Northern Ireland news

DUP MLA Trevor Clarke did not know heterosexuals could contract HIV

Trevor Clarke said he did not know that HIV also affects heterosexual people 

A DUP MLA has admitted he did not know heterosexual people could contract the HIV virus.

Speaking during a Stormont debate calling for a new awareness campaign on the virus, Trevor Clarke said he previously believed only homosexual people could contract HIV until a charity explained this was not the case.

Mr Clarke told the assembly: "When I came here in 2007, I would have dismissed the possibility that I would speak about HIV today, because I was one of those who did not understand the stigma attached to it."

The 49-year-old South Antrim MLA proposed yesterday's debate along with two DUP colleagues  to "promote awareness and prevention" of HIV and for increased support for the work of the charity Positive Life, which helps people living with HIV in Northern Ireland.

He said: "I have to put on record my thanks to Jacquie Richardson from Positive Life. Meeting her for the first time was a turning point for me, having been ignorant of the fact that the disease also affects heterosexual people.

"For that reason, I have no difficulty supporting what the motion calls for. The work that Positive Life did in changing my opinion - not only my opinion but that of many others - helped to remove the stigma."

Foyle MLA Eamonn McCann, from the People Before Profit party, proposed an amendment that the campaign highlight the disproportionate impact of HIV on gay and bisexual men but Mr Clarke said this added to the "stigma" on HIV.

Mr Clarke told the chamber: "I am not trying to get a rise out of Mr McCann when I say this, but I feel that his amendment, had he moved it, would have been unhelpful to people who, like me, were ignorant of the fact that this disease can affect heterosexuals."

The DUP MLA said Mr McCann's amendment "would have added to the stigma" around the disease.

"Maybe those who are bisexual or gay do have a statistically higher risk, but his amendment brought that into the equation and amplified it," Mr Clarke said.

"I think that we should talk about all who suffer with this condition; not just those who have the highest risk."

Mr McCann discussed the number of young people driven to suicide because of the stigma still associated with how society regards them but Mr Clarke intervened to say that the Foyle MLA was himself stigmatising young people who commit suicide by automatically assuming they are gay.

Mr McCann said the DUP MLA's argument was a ridiculous and "unconsciously homophobic intervention".

He said it was not so long ago that some politicians in the north had proclaimed they would "Save Ulster From Sodomy" - the campaign launched in 1977 by DUP founder the late Ian Paisley.

Mr McCann asked: "What's wrong with sodomy anyway?" He told the assembly he would have kissed more men during his life if it "hadn't been for the stubble factor".

The DUP motion calling for a new campaign to promote awareness and prevention of HIV was passed.

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