Dear Arlene Letters The Rainbow Project has today published 65 letters received from LGBT people from across Northern Ireland and from individuals who no longer live in Northern Ireland in response to its #DearArlene campaign. Here are some of the responses. Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: As a member of the LGBTQ community I have found myself a second class citizen in the country I grew up in, largely in part by a party that believes giving me less human rights is just a difference of opinion. I have spent my life being bullied and shamed for the person I am, being told to fear my identity, that I am scum and to hide who I am from fear of getting beat up or killed. It has taken a toll on my mental health, helped no way in part by a party who continuously views me as disgusting. You are part of a group who fear the rise of Muslim people in the country out of fear religious extremism being forced on you, yet it is the extreme views of the Christian right which dictate the way we live our lives here in the north. You paint on a smile and chuckle away calling it hyperbole to call you homophobic, and yet it took the Sinn Fein (who I am no lover of, lest you view this as a green vs orange issue,) to lift the blood ban on members of my community, and lest we forget that while both the South of Ireland and England both accept same sex marriage, you and your party have decided we are not to be granted such a right, because it offends you. You belittle us, but smirk on camera and act as though it is nothing but a clash of ideologies, but these are our lives Mrs Foster, not a political talking point for you and Michelle ONeill to bicker over. Your party has time and time again dehumanized us (Peter Robinson, Edwin Poots, Sammy Wilson, the latter two using words as abominable and perverts to describe us,) and despite what political differences I have with the DUP, if you claim to support the people, then you should not be making us feel like we are abominations (Iris Robinson,) which makes queer people feel unsafe and detested by the very people in charge of their government. We have suffered long enough Mrs Foster and I think it is about time your party took a step into the 21st Century and realised that times are changing and to release your stranglehold on the North and give the people what they want, as the majority of people in Northern Ireland agree that same sex marriage is what is right for the country. Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: Dear Arlene, Thank you for making the decision to attend todays event. Small steps like this can have a massive impact that allow a conversation to be started, a conversation that can enable communities to come together and become stronger, rather than divided and feel more isolated. I wanted to briefly try convey to you my experience of identitfying as LGBTQ living in Northern Ireland. Up until the age of 20, I never met anyone else that openly identifed as LGBTQ. It was statistically unlikely that of everyone Id had known, none of them identifed as LGBTQ. Rather those that did, likely felt it was possibly the wiser option to hide a large part of who they are in order to fit in. In the abscence of this, my view of what it meant to be LGBTQ was founded on three areas. One, from the media such as TV and film where there was little to no mainstream visibility and when it was visible it didnt feel like that was representative of the societal view in Northern Ireland so I struggled to relate that to my life in Northern Ireland. Second, from conversations of people I knew, discussing LGBTQ related talking point. These were again few and far between. This was unnerving. However when it did arise, it was normally in that hard to distinguish but recognisable hushed tone to denote how it was scandalous, abnormal or wrong. In hindsight the views portrayed in these conversations tended to by people who also werent or didnt know people who identifed as LGBTQ personally and as result may not have a had a well formed opinion. Thats not so say there werent postive LGBTQ voices in these conversations, however the negative commentary tends to be the one that sinks into you and keeps you up at night. The remaining times it was brought up in conversation was either at school where the term gay ot trans was, and is still is, used as one of the most damning insults you could approprate to a classmate. Or it was within a religious or subsequentaly political setting to cite religion. To quickly review, that meant when searching every corner of my world I was left with a poorly painted but clear takeaway message, to be gay was to be fundamentally wrong as a human. The third area I looked to take hope was instead of ambiguous or biased opinion, what does our laws say on the matter. Yes, its legal for me to live as LGBTQ in Northern Ireland, tick. However, reading on is when Im left with the realisation to be gay is not to be treated equally as other humans in Northern Ireland. To be gay is to have a subset of options and opportunities that are open to humans in Northern Ireland. So even in the clearest view we have as a nation, Im left with the distinct impression Im a second class citizen. Throughout my teenage years I struggled with depression. Partly this was attributed to a difficult family environment but I know a larger part of that was due to not once feeling I could ever be myself, at times crying late into the night what is wrong with me, why am I like this, why cant I be normal. It took me 2 months on from moving out of Northern Ireland to to rest of the UK, to acknowledge to myself I identifed as gay and come out to my friends and family. The catalyst seeing other people were happy, friendly, kind humans who happened to be gay and people accepting LGBTQ wholeheartedly for who they are without reservations. Thankfully Im living a happy life, with a good job and stong friendships. However there are people living in Northern Ireland who have had or having a much worse experience than Ive had and suffering. You recently stated that you wanted northern Ireland to be a shared society, that offers respect and tolerance. However, I think that will take extra efforts for the NI LGBTQ community to feel they are included in that society. Over recent decades on any LGBTQ issues in NI, whether its gay marriage, gay blood donation, gay adoption, an opposition argument had been presented followed by a notable silence and lack of action to shutdown any homophobic or transphobic rhetric in these arguments. As a member of that community I may disagree with argument but what stays with people is that underlying rhetric that to be gay is be less of a person. According to Stonewall one in five LGBT people have experienced a hate crime or incident because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity in the last 12 months and 45 percent of LGBT pupils - including 64 percent of trans pupils - are bullied for being LGBT in Britains schools. This was a survey of Britian rather than the UK but theres nothing to make me think it would be a better situation in NI. We may disgaree on our views on gay marriage however there are 2 things that I would ask you to do to help build this shared society you mentioned. One, to stand up for the LGBTQ community, vocally and visibly against homophobia, like youre doing today. You have a voice and a platform to stand up for a minority and help stand against hate crime, to help children growing up who identitfy as LGBTQ to feel safe, to feel happy, to feel that they belong. Second, I would urge you to consider allowing your party a free vote a bill for gay marriage arrives in front of a Stormont government. In my opinion, gay marriage isnt just a gay rights issue, its an equality issue, its a human rights issue. It doesnt force any religion to offer gay marriage it just allows us to feel equal in the eyes of society. I dont think its an issue that should be politicised and by allowing every MLA to vote theyre conscience allows a democratic vote where they can respresent the people of NI. This doesnt ask anyone to vote for something they dont agree with, just that the voice of the people be heard in the fairest way possible. I just ask that you and your party consider it. Finally I wanted to say thank you again for attending today, small steps like this can have a huge impact.Kindest regards, *: Ronan Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: Northern Ireland is my home. I grew up in Derry, I chose to stay in NI for uni, I made Belfast my home, I pay my taxes, I contribute to society, I work full time and work a few hours a month for a local charity. Ive just bought a house with my partner, and I like to travel. Im a pretty average person, just like most people here in NI. One thing that I cannot obtain is the right to be married to my partner. Its not something that I want or need right now, but it saddens me that the option is off the table in my future, and that the reason for this is something beyond my control. I didnt choose to be gay, any more so than my sister chose to be straight. Why then can she marry freely here in Northern Ireland, while I cannot? I respectfully ask you to rethink your stance on same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland. Obviously no church should be forced to deliver a ceremony if they do not wish to, but a civil marriage should be afforded to all who live here. Please do not deny your fellow citizens a human right, and graciously pave the way to making a huge inequality a little less so. Warmest Regards, Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: Dear Arlene Thank you for attending this event. Your presence here today speaks incredible volumes for the possibilities of our great country. Northern Ireland. I grew up somehow in the middle, by that I mean having close friendships with openly gay predecessors who fought tooth and nail to simply be accepted. While caught in the crossfire being surrounded, as I once was, by oblivious and naive teens coming out and exploring their comfort zone for the first time, not necessarily recognising the magnitude of suffering our predecessors endured, enabling our comfort zone. I used to go to my local gay bar in the early 2000s when I was 18 and feel free, looking back now having traveled the world, its quite sad, I felt free in a under financed, squat of a bar, with the backdrop of political blood dripping through my town, wanting to escape that world back then to a world where we didnt have to hide in those conditions. Escaping prejudice and torment was for me more important than fleeing my home town because of bombs and paramilitary brutalities. How sad, for an 18 year old child going through the most fragile period of his journey through this life to fear wrath, hatred & not being accepted for being something he cant help than, more than fearing his own life through political warfare. The reason I mention this? lets for a moment take politics, religion, gender, sexual orientation, tradition, away! What are we left with but memory! Thats all we have, what are your memories of your fathers struggles, his fathers, your great grandfathers. They came to land where there must be greater opportunities. What memory of that land of greater opportunity would you like to leave behind for your family? The memory of your legacy in freedom for ALL. As humans, without agenda? Im blessed to have the mother I have and the family I do who accept me, I wish I had the country that accepted me, perhaps I would never needed to run away! I understand you have religious grounds of which you stand. I respect that. Let me ask you 3 rhetorical questions How would this fabricated ideological stance sway if say, for example, any of your 3 children wanted you to accept their orientation, as their mother, the protector, an orientation which doesnt fit the your parties conventionalities? Orientation by the way, unlike religion, is not a choice! How about in years to come any of your grandchildren where to reveal to you, their grandmother, an orientation so frowned upon by your party? The Probability is likely! And thirdly How do you want to be remembered? Now, I understand the proximity and the necessity for you to please a party of people, but you, as their leader, have that voice and can surely convey to your broader followings this simple message live and let live! Love and let love! We live in a beautiful land land, often confusing at times, there really is no need to make things more confusing. Imagine the respect youd gain & power youd have behind you should you be an advocate for what is right After all, theres no greater power than the power of the rainbow! Dont get left lagging behind like some washed out nation, being laughed at, we arent that nation, follow suit, let Northern Ireland lead, all together with the rest of its isles and broader continent neighbours, its never too late. Thank you. Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: Blessings and warmest wishes, I am over the moon that you have decided to attend and LGBT event. As a person who identifies as bisexual and of the Unionist community, I have felt that I did not really matter, so thank you so much for taking this step to attend this event - it really means a great deal to me. I hope and encurrege you to continue on this path of reaching out to all the people of Northern Ireland and help to represent and respect all who live in this amazing country - kindest wishes and blessings for your future.Kindest regards, *: Sam Magilton Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: I grew up living in a village not too far from where you too grew up, Roslea. Although loving the area, having great family and friends, I see no future for myself here in NI. This may sound over exaggerated, with many talking of how beautiful Fermanagh and NI is, but I feel no love nor loyalty to a country that shows no love or loyalty to me. I thought coming to terms with my sexuality was the hardest thing Ive ever had to do, finally admitting to myself after years of depressive episodes, anxiety attacks and a suicide attempt, that I was in fact gay. What is harder however, is living as part of the LGBTQ community here in NI. I feel utter fear in my heart when Im simply holding my partners hand, after countless, and I mean countless incidents of verbal abuse calling us faggots saying we are scum of the earth. I wont censor or side step around saying the word faggot in this letter Arlene, because the truth is, the people who shout it arent censored. And why shouldnt they see us as scum of the earth, when their government not only passively allows such things to happen, but actively encourages it. Whether it be the toxic rhetoric mouted by members of your own party, or actively opposing marriage equality and the blood ban on homosexual males, it leads to many within the community looking further afield to leave NI and set up a life where they dont have to fear holding their partners hand, less they get abused. At one stage I could see myself living here in NI. I had the plan to graduate with a medical degree and set up camp in my own beautiful county of Fermanagh. This was before I realised that my country did not love me as I loved it. The dream for me has not changed, but the location and country has, which to me is a shame. Seeing how the rest of the UK and the ROI are showing such love an acceptance to diversity I see now incentive to stay in the grey area of NI, which seems prehistoric in its values and ways. I see hope for the future however. It may not be my lifetime but I hope for my own children, that if any of them identified as part of the LGBTQ community , that they can return to the beautiful Fermanagh, and feel love and acceptance, that my government has never shown to me. You have the choice Arlene, to help make NI a place for all to live in, and not just the select few. I hope you choose well. Kindest regards, *: Cathal Gorman Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: I hope you spending time here does start building the bridges between the DUP and the LGBT community. Simply put, and I am sure I am not the first and will not be the last to make this point, as members of the LGBT community, we are considered second class citizens as we are not given the same rights and respect as our straight counterparts. You are basically saying to me that I am not as worthy as you because I make different life choices than you. Every other part of the UK has come in line and we are treated equally everywhere else but here. I understand that perhaps religion plays in a part in your decisions regarding this matter BUT religion does not have a place in politics. I thought a political remit was to act for ALL people regardless of colour, sexuality, or religion. However, your remit does not consider all and therefore alienates members of some communities. We are not asking for special treatment. We are simply asking to be treated equally with our counterparts and given the same respect and rights as them. Thank you. Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: Dear Arlene. I hope i find you well. I am a 36 year old women who works full time as a support worker in a homeless hostel in belfast..i also volenteer as a befriender for the rainbow project. I am good person..who trys to make life better for people every day.. I also happen to be gay..i have been with my beautiful partner for years now.. I understand completly your religious viewpoints on people like me..but i just want you to know..i am someones sister..someones daughter and someones friend.. Please reconsider your thoughts on making this wonderful country we live in a more equal one.. Thank you..kind regards..clare louise x Kindest regards, *: Clare louise mc gartland Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: Dear Arlene, I wanted to write and tell you about my experience as a lesbian growing up in Northern Ireland. I was born in 1984 in Craigavon and moved to Belfast at 18 to study a politics degree at Queens. I knew I was gay from a very young age, around 8yrs old - but i didnt know what it was and because of the silence and invisibility in NI around these issues, I wasnt confident enough in myself to come out until I was 21. I spent 13 years holding a big secret from my family and friends and living my life on the outskirts of a society that was already deeply divided. I was only able to get the confidence to come out to my family because of a youth group ran by Youth Action, called Out n About which was for young women who identify as other than heterosexual. The group still exists today and I can honestly say it was the single best thing thats ever happened to me, finding that group and joining it. I met other young women my own age going through the same things. Young women from both sides of the political divide in Northern Ireland came together to talk, to support each other, to do personal development course, youth achievement awards and much much more. To finally at the age of 20 when i found the group feel like I had peers who were actually like me was the one thing that made me feel like I wasnt alone, i didnt have to hate myself, i could get through all of it. Its a group that your government has never funded...when i was there we were funded by the Princess Diana Fund and I can only imagine that the peoples princess would have been very happy that her legacy was having such a massive impact on the lives of young women. It still wasnt easy, despite my new found confidence in myself and my sexuality. The group only met once a month and the only other space at the time for LGBT young people were the bars and clubs...not the best environment to be finding yourself, im sure you can imagine. I remember leaving a prominent gay club in Belfast with my girlfriend at the time...we were approached by two men who called us dykes, and lesbians and stood in our path so we couldnt pass by, they shouted and spat in our faces and one of them punched me so hard in the face I was knocked over onto the ground, by nose busted open and a sizeable bump on the back of my head from where I hit the ground. We didnt report the hate crime because we felt like the police wouldnt do anything to support us. We lived in a climate of hate for LGBT people in NI. Our own politicians had openly called us all sorts of names, your own party. Gay men had been beaten to death in my lifetime for their sexuality...there was no support from anywhere I could see for our lived experiences. But life of course went on, as it does and i grew more and more confident through the youth group...i went on to work for the LGBT sector in NI where it was my job to travel across the region of N. Ireland and set up peer support groups for LGB women. In the 6 years I worked there I set up 10 peer support groups, in belfast, craigavon, derrry, strabane, coleraine and fermanagh where most of the women i worked with were in their mid to late 40s and beyond. They were women who had never had the opportunity to come out. They were women whod been neglected by our government and society for years. They were fierce and strong women. They were heroines to me. To come through so much and still manage to stay alive, to try and seek some form of happiness...they were some of the bravest women ive ever met and they came to the groups i set up to find their peers, their community and some sense of belonging. There are more and more women like them out there. There are more and more men, women and trans people who need the support of a government and society that treats all citizens with dignity, regardless of who they are or who they loved or who they worshiped. I wont insult you by asking you or your government for anything. I dont think you are the ones to give it. I wanted to write this letter only to tell a brief part of my story and to remind you that whilst youre busy creating and upholding divides so that you personally can stay wealthy we are busy building bridges over them...were busy organising, rallying, gathering, networking and strategising about how to live our lives in the best possible way and how to leave behind a Northern Ireland that is better than the one we came up through. We are busy practicing kindness and compassion. We are busy teaching ourselves and our children empathy. We are busy concerning ourselves with the wellbeing of others, not just ourselves. We are busy making sure theres soon going to be someone else where you are now to ask! In Kindness We Trust! Kindest regards, *: Orlaith Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: Dear Mrs Foster, Firstly I would like to thank you for taking the time to look over these letters and stories of the constituents from the LGBTQ community. Id like to share with you my own personal experiences of living as a lesbian woman in northern Ireland. I am from a loving, non abusive, hard working family in the heart of Andersonstown in West Belfast. I was brought up in a heavily nationalist area but never raised to judge or discriminate against anyone. The first notion that I may have been gay came to me when I was merely 11 years old, standing in a P.E class looking at girls in my class and knowing that my thought process didnt seem right. I put it down to hormones as we all do and just being comfortable with my classmates. for the next 10 years I fed into societys notion of normality, that I had to be with a male to be in a relationship and to progress down the route of getting married and having children. as a 15 year old in 2004 I was in a relationship with a guy, who I did yes love but not in love with. I continued with that relationship for years because every angle that I looked at came sayings like, this is why you are here to becoming a wife and a mother, to seeing others brave enough to be true to themselves become victims of school bullying and taunting. I therefore again recoiled back into my mind cave and left the feelings unsaid and untouched. I then went to university to study, there I felt finally I can be myself, my true self and no longer have to fear the glare or side shade or whispers behind my back that I would have received back in High School. I again was wrong, I met my first love, it was everything I could have hoped for,except I was still so terrified of being who I was, and therefore the relationship ended before it started due to my fear of persecution for being true to I was. 2 years after leaving university and out for a night with my sister and friends, I came home from work the next day to have my mummy ask me the most terrifying question she had ever asked me... was I gay!!! I dont think youll ever understand the panic that runs through your brain when faced with a question like this, unsure of what the next words that come out of your mouth will have on the actions of the questioner and I hope you never have to, alas, my mummy, the most amazing woman on the planet was, yes, upset and angry, but her anger and sadness was for me, for her knowing that this wasnt going to be and easy road for me,worrying like mothers do about marriage, family and me being alone because of who I was. Regardless of all of her fears and worries for me the only line I remember from the conversation we had was this you are my daughter, who I love, adore and respect more then ever for being true to who you are 6 years ago this month I met a lovely lady from east Belfast, from a free Presbyterian upbringing, we met, clicked, fell in love, grew, motivated,supported and love each other endlessly, and 6 years later continue to do so. we had our civil partnership here in northern Ireland on 27th January 2018 and had the most beautiful day, surrounded by our families and friends and all you could feel from the day was love, endless, unconditional love... the type you would have with your own family and friends and experienced no doubt on your wedding day. My wifes mummy would not attend due to her religious beliefs and as Christians ourselves we did not judge her because this is how she has chosen to live her life and respected her decision even though my wife cried for many and night and day over it. Whilst I always have and always will uphold Christian values in terms of respect and acceptance and my daily decisions are based on how I would like to be perceived and treated myself I do believe that we need to now divide religion and state from one another. you need to know that we are not here to destroy the sanctity of marriage in the eyes of Christian values, but marriage was around long before Christianity was and there has to come a time when religion cannot be used as a benchmark for how the political decisions are being made. As public servants like any nurse, doctor, policeman etc you must leave your own personal, religious, social, emotional, physical opinions at the door, I believe that we are being left so far behind and you do not have the backing that you once did. The nation does want change, and you can play it however you wish, but you need to see it, we demand change, the younger generations do not want to see our beautiful nation be left behind, I dont want to see our beautiful nation left behind, being made to look like the laughing stock of Europe, with our outdated laws and lack of economical and humanistic progression. I will never ask you to support marriage equality as an individual based on your own personal beliefs but I will ask you to get back to work and speak to our members, ask us what is we want, help us to knock down the walls that divide us and give your party a better understanding of why this is so important for us and for the next generation of citizens coming up the societal chain. I would hate for you to have this at your door, knowing that your party who,are a party first everything else second, make the decisions they want and hold the rest of us to ransom if it was your daughter or niece or aunt or best friend or their kids and witness the hurt, fear, anger they would have. We want you to be apart of the solution not the problem. I would gladly meet you in an informal setting to talk about this and maybe if you seen it from the eye of someone who is living this frustration every day you could be more empathetic about it. I deserve the right to have my marriage recognised for what it is, a marriage. as a tax paying, law abiding, respectful citizen who just wants to live her life peacefully, quietly and full of love. you have the opportunity to be remembered in history as the female who stood up to it all and made the change that turns other people back to the polls to vote for you not based on the green and the orange, but on the work that you are doing to promote inclusiveness, diversity and respect for all.Kindest regards, *: Caoimhe Murray Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: I am writing to ask for your support to change the undemocratic marriage laws in Northern Ireland. The vast majority of people in NI support equal marriage but we don’t have MPs to represent us and change the law. I have been in a relationship with my partner, Abbie, for over nine years. I held off proposing to her for many years (as have many of my LGBT friends) because we don’t have the opportunity for legal marriage. But I couldn’t wait any longer and last year I proposed. Unfortunately, unlike our heterosexual counterparts, we cannot get married in our own country and we have to go to the Republic of Ireland to get married. Furthermore, when we return home we won’t be recognised as a married couple. We won’t share the same civil rights or social status as heterosexual married couples. Being recognised as a married couple means inclusion and acceptance within our society. Having equal marriage status is so important, it means being perceived and treated with same respect as male/female relationships. Not having equal status makes me feel like second-class citizen. This disparity is reflected culturally in the verbal and physical abuse we have experienced when holding hands in public and dancing together. As same sex relationships are perceived as “not real committed relationships” we get a lot of sexualised comments which makes me feel uncomfortable, upset and therefore, I usually avoid holding hands or public displays of affection. I work full-time for the health service as a psychologist, I pay taxes, I vote I contribute to my society, but I am not recognised as an equal. We hope to adopt children in the future but I fear that they will be rejected by their peers, by other children’s parents and society, because we are not seen as a “normal family”. I’m asking you to please use your power in Westminster to intervene and help us obtain equal rights. I’m asking you to help us stop discrimination. We are citizens of the United Kingdom yet we don’t have the same rights as the rest of the UK. It doesn’t make any sense. In a recent survey, Ipsos MORI polled a representative sample of 1,029 people aged 16 in Northern Ireland. Findings suggested that 70% of people living in NI support equal marriage. Our government is failing us, both in your absence and discrimination towards a minority group. The petition of concern was created to protect the rights of minority populations, not repress them. DUP politicians have abused that power too many times and it is the ordinary citizens who live here that pay the price. We have more suicides and mental health issues here in NI than the rest of the UK and the prevalence of mental health problems are higher among LGBT people. I ask you to use your power to help us, help us to be treated as equals. Let the citizens of Northern Ireland vote on these issues. We have never been given the opportunity before. Despite what the national and international community may think, we are not a backward thinking society. We are a society repressed by undemocratic leadership. Let us vote on the issues that affect our everyday lives, our social and emotional wellbeing and our future. Kindest regards, *: Dr Katie Trainor Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: It’s time politicians in Northern Ireland caught up with the electorate and wider society. The relationships of people in the LGBT community deserve and demand the same and equal status of those of straight couples. Marriage equality exists across GB and ROI and it shames our society that Northern Ireland remains the last outpost in these islands where the relationships of same sex couples are treated as second class. Your recent outreach work across various parts of Northern Ireland is a welcome move and you must continue on this path and ensure your party stops using assembly procedures to block the will of the majority to legislate for marriage equality. British and Irish citizens in Northern Ireland deserve to be treated with the same equality that applies elsewhere. Kindest regards, *: Alan Law, Ballymena Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: Due to the views on equal rights from the DUP you where one of the main decision makers to moving overseas. You lost a skilled and talented employee working with all ages from 18 months to adult in key fundamentals areas of skill and sport development. With a changed decision it may sway me to look at restarting my life in Belfast Kindest regards, *: John Ryan Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: Being a gay person in Northern Ireland is no walk in the park, as a teenager I prayed religiously for freedom from what I understood to be the plague of homosexuality. I was relentlessly abused by fellow pupils throughout my time in school for my effeminate manner because of the demonisation of something as natural as the colour of our skin or better understood as the special kind of love you feel for your husband. Studying in the south of England has opened my eyes to the accommodative effect the alignment of civil law with human rights can bring. No one in the gay community is endeavouring to change your point of view as freedom of thought is your right in a liberal democracy, we are not endeavouring to pervert your religious orders from which we have been excluded for hundreds