Northern Ireland news

Gay man was 'shocked and humiliated' in row over Pride posters with Belfast health trust manager

Rory Harbinson lodged a harassment complaint against the Belfast Trust following a row with his manager over Belfast Pride posters in July 2019

A GAY man was "shocked and humiliated" after his manager in the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust ripped down Belfast Pride posters and later shouted at him.

Rory Harbinson lodged a harassment complaint against the trust following a "very unpleasant" row in July 2019.

The trust has now settled the case with no admission of liability for £2,000.

Mr Harbinson took the case, helped by the Equality Commission, following a dispute over Pride posters.

The trust had advertised the Pride parade on its staff intranet. It sought volunteers for its stand at the event and encouraged staff to take part.

Mr Harbinson printed out the posters and put them on display.

But when he came into work the next day, most of the posters had been taken down by his manager.

When he asked her why she had done so, there was a bad-tempered exchange.

Mr Harbinson said ten minutes after the discussion, the manager came into his office "in a very aggressive manner", shouting at him and carrying the posters that she had removed.

He explained to her that the trust had invited staff to promote Pride.

When he told his manager she could be perceived as homophobic, she said: “Oh here we go.”

Rory Harbinson lodged a harassment complaint against the Belfast Trust

Mr Harbinson said he is pleased the case has been settled.

“I was glad to settle this case, it was a very unpleasant experience and I felt shocked and humiliated by the whole episode," he said.

"It seemed that putting the trust posters up brought all this anger and hostility down on my head.

"It was not just taking down the posters, but the way I was treated after this incident that I found so hard to accept.

"I felt that my being gay made the posters somehow more offensive to my manager.

"And I’m very grateful for the support of the Equality Commission throughout."

Anne McKernan, director of legal services at the Equality Commission, said although huge strides have been made towards equality for gay people in Northern Ireland, "in terms of attitudes, we know we still have some way to go".

She said employers need to provide clarity to staff on key issues.

Ms McKernan said when "an employer commits to supporting and promoting an initiative like Belfast Pride, it should ensure that there is clarity around the promotion of its material within the workplace and that all employees are clear on this".

She said employers must also promote dignity and respect in the workplace.

"The law is there to protect people from discrimination and harassment as well as any other less favourable treatment because of their sexual orientation," she said.

Thousands took part in the 2019 Belfast Pride parade. Picture by Justin Kernoghan, Photopress

A spokesman for the Belfast Trust said: "We fully support our LGBTQ+ staff and take appropriate action when anyone faces discrimination.

"When an issue or conflict arises we will support any staff member based on established HR protocols and the values of the regional health and social care sector.

"We have supported Belfast Pride in recent years and are delighted we will continue to do so in 2021. 

"We actively encourage our staff to demonstrate support for Pride and this year will be focusing on the importance of becoming an ally to staff who are LGBTQ+."

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