Mixed response to DUP running first openly gay election candidate
THE DUP has received a mixed response to fielding the party's first openly gay election candidate.
LGBT campaigners broadly welcomed the move but called for further change, while some within the party expressed shock and fiercely criticised the decision.
The Irish News yesterday revealed Alison Bennington, an election candidate for Antrim and Newtownabbey council, is the DUP's first openly gay politician.
Her candidacy is considered a significant step for the party, which has a long history of hostility towards LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people.
Former DUP leader Ian Paisley led the 'Save Ulster from Sodomy' campaign in the 1970s. The party still opposes same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland – the only part of Ireland and Britain where it remains outlawed.
Ms Bennington, who runs a consultancy firm and has a long-term partner, said she is seeking election based on what she can deliver for voters, "not based on my sexual orientation".
The DUP said it believes in "equality of opportunity" and described Ms Bennington as an "excellent candidate" for the Glengormley area.
Cai Wilshaw from LGBT website PinkNews – which hosted a Stormont event last summer attended by DUP leader Arlene Foster – said he was "pleasantly surprised".
"It follows on from Arlene Foster's encouraging comments at last year's PinkNews summer reception and suggests an openness to change as they look to attract voters from all sectors of society," he said.
"While it is true this is a positive development, I hope this is only the first step in a broader change in the party's outlook on equal rights for all in the north of Ireland."
The Rainbow Project's Gavin Boyd said the organisation "always welcomes LGBT people standing for office".
"However, selecting an LGBT candidate says nothing about whether the DUP has changed from being openly hostile to LGBT people, our families and our rights," he said.
"When the party begins to make amends for the way it has treated our community we will hold out the hand of friendship as we always have."
DUP MLA Jim Wells said he was "absolutely gutted" and claimed the party had "pandered to the demands" of LGBT campaigners.
"I can't tell you how shocked I am about this decision. I think it's going to shake the very core vote of the DUP to the foundations," he said.
"The party is making a very clear statement here by this selection and it fundamentally undermines the values and traditions of the party."
He added: "Many, many members have contacted me and just can't understand what has happened here.
"The party was founded by Ian Paisley from a fundamental Protestant background, and the biblical teaching on this subject is absolutely clear. There is no ambiguity, that this lifestyle is not endorsed biblically."
Retired Free Presbyterian minister Rev David McIlveen, a close friend of the late Ian Paisley, said he was not surprised.
"I think we live in a generation now where people are displaying their talents irrespective of their private life. But I'm very strongly opposed to the practice of LGBT issues from a biblical perspective," he said.
He said Ms Bennington should work "under the remit or the mandate of the particular party she represents, but if she deviates from that I think that's a problem".
Alliance election candidate Glenn Finlay said: "Fair play. No point focussing on the negatives if you can't commend positive progress as well."
But another Alliance candidate Micky Murray replied saying there is "nothing progressive about this" and that by standing for the DUP "she is endorsing their treatment of LGBT people".