if not thousands of years, we are simply asking for the same right to bind ourselves to another human being and raise a family within a lawful contract. I ask you, as a fellow human being, to be on the right side of history.Kindest regards, *: Sé Luca McKee Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: Dear Arlene, I would value your party if they would support equality within the LGBT community to allow Northern Ireland be a place of acceptance, love and peace. I am from the protestant community and in a professional job and have contributed within the Northern Ireland workforce for the last 26 years. I am contemplating moving from Northern Ireland at the age of 44 years old to move to the mainland or ROI to be accepted within my sexuality as a gay man. Northern Ireland is a lovely country with great tourist attractions, good health care, good education standards and a fair criminal justice system but lacks equality for gender, sexuality and race and you and your party can make that change. I appreciate you taking the time to read my letter of plea. Thanks Yours sincerely Tyrone BestKindest regards, *: Tyrone Best Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: Grace and peace to you. Thank you for agreeing to attend the PinkNews reception at Stormont to listen to the stories of LGBT folk in Northern Ireland, which I hope youll find insightful. Id like briefly to tell a little of my story here too, if I may, as a young(ish!) committed Christian from Belfast who is gay. Named after my grandfather, the wonderful former PCI moderator Rev. David Burke, I have had a deep love for the Church since I was little. Through Sunday school and youth groups I was fascinated to know more about the incredible figure of Jesus of Nazareth, who defied societal conventions in order to show those on the fringes of society overwhelming uncompromising love. Shortly after primary school I dedicated my life to following this radical saviour, and - with many hardships along the way - have not looked back since. About this same time I realised that I was gay. It was a realisation that no matter what I did, I felt romantic feelings for some of my male friends, and none of my female friends. The atmosphere of my church at the time was either negative about gay people, or the topic was taboo. This taught me as a kid to feel a great amount of shame about these feelings I could not control, and taught me to remain silent. So I stayed silent, retreated away from my great family and friends, and my faith-life felt so far away from the promise of life to the fullness. While at medical school, on a placement at a maternity unit in Uganda, around the time the Ugandan government were contemplating the death penalty for male gay relationships on religious grounds, I reached a crisis point. I could not bear the great sadness of keeping silent anymore, and I felt a strong sense that God was asking me to tell my story, and break the painful silence within church communities. So when I returned I told my loving parents - who amazingly accepted me because of their faith, not despite it - and my friends. This was a terrifying experience, but a wonderful relief too. I found and befriended other LGBT Christians, and looked with confidence and curiosity further into what the Bible teaches. What I found was a gospel about the incredible Kingdom of God, constantly expanding and turning the world upside down with our Saviours incredible love. And I honestly believe, as an evangelical Christian, that it is the most biblical and Christ-like thing for the Church to embrace and honour same-sex couples, and celebrate the marriage of same-sex couples. I know this is still a controversial opinion in some Christian communities, but one Im always happy to discuss. In either case, after finally coming out in my twenties, I felt whole again with a reignited faith, largely because those of faith - my family and friends and pastor - chose to treat me with kindness, and chose to simply listen to what I had to say. Thank you again for listening. May God bless you in abundance.Kindest regards, *: Dr David Burke Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: I’m a Gay man from Carrickfergus. As the leader of your party and ultimately the representative of my constitutey I have to ask why I’m being treated as a 2nd class citizen. I work as a professional. I pay taxes, I contribute to scoicity as does everyone else in this country who works and supports their commity. I volunteer for a charity to give something back. Yet you deny me my rights and as a party, however unintentionally, allow insults and abuse to be directed at me - all because your party line doesn’t enshrine my rights as a person. Equal rights like any other citizen is all I ask. We fought wars and sacrificed millions of our best to ensure these rights. Please allow us the dignity to live as our neighbors and friends do. Kindest regards, *: Norman Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: Dear Arlene, I’m 23 year old man and growing up as a gay person in Northen Ireland in a very unionist supportive area was a always a struggle, growing up and afraid of being myself while others around me make jokes and offensive comments like in school and in public places about something I have as much control over as someone choosing their skin colour at birth. To this day I still have fear of coming out to people, I hesitated to mutter the words this is my boyfriend to others while he is in my presence at a party for example. I have always felt like a second class citizen growing up in my teens hoping one day I’ll feel normal, that I’ll feel like everyone else. You and you’re party have the power to change, to make Thousands of LGBT people within Northern Ireland feel normal and accepted like everyone else. To help others who support your party to also change their minds about the gay community, to legalise same-sex marriage like everywhere else in the UK and the Republic of Ireland, you have the power to light up northen Ireland with the rest of brightness of the UK and Ireland. I hope that one day you and your party will see the light and help 1000s of other LGBT people in Northern Ireland to be like everyone else.Kindest regards, *: Glenn Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: I am a bisexual, Irish woman, living in Derry. I am a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend and I am amazed (and not in a good way) at the overtly prehistoric views you and your party have in regards to many things, but especially in regards to LGBT people. It is now said that you are deciding to attend an LGBT event, which I and many are not sure how to react to. Is it an obligation or do you actually want to be there? Do you really care about these people? Do you have any intention on helping these people? Families are being denied rights, same-sex couples who have shared years upon years in loving, stable, respectable relationships and partnerships, they are being denied the right to be legally married, to be validated and viewed as just as worthy as their heterosexual peers- their friends, family, neighbours. Gay and bisexual men are being denied the crucial right to donate blood. The blood ban is completely ludicrous. Same-sex marriage is not an abomination, it is not a sin, it is not a travesty to the ideals of marital laws. Love is love. Its as simple as that. Ive been with men, Ive been with women, both relationships were fulfilling and loving. My relationship with a woman was not dirty. Just as my relationship with a man was not. I just hope you can open your eyes and heart. Nobody deserves to feel judged, dirty or wrong. I have felt all those things. These are hard feelings to live with, but they are just feelings. The DUP preach about God, but God is love and God loves us all, regardless of who we are or who we love. Love is key. LOVE, not judgment, not prejudice, not fear. LOVE. Lets not confuse it with anything other than what it really, truly is. It is acceptance and understanding, it is kind and it is good. Northern Ireland is a long stretch behind where we need to and should be. The rest of the UK and the ROI are ahead of us, they have made that step of changing their laws, opening their hearts and are on their own journeys in regards to acceptance to humankind. We need to get a move on, Arlene. Were not living in a modern world, we are living PREHISTORICALLY. All this stigma must end, all of these stereotypes serve nobody well. NOBODY. Nobody deserves to feel so hated and alone, that they want to end it all. LGBT have the highest stats for alcohol and substance misuse, eating disorders, self harm, suicide attempts and succeeded suicide (I have been affected by all of these, if not directly, then with someone I know/knew or cared for). It is not pretty and it is a reality for many! Think about that. People are hiding this part of themselves, some living lives that are not true to themselves, hiding away this dirty secret, but theres nothing dirty about it. I struggled alone with it for a long time. I hated myself, I was ashamed, but now, I am not. I AM ME. It is just a small fraction of who I am, it does not define me, my sexuality. I just like a person, I do not care what sex/ gender they are. I just fall for a person, their soul, their heart. Whether or not I agree with you and your values, I ask you, in your place of power within NI to listen to myself and to any others who have written you these HEART-FELT letters, pleading to PLEASE listen to us, our messages, our cries. Please read what we have to say. I write this not with hate or disgust, but with hope, with faith, for the potential that you as a human being have to experience this breakthrough I pray you have, to have this change of heart. So, please look into yourself and make this change, or at least try and be open to it. Talk to people and try and put yourself in their shoes. Look at them as your equals. LGBT people and all minorities need recognition, compassion and understanding! We need basic human rights, EQUAL rights. Thank you for reading what I have to say. Please, think about it.Kindest regards, *: Clíona Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: Dear Arlene, As a Protestant leader you, and your party, often cite that you are carrying out the will of your constituents. Well I would like to let you know that my straight Protestant father, mother, brother, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, extended family and friends all disagree with you. They lovingly support my right to marry whomever I choose and I hope that one day you will let them celebrate with me. I dont you ask you to support it yourself. I won’t send you an invite. All I ask is that you carry out the will of the people you claim to represent and allow a fair political ruling on this without any form of veto. Kindest regards, *: Rebecca Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: In 2018 we as adults should be able to make our own choices, like our parents before use. My partner and I find ourselves in a strange situation where we cant convert out CP (12 years ago). This is unlike Scotland, England or Wales. Stigma is a massive issue for me as a 44 year old man. Why? Because many people dont know the facts and thats where Politicians come in. Many of your comments have been unforgiving for me personally, or so I thought. The