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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Weir (Local Democracy Reporter)

Alliance Councillor disappointed after support for LGBTQ+ and Pride event motion defeated

A motion proposed by Mid and East Antrim’s first openly gay councillor seeking the borough council to show support for equality and work alongside Pride organisers in the area was defeated at a meeting of the local authority on Monday evening.

Ballymena Alliance Councillor John Hyland, who was co-opted by the Alliance Party following the election of Councillor Patricia O’Lynn to the Northern Ireland Assembly as a North Antrim MLA, has spoken of his disappointment at the outcome of a vote on the motion.

In a statement issued after the meeting, Cllr Hyland said:

“It is really disappointing that this motion was defeated at council this evening, and I would like to pay tribute to Danny Donnelly MLA who started the groundwork on this motion prior to his election to the NI Assembly.

“This was a real opportunity for Mid and East Antrim Borough Council to take positive steps forward in acceptance, and opening their hearts to what remains a reality – the LGBTQ+ community’s existence.

“Tonight in council, we heard the same old arguments which simply ‘other’ the LGBTQ+ community as one not worthy of the respect of others, and one that shouldn’t receive similar community support when celebrating our identity.

“I do have hope, however, as members did openly state their support against hate speech and slurs against the LGBTQ+ community, and I look forward to seeing such commitments vocalised in council, and wider afield by those parties.

“As the only openly gay councillor on MEA Borough Council, I hope that my presence and ongoing work with my fellow councillors will demonstrate how the LGBTQ+ community are nothing to fear, nothing to suspect and are simply human beings trying to live their lives as mundanely as possible.”

Cllr Hyland proposed a motion stating:

“This council rejects any slurs and hate speech directed at the LGBTQ+ community and respects and values everyone in the area, equally, regardless of their identity.

“To show our support for equality and acceptance, Mid and East Antrim Council undertake to work with local Pride organisers to run LGBTQ+/Pride based events alongside Pride festivals in the Mid and East Antrim area.”

Speaking at the meeting, Cllr Hyland described himself as “a proud, out gay man”.

He said that according to the Annual Popular Survey, two per cent of LGBTQ+ people live in Northern Ireland.

He said that while Northern Ireland has the lowest percentage of LGB (lesbian, gay, bisexual) people, there is also a “brain drain” of young people, which he suggested, that whilst a “large number of this will be due to, what they feel, are opportunities outside of this place”, many he believes, will also leave so that they can “feel free to live their authentic selves”.

He continued: “LGBTQ+ young people are three times more likely to self-harm and twice as likely to contemplate suicide than their non-LGBTQ+ peers.

“Almost a quarter of the homeless population identify as LGBTQ+ in the UK, with two thirds of homeless LGBTQ+ youth feeling frightened or threatened by their family prior to becoming homeless.

“Let me make this a little more personal, only this last week, I was walking through Ballymena with my partner, who held his hand out for me to take it. Through sheer anxiety of not knowing what was around the corner, I gave him a low five and laughed it off.”

Cllr Hyland reported that according to the government’s 2018 LGBT Survey, more than half of the respondents (56%) felt comfortable being LGBTQ+ in the UK; at least two in five respondents had experienced an incident because they were LGBTQ+, such as verbal harassment or physical violence; more than nine in ten of the most serious incidents went unreported.

Seventy per cent said they had avoided being open about their identity for fear of a negative reaction and the most common places where respondents had avoided being open about their sexual orientation were on public transport (65%) and in the workplace (56%).

“When it comes to our borough locally – I meet someone in Belfast or from outside the borough, and they hear where I live, knowing I’m gay, and am faced with immediate shocked reactions due to the stereotypes associated with this beautiful place.

“In our community plan, our aim is that Mid and East Antrim will be a strong, vibrant, safe and inclusive community, where people work together to improve the quality of life for all.  Being inclusive means including everyone.”

Cllr Hyland, a Co-Chair of Liverpool Pride, noted that more than 3,000 people attended Larne’s first Pride festival.

“The town will be hosting its third Pride event on 20th August, and it is my hope that Mid and East Antrim Borough Council will play a more active role in championing the LGBTQ+ community that call this borough home.”

Supporting the motion, Coast Road Alliance councillor Alderman Gerardine Mulvenna paid tribute to the work of the organisers of the Pride event in Larne which she described as “incredible”.

“Inclusion is exactly what Pride is about. Pride Month isn’t just about dancing on a float in gold hotpants or flying a rainbow flag, it is about remembering that every single one of us has a right to be happy, love who they want to love and recognise the outstanding contribution that everyone can make in a society free of fear and prejudice and just to be completely accepted for who and what they are.”

However, DUP group leader Larne Lough Councillor Gregg McKeen said:

“We along with others in the chamber are really against and reject any comments or slurs or hate speech against any member of the LGBTQ community.

“As a party, we would be against hate speech directed at any community or organisation in this borough.

“Those who engage in this disgraceful behaviour have nothing to offer society.

“We will remain committed under the doctrine of fairness and equality for all our citizens within the borough.”

He went on to say that it was “not standard practice for council to organise or run events on behalf of organisations”.

He indicated that council has a “vast array of grant schemes” which can be utilised by any group or organisation on a fair and equal basis”.

“If Pride want to run festivals and parades, this option is open to them.

“For this reason, we cannot support this substantive motion. However, we do continue to stand against all hate directed at any member of our community and all within this borough.”

Bannside TUV Councillor Timothy Gaston stated: “I am clear that everyone deserves to be treated with respect.

“However TUV will not support the motion.”

He described it as “another fluffy motion with the type of Alliance content that has buzz words but little substance and clarity”.

The motion was defeated by 10 votes in favour and 17 against.

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