Northern Ireland news

LGBT event attended by Arlene Foster returns to Stormont for second year

DUP leader Arlene Foster speaking at the PinkNews summer reception at Stormont last year. Picture by Declan Roughan
Brendan Hughes

AN LGBT event attended by DUP leader Arlene Foster last summer is returning to Stormont for a second year.

The PinkNews summer reception is scheduled for June 20 and aims to "celebrate the vibrant LGBT+ community in Northern Ireland".

Mrs Foster last year became the first DUP leader to attend an LGBT event when she took part in the PinkNews reception at Parliament Buildings.

The leaders of Stormont's five main parties have again been invited to speak at the event.

The details emerge as Alison Bennington last week became the DUP's first openly gay elected representative after securing a council seat in Antrim and Newtownabbey.

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Her election is being seen as a "watershed" moment for the DUP, a party with a long history of hostility towards LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people.

Mrs Foster has welcomed Ms Bennington's election, but insists the DUP is still opposed to same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland – the only part of Ireland and Britain where it remains outlawed.

The DUP leader has yet to confirm her attendance at next month's summer reception.

PinkNews said Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O'Neill, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, UUP leader Robin Swann and Alliance leader Naomi Long have been confirmed so far.

Cai Wilshaw, PinkNews head of strategic partnerships, said they were "delighted to be returning to Belfast".

"The event serves to celebrate and thank those who work to make Northern Ireland a more equal and accepting place day in, day out," he said.

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"We are also joined again by our lead partner Citi, as well as supporting partners Ulster Bank.

"We're blown away once again by the support from politicians of all stripes. After the recent election of Alison Bennington, we hope Arlene Foster will return to speak after attending her first-ever LGBT+ event with us last year."

The event's charity partner will be the Rainbow Project to highlight the LGBT advocacy organisation's work in the north.

Rainbow Project director John O'Doherty said they were "honoured to have been selected as the charity partner".

"In the year of our 25th anniversary we will be taking every opportunity to highlight the ways in which Northern Ireland has changed for LGBT people while maintaining our focus on what still needs to happen before LGBT people can be considered as having equal rights, recognition and respect," he said.

"That this reception can happen in Parliament Buildings is a testament to the new Northern Ireland our community has helped to shape and a reminder that there is no democracy in Northern Ireland unless it includes LGBT people."

The reception is one of four being held this summer, with the others in the Scottish Parliament, Westminster and the Welsh Assembly in Cardiff.

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