stepping stone you are now taking should be commended. Get the POC reformed , get back to your job and help bring marriage equality to this country. (Or dont block its)Kindest regards, *: John Vernon Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: Dear Arlene As a mother of two gay children Im very proud of the kind and caring adults they have grown into . But the torture my son went threw in his own home and out on the streets were HD grew up was unbelievable . He was beaten stoned windows put in nearly every weekend . He lived in a small block of flats 4 to be exact . All this bullying and tormenting started with some of the other residents but quickly spilled out on to other people who hung around the street corners ..they made both my son and my family s lives a living hell for years the fear and fustration and homophobic abuse we went threw was undescrible. He was only 22 years of age and living like a hounded animal . Running the gauntlet every time he left his home . We called the police who I have to say were excellent tried to give him as much protection as they could .but most of the time I found are cries for help were falling on deaf ears from no help from the Housing Excetive and local representives we went public with his case because as a mother I felt my son was going to be beaten to death on me and my heart was broke trying to get help and save my son just so he could live a normal live which he is entitled to do as much as every one else ..my son has been left now with a lot of mental health problems which he never had before this nightmare began . I also have been affected by the constant abuse as they also tortured me in my home because I would not give into there bulling tactics. So Arlene I hope when and if you ever have children you never have to witness the things I have had to see .your child chased and beaten stoned like our Lord in the street they tried to kill his wee dog windows put smashed in the early hours of the morning names sprayed on his front door and the verbal abuse that last for hours on end in his own home .me as a mother watching my son curled up in a ball wanting to be dead watching a beautiful soul fade into madness because people just didnt like the son because he was gay . People like yourself and other party members have not helped with your opinion s on homosexual people ..I hope when you read my letter and other peoples letters you will think before you make an opinion because my SON and DAUGHTERS are my world they are kind loving caring people who have never hurt or abused anyone in any way ..and have the right to live there lives without fear and torture to have the privacy that most other people have in there relationships .. we are all human beings who need to learn to live together no matter what religion colour or sexual orentation ..I hope my letter helps you understand how words can lead to bad actions ..thank you for taking the time to read this ❤ Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: Dear arlene, As you know Northern Ireland is the home to many people from many walks of life. There are now people with many different religions, cultures and lifestyles living in Northern Ireland, and they deserve rights and recognition. Our laws and policies need to reflect the changes in public opinion and culture. As a young woman attending a catholic school I felt isolated when i was outed as a bisexual, i encountered predjudice from both teachers and students, and i felt i couldnt turn for help in school knowing my sexuality was not accepted, young adults up and down NI are experiencing the same culture of erasure as i faced. LGBTQ children and young adults NEED acceptance, they need to feel welcome and accepted and they need more inclusive education. As a teen i struggled with my sexuality, my father and the pride community helped but it would have been better if the help had been in school when i faced the bullying. A young person should feel safe to turn to a teacher not scared theyll face predjuice for something they cannpt help. The LGBTQ community have campagined for many years to be allowed to live and love freely in this country, and your job as minister is to see this through. Any personal predjuice and religious views that you of your party might have should not have a place in the policy decisions that effect the LGBTQ community. Love is a human right, the war on the LGBTQ community in this country has gone on long enough. It is time we join the rest of the UK in granting the rights deserved. I hope by attending pride your heart and mind might be opened and that you might grow as a person and realise the LGBTQ community only want the rights and privileges of any other citizen in this country, we want our voices heard thays all. Thank you for your time. Kindest regards, *: Dominique May proud member of the LGBTQ community Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: Dear Arlene, I will not ever vote for the DUP until they clear out the religious fervour and radicals, and can function as a secular organisation who supports all their constituents and equal rights for everyone. My son is gay and was born that way, and he deserves everything a heterosexual has. I don’t believe in your god or any other, and no church or religious government will ever make a decision about my body - abortion is not a walk in the park for anyone, it’s a difficult yet considered decision for all - people have to take it themselves. Attending an LGBT event means NOTHING! If you don’t know what they stand for by now, there is no point. Why not get back to work and make some changes for the greater good, instead of trying to make us all walk down your narrow minded sectarian path. The war is over. I was born into a Protestant household, and I will be voting for a united Ireland come the first opportunity. Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: Dear Mrs Foster (do you mind if I call you Arlene?), I have to admit, hearing that you were attending an LGBT event surprised me. I have never felt that the DUP is for me, despite growing up with a strong Unionist background in Carrickfergus. My family were regular churchgoers, with my mother in particular having a strong faith and teaching in the Girls Brigade. I attended Sunday School, youth group, sang in choirs and praise groups and desired a relationship with God, but I also always knew I was different. I wasn’t “manly” in the same way my cousins were or other boys in my year, and I began to feel shame as I came to realise I was gay in my teen years. I suffered badly from anxiety attacks as I struggled to process being attracted to other men, because I had been taught that what turned out to be my own intrinsic nature was harmful, hateful and sinful. I used to wonder “Why me?”, when I had been brought up in faith and had a strong family unit - I had no reason to be gay, and thought it was some sort of test from God, a test that my teenage self could not cope with and I very nearly got close to ending everything. My salvation came through going to Scotland for university. I met friends who truly accepted me as I was, and I fell in love for the first time. My parents were initially devastated. They blamed my sexuality on something they must have done, and told me not to tell anyone else because they weren’t sure how the family would cope. For the rest of my 4 years at uni I was out in Scotland and hid myself when Home in NI, until I met my fiancé, David. My parents were charmed, and my 80-something grandparents (who still vote “official Unionist” and attend St Nicholas’ Parish Church in the town) loved him too. I moved back to NI in 2012 after uni, to save up money while David finished his degree. I protested the actions of Edwin Poots in stopping gay men like myself giving blood, or being allowed to adopt children as a partnership I wrote to my local MP and MLA Sammy Wilson, stating that I found it absurd that your party wishes to strengthen the Union with the U.K., but continues to afford LGBT people lesser rights in law than our counterparts in Falkirk, Coventry or Merthyr Tydfil. I volunteered with Cara-Friend, representatives of whom I hope you’ll meet and speak with at the Pink News event, listening to people in NI who feel trapped and alone and suicidal because of the homophobia that is still prevalent in Northern Irish society. But I no longer felt NI was my home. I had several long chats with my mum, because I felt guilty that I could simply move to somewhere where I would feel more accepted, where my partner and I could live without feeling nervous for holding hands in the street, where we could eventually raise children. She wisely said that you have to choose your battles. My mum died last August, being diagnosed with Stage IV renal cancer in February 2017. My fiancé and I were already engaged at the time, and when we found out her cancer was terminal he scoured the internet looking for somewhere in Cavan, Monaghan or Donegal where we could easily travel from NI and get married so Mum could be there before she passed, but any journey by that time would’ve added to her suffering. She bore her diagnosis bravely though, showing a strength that I think Northern Irish women are renowned for. One of the things that I’m most proud of was her telling her local minister that he would not be conducting her funeral due to his homophobic beliefs (as well as other failings in pastoral care), and the Minister who did conduct her funeral, who had baptised me as a child, met and shook the hand of my partner and treated him the same as any other family member. That’s really what the LGBT community are wanting in NI, the right to be treated the same as everyone else. Our difference is wonderful, and part of what makes us unique as human beings, but as part of a modern society I believe all should be equal before the law. We don’t want to face bullying in school for “not being normal”. We don’t want to face discrimination in the workplace or fear of simply being in a public setting. We don’t want to have to settle for a lesser form of relationship, we want to show our love to one another in a recognised way by the state that is the same as our family members. We want to raise families. We want the same respect afforded to others in our society just for being ourselves. I sincerely hope you enjoy the upcoming event, and hear more stories from the LGBT community. We do want change, and ultimately think that increasing acceptance and recognising love in society can only be for good. Thank you for reading,Kindest regards, *: Ashton Montgomery Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: Hello, listen girl, I am 20 years old. I grew up in Strabane as a catholic and at 10 years old I told my family I liked girls, not really understanding the whole concept of being “gay” it was just normal like yeah girl I like girls and as I got older the more I came to realise ok people don’t like this, it makes people uncomfortable, they don’t like it when gay people kiss on tv the RARE time it is even shown, but they have no problem watching heterosexual penetration on tv, girl if your son/daughter (if you have any I don’t know and if not niece/nephew/grandchild) told you they were gay wouldn’t you want them to be happy, to be able to commit their life to them, to the person they are happy with, that makes them whole? Cause girl, let