DUP woman is party's first openly gay politician
A DUP woman has become the party's first openly gay politician.
Alison Bennington is contesting the council election for the DUP in the Glengormley Urban area of Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council.
She is the DUP's first openly gay election candidate, and at the polls next month could become the party's first ever openly gay elected representative.
Her candidacy is considered a significant step for the DUP, a party known for years of hostility towards LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people.
Former DUP leader Ian Paisley led the 'Save Ulster from Sodomy' campaign in the late 1970s against the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Northern Ireland.
His son Ian Jnr, DUP MP for North Antrim, has previously said he is "repulsed by gay and lesbianism", while former DUP MP Iris Robinson said homosexuality is viler than sexually abusing children.
Ms Bennington told The Irish News she is seeking election because of what she can deliver for voters.
"I am delighted to have been selected as a DUP council candidate," she said in a statement last night.
"I am putting myself before the electorate based on what I can deliver for them as a councillor working alongside a strong team of colleagues, not based on my sexual orientation.
"I regard my private and family life as a matter for myself in the same way as everyone else."
A DUP spokesman said: "Alison is an excellent candidate and will make an excellent representative for the people of Glengormley.
"The party selects candidates on the basis of merit and we believe in equality of opportunity."
Ms Bennington was among the DUP representatives who attended the party's local government election manifesto launch yesterday at Belfast's Kingspan Stadium.
She sat in the front row of the audience alongside DUP MLA Pam Cameron.
In her speech, DUP leader Arlene Foster said the party's vision for Northern Ireland is one where "we value and cherish people from every background".
She welcomed first-time candidates, saying that some will bring "experience from other walks of life".
Ms Bennington runs a consultancy firm in the culture, parks and sports sectors.
She has previously worked in city sports facilities as well as local and central government, according to the firm's website.
Ms Bennington, who has a keen interest in motorcycles, openly shares Facebook photos with her long-term partner, who signed her council nomination papers.
The DUP woman is seeking election in Glengormley Urban alongside two other party candidates – Samantha Burns and sitting councillor Phillip Brett.
The DUP has faced continued criticism from LGBT campaigners for its attitude towards gay people.
It has also been urged to drop its opposition to same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland, which remains the only part of Ireland and Britain where it remains outlawed.
In 2015 a majority of MLAs voted for same-sex marriage, but it was blocked by the DUP using the petition of concern veto.
However, Ms Bennington has previously appeared to show support for same-sex marriage.
She shared a Facebook post in 2016 of joke reasons to oppose same-sex marriage, which included: "Gay marriage will encourage people to be gay, in the same way that hanging around with tall people will make you tall."
Ms Bennington's candidacy comes after Mrs Foster last summer became the first DUP leader to attend an LGBT event.
Mrs Foster told the audience at the Stormont event that she valued the LGBT community's contribution to Northern Ireland – but asked people to respect her viewpoint opposing same-sex marriage.