or at least in the twisted way in which they interpret their holy book of choice. Amnesty International has documented grave human rights abuses against gay people in dozens of countries.

In Zimbabwe, where Robert Mugabe has denounced lesbians and gays as "sexual perverts" and "worse than dogs and pigs", gay people have been beaten, arrested, framed on trumped-up charges and threatened with death.
In Syria, a government Minister – who, like Iris, regards homosexuality as an "abomination" – advocates the stoning of gay people. Syrian police stand accused of torturing gay people.

Across Eastern Europe, Gay Pride parades have been banned or attacked by neo-Nazis and religious fundamentalists who also quote "biblical truths". Last year, I attended Moscow Gay Pride, in solidarity with that city's belagured gay community. Many of us were beaten in the street by homophobic bigots while the Moscow police stood by and watched.

It is for the same reason that I am in Belfast today – to give the Amnesty International Gay Pride lecture and to deliver a message of defiance to homophobes: gay rights are human rights.

Ultimately, Northern Ireland's gay community will probably thank Iris Robinson for her reckless, prejudiced outbursts. She has done more to unite the local lesbian and gay community – and their families and friends – than a thousand workshops on tolerance and equality.

The many people who have signed an online Downing Street petition calling on the Prime Minister to reprimand the Strangford MP, and the thousands more who will take to the streets of Belfast for the city's biggest ever Gay Pride parade, are united in their resolve: same-sex love is a human right, in Northern Ireland, Zimbabwe, Syria, Russia and worldwide.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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