Arlene Foster will not attend Stormont LGBT event - and no DUP rep will be sent
ARLENE Foster will not be attending an LGBT event being held at Stormont this week, the DUP has confirmed.
And no other DUP representatives will be taking part in Thursday's PinkNews summer reception in her absence.
A "long-standing party event" means "it will not be possible for a representative to attend" and Mrs Foster has "sent her apologies and best wishes to the organisers", the party said.
Leaders from the north's four other main parties are due to speak at the reception, which is returning to Stormont for a second year.
Mrs Foster became the first DUP leader to attend an LGBT event when she took part in 2018's PinkNews reception.
It is understood PinkNews sent this year's invites to the party leaders in January, and event partner Citi sent Mrs Foster a separate invite in recent weeks.
But late last week it was confirmed with organisers that Mrs Foster would not be attending.
"Mrs Foster has a long-standing engagement on Thursday evening, therefore will not be able to attend the Summer Reception this year. It is the party's Annual General Meeting," a DUP spokesman said.
Cai Wilshaw, PinkNews head of strategic partnerships, said: "It's a shame Arlene Foster will not be attending the second PinkNews summer reception, especially as this year we will be hearing from the Rainbow Project and numerous service users of the charity to celebrate their 25th anniversary year.
"PinkNews' events are always proudly non-partisan, and we were pleased last year that we had all the leaders of the major parties in Northern Ireland.
"Therefore we hope that the DUP will send a senior politician in her place to show their support for the local LGBT+ community."
Citi declined to comment.
The event comes weeks after Alison Bennington became the DUP's first openly gay elected representative.
She was elected to Antrim and Newtownabbey council in what has been considered a "watershed" moment for the DUP – a party with a long history of hostility towards LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people.
Mrs Foster welcomed Ms Bennington's election, but some DUP members have publicly criticised the party for choosing her as a candidate.
Some veteran members have resigned, while DUP councillor John Finlay claimed party founder Ian Paisley – who led the 'Save Ulster from Sodomy' campaign in the late 1970s – would be "turning in his grave".
The PinkNews reception aims to "celebrate the vibrant LGBT+ community in Northern Ireland".
Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O'Neill, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, UUP leader Robin Swann and Alliance leader Naomi Long are scheduled to attend.
At last year's reception, Mrs Foster told the audience she valued the LGBT community's contribution to Northern Ireland – but asked people to respect her viewpoint opposing same-sex marriage.