Local Election 2019

UUP candidate tells of 'nasty' remarks for being unionist and gay

Ulster Unionist council election candidate Michael Palmer
Brendan Hughes

A GAY UUP election candidate has told of the "nasty comments" he's experienced from people who "cannot fathom the idea that a gay unionist exists".

Michael Palmer was speaking after the DUP faced a mixed response to fielding Alison Bennington as the party's first openly gay election candidate.

While LGBT campaigners broadly welcomed the move, others claimed that by standing for the DUP she is "endorsing their treatment of LGBT people".

The DUP has a long history of hostility towards LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people, including former DUP leader Ian Paisley's 'Save Ulster from Sodomy' campaign in the 1970s.

The party described Ms Bennington as an "excellent candidate" for Antrim and Newtownabbey, but DUP MLA Jim Wells said it "fundamentally undermines the values and traditions of the party".

Mr Palmer, an Ards and North Down council candidate, welcomed Ms Bennington standing for election – and called for more gay unionists to "get involved in whatever unionist party you want and be part of that change".

He hit out at some of the "sneering" reaction to her candidacy, asking: "How do you expect change to happen if you don't influence the change yourself?"

"I have had nasty comments directed at me similar to what Alison has had. Some people just cannot fathom the idea that a gay unionist/conservative exists," he added.

"Years ago when I was younger, LGBT issues were the only issues that I cared about as I was still trying to come to terms with myself being gay.

"As I grew older, other issues started to matter to me such as the constitutional question, economics and my own world view."

Mr Palmer (26), a hospital administration worker, said he has had negative comments from both unionists and the LGBT community.

He said some unionists would regard him as "not a proper unionist", while some in the LGBT community from a republican viewpoint would "see unionism as homophobic".

But Mr Palmer said the UUP has shown him "support and respect". The former Alliance member said he backs the UUP allowing a conscience vote on same-sex marriage.

"All any gay unionist would want is to be treated just like any other unionist," he added.

Ms Bennington runs a consultancy firm and has a long-term partner. Her election candidacy has sparked debate after The Irish News last week revealed she is the DUP's first openly gay politician.

DUP councillor Phillip Brett, Ms Bennington's running mate in Glengormley, said on Twitter: "Alison is an excellent candidate – a proud unionist who has served her country in Her Majesty's Forces. I look forward to voting for her on May 2."

Anthony Flynn, a Belfast Green Party candidate and LGBT campaigner, tweeted: ?"Any progress is welcome progress. Very best of luck Alison."

But Alliance Belfast candidate and LGBT activist Micky Murray said there is "nothing progressive about this" and that by standing for the DUP "she is endorsing their treatment of LGBT people".

DUP council election candidate Alison Bennington, and inset, how The Irish News reported she is the party's first openly gay politician. Picture by Mal McCann

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