me tell you, in northern Ireland right now that ain’t a thing (as you know) and what if in 10 years from now you meet a woman and your like “shit, never did I think this would happen but I love her” GIRL it’s 100% Normal and in our destiny, if ya’ll don’t support us, good luck in the future, let me tell you why, each day the gayness is spreading, more and more people (in younger generations) are becoming more relaxed with the concept and eventually the DUP will be voted out when the majority of the nation will be bisexual or gay or trans etc so girl why not help the change now, cause it will come, so why not go down in history as being a woman who helps them? Because I can guarantee, the support you, and the DUP will get from that will be IMMENSE good luck, HON THE GAYS lgbt forever. I love women.Kindest regards, *: Zoe logue Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: Have you ever had to pretend to be something that youre not? Have you ever had to hide your true self from the people you care about in fear of rejection? I thought not. I currently live in a society which does not accept the LGBT community and does not hold them in the same regard as other heterosexual members of society, through the denial of same sex marriages. My own parents have an issue with gay couples but I know that if the law in Northern Ireland was to reflect a more open minded way of thinking then this would surely filter through to other members of society. And even if my parents were to learn and accept that I am gay before any legislation was passed, Im sure there would be disappointment at not seeing their daughter feeling comfortable in our current society, and unable to reach her dream of being a great wife. I actually met you once Arlene. It was at the Tourism Awards last year and I told you how great it was to have a strong female leader in our country. I wish I could have said then that I prayed you would change your LGBT policies, but I was even more closeted then than I am now, and it perhaps wouldnt have been the most appropriate time. However you are still a strong female leader and still have the ability to bring about great change in Northern Ireland. Please do not ignore the voices of the LGBT community. The injustices they suffer will undoubtedly be put right in the coming years and you should be leading the charge in welcoming them back into the community, not creating more hurdles for people who have already jumped over so many personally and beyond to be who they want to be. Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: You personally have made me cry on numerous occasions. That may sound childish or immature and you may not find it important but it is. I am a bisexual woman. I am proud to be bisexual. My sexuality does not define me but it is part of me. For you to openly state that your party and the people you represent do not support my fundamental rights hurts me. It causes me emotional and physical pain. Members of your party have called those with homosexual attraction vile, abhorrent and abominations. Your party has called ME vile, abhorrent and an abomination. I am none of those things. I am none of those things. Here is what I am. A daughter. An aunt. A sister. A wife. A civil servant. A writer. An artist. A human being. Just like you Arlene. A human being with thoughts, feelings, emotions and the ability to feel pain, love, joy, hatred and empathy. The full range of human emotions. Just. Like. You. You espose your parties Christian values and state that the policies of your party represent the views of the electorate. You are wrong. Your values are neither Christian nor representative. You have no right to judge me. You dont know me. My experience of sexuality and love is mine and mine alone. You cannot tell me I am wrong to be attracted to anyone as I cannot dictate who you are attracted to. We are all human and humans are different. Individual differences are what make life beautiful. Here is what I need from you Arlene. I need you to be the strong female leader I as a young woman deserve to have in government. As a woman I have waited so goddamn long to see female representation and I genuinely want to support you but how can I when you attack me on the most basic level. You attack my right to love and more importanly my right to exist as the woman I am. You can change. You should change. Change your policies to take account of those of us who do not fit the narrowminded and frankly archaic view your party promote. Respect me. Respect my right to love and to make a commitment to the person I love. Marriage is a legal contract but it is so much more. It is the expression of the most important human experience. If you deny someone this right you deny them a basic human right. I dont hate you Arlene. I am disappointed in you but I believe in you. I believe you are brave and strong and you will do the right thing. So please. PLEASE. Listen when I. A member of your electorate tell you.... The DUP do not represent me. They exclude and ostracise me and you have the power to fix that. Love will save the world. Love wins. Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: Dear Arlene Foster, I am writing to you personally to appeal for change within your party. Whilst I am not a unionist, I have a great amount of respect for political unionism and the role the DUP have to play within it. Constitutionally and economically your party has strong views, some of which I support and others I do not, but all of which are perfectly valid and debatable within a democracy. However, I do have considerable difficulty in accepting the DUP’s stance on various social issues, not least of which being homosexuality. I identify as gay, which itself is something many members of your party outright resent. The horrendous language used by people such as Ian Paisley Jr MP and Sammy Wilson MP, and the DUP’s stance of opposing marriage equality are among the many reasons I simply cannot support your party. This is something I deeply regret because, as someone who has grown up in Northern Ireland and has connections with both sides of our divided yet interconnected country, I passionately believe in power-sharing and the combined efforts of both nationalists and unionists working together to make Northern Ireland a better place. The homophobia that is so prevelant in your party is something that I hope you will begin to tackle in an effort to make people like me feel more welcome and accepted in Northern Irish society. Just this year, I decided to move away from Northern Ireland. Although this was for predominantly economic reasons, I must add that the abuse that I have personally received because of my sexuality did play a role in my decision. This is deeply saddening because I, like you, love Northern Ireland but it is not somewhere I feel safe to be who I am and love who I love. From being looked at differently in the street, to people actually getting out of their cars and screaming abuse at my partner and I simply because of our existence is something that has hurt me and made me feel unwelcome in my home, and I can assure you that my own experiences are far from the worst people experience on a daily basis. I hope that you can see the clear problems faced by the LGBT community in Northern Ireland, and I very much welcome your attendance at this event. I hope that you continue to advocate for unionism and represent the people who elect you, but I hope that you can see the need for change within your party and in Northern Ireland. I thank you again for attending this event and showing your support, and I hope that you listen to the messages contained within this section. Kindest regards, *: Benjamin Irwin Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: Dear Arlene The dup have made LGBT feel less equal for years and people have taken their lives because they cant cope with their sexuality and your party still preach its wrong to be gay Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: Growing up as a gay person in Northern Ireland is not easy. I live in a town called Enniskillen and it is filled with so many small minded individuals that would judge you just for being who you are. I can say that things have gotten a lot better in the past 10/20 years, but there are a lot of things that you, and many other people in higher positions than myself could do to help. Growing up I felt quite alone, and scared as I had nobody really to talk to or confide in about my problems, and this was due to the huge stigma put against gay people in this country. I just don’t understand how you and your party cannot even give the possibility of gay marriage the time of day. As an 18 year old I have developed a lot of thick skin and can handle whatever is thrown at me but I think the gay youth who are still in the closet are scared because of different things - including the fact that your party has been so vocal in disagreeing with certain aspects of homosexuality. I think that yous all should be more positive and kind toward the LGBT community, and opening your eyes and see that we are in such a progressive society that denying the right for gay people to marry is seen as monstrous, which it is. Respect would go a long way.Kindest regards, *: Jonathan Smith Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: Dear Mrs Foster, I am a 19 year old female from Belfast. I live in an area where the DUP win every election. I have no opposition to your party bar the fact you deny me my basic human right of a marriage. Imagine you woke up tomorrow, unable to marry your husband and told that you could enter into a “civil partership” which is simply an admission that your love is lesser. That’s what it is like for an lgbt person growing up here. Irrelevant of your own personal views, I ask you to consider what it would be like for you growing up in a country where one of the main political parties discriminated against you and where members of the party describe you as a pervert or pedophile. The amount of times supporters of your party have verbally attacked me and called me sick is disgraceful. By not supporting lgbt rights, you are condoning discrimination and bullying. You might think that you are following your religious beliefs but the God I am aware of preaches love and kindness. I know that I am one of many in this country suffering because of your parties ignorance and hatred. Please support lgbt rights, we aren’t asking you to get married to the woman who lives next door. We aren’t asking you to adapt our lifestyle, even though it isn’t a choice. We are simply asking for you to allow us to live as we are. If you consider it a sin, then I will happily live a sinful life but I would rather do it with equal recognition to heterosexual couples. Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: I grew up in, and still live in, a DUP heartland. I have been called faggot and gayboy many times by people in my estate, long before I ever had a notion that I wasnt 100% straight. And unfortunately, this link - between fixed political identity and intolerance towards a sexuality that might be seen as other - is one that remains strong in my experience. Growing up in a religiously conservative household, and being an active member of a local Presbyterian church throughout my teens, voting DUP and resenting the gays was something I inhaled along with the air. It was just part of the atmosphere. When a homosexual character came on TV, the channel was switched with a sigh and a sense of personal grudge when sex was mentioned from the pulpit (this was infrequently) it was made crystal clear that heterosexual sex was the only kind that could ever be sanctioned (and even then, it had a lot of conditions attached.) As a teen, I was never fully comfortable with my churchs or my communitys treatment of homosexual and bisexual people. And the idea of transexuality was so far off the radar in these places that it might as well not exist. What I came to realise, early on, was that there was an utter lack of understanding about what it was to be gay. As a loaded label, as a derogatory slur, as an appellation for anything the speaker disapproved of, the word gay was thrown about with flippancy and distaste during my youth. By my family, by my church, by my peers in school and the estate. Did any of them actually know someone who was gay? The answer was invariably no, and they werent about to change that any time soon. I count myself lucky to have been close friends with a gay boy in primary school, and a lesbian in high school. Both were friendly and fun to be around, and - I was somewhat amazed to find - were not rebellious, outspoken, flamboyant, agenda-pushing, flag-waving gays (for every gay was this kind of gay, Id been taught since I was yea high.) I wish they had been more of all of those things, now. I wish that the environment they were in had allowed them to be more open and comfortable in their sexuality. And I wish Id done much much more to support them. Friendship was without a doubt the most important factor in clearing my mind of all the religious and social arguments Id imbibed, which said that gay people should not be treated with equality and respect. Arguments, theories, systems of thought... they all dissolved in the actual immersive experience of getting to know somebody else. It was only when my brother came out as gay a few years ago, and then I myself came out as bisexual, that I realised my silence was not anywhere near enough. (Both myself and my brother experienced periods of deep, terrifying depression prior to coming out - it is worthwhile considering the statistics around mental health and the LGBT community in Northern Ireland.) By being quiet, I was being a poor friend, a poor brother, a poor ambassador for myself. By refusing to speak, I was letting the status quo in my DUP-led community remain intact. This status quo is one of grudging tolerance at best, and active resentment and discrimination at worst. It is heartening to know that you are willing to meet people with LGBT experience though I am also inexpressibly distressed that meeting with ANY group of people as valuable equals should be considered a big step. I hope you will see that there is still much to be done to give LGBT people a sense of security and belonging which is often wrested from them most forcibly by those with strong politico-religious beliefs. I further hope you experience the welcome and embrace which is something I have been offered overwhelmingly by the LGBT community. Without fail, I have been made feel at home by its diverse and open-minded members. I have learned a lot from becoming part of this community. Nobody understands better the healing power of inclusion and of collapsing false divisions than those who have known the sting of exclusion. Political leaders have a lot to learn from the LGBT community, in its elastic ability to practise forgiveness, and to accommodate wide differences of opinion. Northern Ireland has a lot to learn from the LGBT community. (And it is no mistake that this paragraph contains the word community so many times. My LGBT friends and acquaintances excel in communing with others, in initiating dialogue and finding points of contact.) It is also heartening to see more women in positions of leadership, and my appeal is that you do not let the hallmarks of the traditionally male-led politics of the past attach themselves to your career. There is, simply, no room for progress in a black-and-white, them-or-us mentality, which only comprehends people in the abstract. Whether this expresses itself in politics, or faith, or sexuality (and where do you draw the lines that separate these categories? they all intermingle) an inability to extend a hand of friendship to the other will never result in a peaceful outcome. I am confident that this step of engaging with the LGBT community will be the first of many. I hope and pray that you will become an advocate for equality in this and every other aspect of life in our province. Within my peer group, the DUP is fast becoming a by-word for intolerance, exclusion, narrow-mindedness and the stubborn adherence to outdated modes of thought. There is a new generation reaching maturity that have no interest in the divisions of politics, religion, race, sexuality, or gender. And as a member of that generation, I sign myself, with respect and anticipation, Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: Dear Arlene, Are you concerned with the high suicide rates and mental health in Northern Ireland? How many of those people where/are gay? We have the highest rates. We are the only part of the UK and Ireland that denies the right for gay people to get married. How does that feel for a gay person living here. It says you are different, you don’t have the same rights as us, your love is shameful and won’t be acknowledged by the church, even though you may be a spiritual person in a long term relationship.This is emotionally destructive. You could change this by embracing everyone including gay people. You could stand up and show that you truly value everyone. We want to get married. Most of us have been in relationships for years. Be the Martin Lurther King of today. Except everyone truly, it is not weakness to show kindness. Love is all that matters, all types of love . Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: Dear Arlene, I am a lecturer and a mental health specialist, born and bred in Northern Ireland. Although I love my beautiful little country and the people within, I do not plan to live here. I have my residents visa for Canada and myself and my beautiful, long term girlfriend will be moving there to live out the remainder of our lives. One of the major factors in making such a decision has been the lack of understanding and respect from my elected government representatives towards my community and the outdated laws preventing myself and my girlfriend to marry and live normal lives. As a result, and with some regret, we will be taking our education and skill sets to a country which can offer us dignity, respect and a greater quality of life. Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: Im a 47 year old woman living in Northern Ireland. I live in an old rickety house with my 2 young sons and 2 daft dogs. I run a small business which I work very hard at and my sole objective in life isnt to make vast amounts of money, it is to set a good example for my sons. I want to show them that hard work, honesty, integrity and kindness are the cornerstones of leading a good life. I am on a long term relationship with my partner. She is a professional woman who works hard to provide for her 2 sons from a previous relationship. She is well educated, wildly intelligent and hard working. She contributes to her community in more ways than I can detail here and she is extremely well liked and regarded. She is probably the kindness and most honest person you could ever meet and if you knew her you couldnt help but like her. Im biased I know! We talk endlessly about some day getting married. We have dreams and plans like any other two people who wish to spend their lives together. The commitment we have with one another has been made in our hearts and in boring legal areas. But were waiting. We dont want to be treated any differently from anyone else. We just want to be married to one another. You may feel that this flies in the face of religious teaching and that is fine if its your private belief, many agree with you and many dont. Why however does your opinion of someones elses life hold any more weight than mine? No one denies you simple rights yet you deny me mine. If you saw our life together you would see that we are just ordinary people, we work hard, we bring our children up to be good members of society, we contribute to our communities and we seek happiness and contentment. Were not morally corrupt people, we have never harmed anyone, neither of us has had so much as a speeding ticket yet we are treated like the scourge of society. You and your party talk so much about the definition of marriage being between one man and one woman. That allows so much to be ignored and so little to be considered. I have never heard your party talk about commitment and faithfulness yet these to me are what marriage is about. Your focus is entirely wrong and I would ask that you please consider that you are dealing with PEOPLES LIVES here not nameless, faceless numbers. Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: Dear Arlene, As a gay man born in Northern Ireland I can truly say that I feel second class to my neighbours and friends. My constituency of North Antrim has been a CUP stronghold all my life. In this time we have had the protect Ulster from sodomy campaign. Comment after comment from Maurice Mill and Ian Paisley Snr and Jnr of how disgusting I am. As a unionist and Brexiteer I feel I have no place within NI politics and i would be completely unwelcome. I have nothing but respect for a persons religious views, however these should not be used when making decisions about state. When you became leader of the party I had so much hope for the future but sadly I have lost all hope in the DUP. My family were strong DUP supporters but now no one in my family vote for you due to your old fashioned and out of touch views. I implore you to stop holding NI back and allow us to move with the times. I am a British citizen but have less rights here than my counterparts in GB. How can we promote British values here when we pick and choose which values we want to promote. Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: As a mental health counsellor support young people in NI, I want you to recognise,accept and respect that your party IS DAMAGING people. How very dare you think your political standing gives you the right to strip people of their identities. As a resident in NI, right now I am utterly ashamed to say so due to the absolutely.mockery and shambles that is Stormount. You represent an ageing population with bigoted, sectarian views that stop cohesion, mutual growth and autonomy here. Do your job or get out please! J McQuillan Very disgruntled voterKindest regards, *: J McQuillan Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: Living in Northern Ireland and being apart of the lgbt community is hard because we get a lot of abuse and harassment from a lot of people which is hurtful for us. I had to wait till I left school before I came out because I didn’t feel like my school was a safe environment especially because it was an all boys school it would be great if you could help others that face this problem by providing support to the schools so they know how to help those people out and to let them know that the school will be a safe place for them to come and they have all the support they need to come out as a part of the lgbt community. I wish I could have came out a lot earlier than after I left school because it would have showed me who my true friends would have been. I know a few people that are scared to come out because of the abuse that the lgbt community gets. Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: Dear Mrs Foster, Firstly, Id like to thank you for deciding to attend an LGBT community event. This will be a fantastic opportunity to improve the relationship between us and the DUP. I am a gay man from Newcastle, County Down and my experience as a member of the LGBT community has been incredibly difficult. Coming out as gay to my parents haunted me for years, I had trauma, I prayed to be straight tried to pretend to be straight and it was a living hell lying about this to everyone. I dont know if you can empathis with the horrible stress of living a lie and constant anxiety of accidentally outing yourself. I respect that the DUP will probably never support legislation for equal marriage, and other changes in rights for LGBT people. What I do ask however, is that you would consider not using the petition of concern or actively fighting against the provision of these rights. Gay marriage takes nothing away from traditional marriage between a man and a woman. Its a celebration of love, and is something beautiful and special. Your marriage for example, is a fantastic union of two people who have created a family. I think its really wonderful. I only wish that I could have the same for me. Id also like to ask that your politicians and representatives consider how they speak about the LGBT community. I know that ALL of your politicians come from a place of concern, compassion and love for all people when they speak. As a Christian, I appreciate that your representatives want to help everyone, including the LGBT community. These are deeply held beliefs, and have their routes in Christian love for our neighbours. Thats why I beg you, to please consider taking measures with your team to change how they address these topics, especially their use of language. Every time a conversation about LGBT people is broadcast on radio or TV, on social or traditional media, the levels of self-harm and suicide attempts among LGBT rise significantly. This was recorded in the recent referendums about gay marriage in the Republic of Ireland and Australia. Hearing words like abomination, perverts, disgusting, sinful and similar really hurts. It makes us cry. It makes us afraid to walk in public. It makes us want to hide away. In some extreme cases, it causes us to cut ourselves, hang ourselves, or attempt to overdose. It also means that some people who have homophobic views, begin to feel validated and begin to think that it is acceptable to discriminate against LGBT people. In the best cases, this can be refusing to serve us in their businesses or hire us to work with them. In severe cases, it includes people being attacked physically or having their houses or property targeted. Ive went on a bit, sorry... I have so much more to say but I know that you are busy running the country. Please consider what Ive said. Im not asking that you change your views, I only would ask two things: - The party consider training about how to speak about LGBT issues without using terms that could cause harm - The party consider a slight change of policy. The party will maintain their views on LGBT themes 100%, but that you wont block any legislative changes or policies for the LGBT community via the Petition of Concern. Perhaps if you could not vote against policy, simply abstain, to note your disagreement could possibly work. I think these two things can be done without losing support from DUP voters, in fact I think it would be fabulous because it would encourage many younger unionist to vote DUP. Kindest regards, *: Daniel Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: Before I moved to Belfast for University I wasn’t fully aware of what we as queer people face in Northern Ireland. In the two years I’ve been here I’ve witnessed one of the most vibrant, talented and courageous communities I’ve ever had the pleasure of being a part of. However I’ve also been called names in the street, seen my friends be subject to physical abuses in the streets and outside our safe spaces and heard politicians make disgusting, homophobic remarks. The DUP’s stance on homosexuality, along with the outrageous and disgusting comments from your ministers has validated these horrendous people’s actions and every day this minority faces persecution that you refuse to do anything about. I love Northern Ireland and my university experience but while I continue to be treated as a second-class citizen I will never be able to call this country home. Kindest regards, *: Josh Popham Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: I am a 17 year old lesbian in a committed relationship. I hope to marry her sometime in the future, preferably in our own home country rather than Ireland or Scotland. Yet we can’t do that. Why? Because both the countries that your party despises and loves have more human rights granted to their citizens than this one. That is wrong and quite frankly, we are sick of it. My experience in this country as a young gay woman hasn’t been easy. I have faced intense homophobia and bullying from every school I have been to ever since I came out, in the forms of teasing, invasive questions about my sex life, mocking, name calling, exclusion, outing me in front of thirty people, intimidation, and frequent reports of me and my girlfriend to the school because we were ‘being too gay’ and it was making some people ‘uncomfortable’. Do you know what my girlfriend and I were doing that was ‘too gay’, Arlene? Existing. We keep our relationship private in public, yet that’s still not good enough for people like the ones in your party. Let me list off some of the things your previous and current party members have done to make me, my girlfriend, and every gay person in this country feel unwelcome in this country. First of all, remember the few party members who called gay people ‘repulsive’? Ian Paisley Jr, who has claimed that seeing a gay couple kiss is ‘repulsive’? Maurice Mills, who claimed that Hurricane Katrina was an act of God sent to punish the world for homosexuality? Health Minister attempting to put a lifetime ban on gay blood donations (I mean, how low can you get if you’d rather prioritise your religious beliefs over saving hospitalised people’s lives)? A 2014 survey which shows that two thirds of your party believes homosexuality is ‘wrong’? Jim Wells “Peter will not marry Paul in Northern Ireland” comments? Members comparing homosexuality to pedophilia, and Iris Robinson claiming that there is a link between same sex relationships and child abuse? How exactly do you think, Ms. Foster, that last comment would have made me and my girlfriend feel? That our relationship is apparently on the same page as CHILD ABUSE? I find it quite shameful that you pretend to support Northern Ireland being a part of the United Kingdom yet you’re not willing to actually be tue to your word. You claim that we’re British, how about you show us, the people, that you’re willing to prove that? Kindest regards, *: Emma Leckey Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: Dear Arlene, I went to school in Northern Ireland before Section 28 was repealed. A change in the law which your party stood against. I distinctly remember our teacher telling us in a Sex Education class that it was impossible for a man to be raped, I still wonder why a boy asked this. This meant that as a child I did not understand that the adult man who had groomed me on the internet was raping me. I was lucky, I wasnt beaten, and I didnt catch HIV my teenage logic was that two males didnt need to use condoms, pregnancy wasnt a possibility, my abuser agreed. I didnt get tested until years later. Im certain that other children werent so lucky. I kept these events to my self as I was too scared to tell anyone I was gay, things like the blanket ban on gay men donating blood, and the court battles to keep this in place, demonstrated to me that I was dirty. LGBT children today in Northern Ireland are learning that they are not equal to their straight peers, after all they cant have a same-sex marriage, and gay men cant give blood in the same manner as their counterparts in Britain. Your party stands against Trans-inclusivity laws and laws regarding gay and lesbian couples adopting. Northern Irish children are still being shown they are dirty and are still scared. How many of them are being met by strangers from the internet? How many of them will be lucky? This is not a political, point-scoring game, you can change laws, demonstrate inclusivity and help people. Your position means you will be remembered, but what for? Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: Im gay! I have gay friends. I have Trans friends. And Bi friends. And everyone in between. Im happy that your secure in your sexuality and im happy that your married and have kids. Im even happy you have a faith that you feel so strongly about. Maybe almost as strongly as i feel about being able to live a happy life and that of my friends as well. I in no way blame you for EVERY.SINGLE problem that has ever happened to the LGBTQA community here in Northern Ireland, no one person is ever to blame. You weren’t there when i had rocks thrown at me. Or when i was told to hang myself. Or there when vile names where directed towards me like those rocks. You havent had to calm friends down, who were so angry that people could do these things to me that they were ready to fight back in my name. You havent had to hear your own nephew, who you love maybe as much as you love your own children, use gay as slur. That cuts you worse than any rock or threat of violence! But, wither you like it, or realize it, you are a factor! My sister has walked down the isle, my parents have celebrated their 30th anniversary, my friends have kids and marriages....and i have intolerance, prejudice and a feeling of hopelessness because of the fear that things will never change. We have come a very long way Arlene but we still have a VERY long way to go! 60% of sexual abuse disclosures come from children, 14,560 incidences of Domestic abuse crimes were recorded between 2017 and 2018 and 19% of abortions recorded in 2017 were woman from Northern Ireland. There are much bigger problems in the world than if two people, who you dont even know want to kiss or hold hands and more importantly marry. No one voted on yours, im sure your sick of hearing that and im sure you will look back to the Bible for answers. As you should, in times of crisis we all relay on faith on for strength and its lucky you have that. But God does not hate, yes Leviticus 18:22 may state You shall not lie with a male as with a woman such thing is an abomination. But if were going start quoting bibles verses, would you sell your daughter? Because the Bible says you can? Have you ever worked on a Sunday? You could be put to death? Ate fish? Worn two different fabrics? Statement’s like this come from the Old Testament law code, that was for filled by Jesus and Hebrew 8:13 states that those laws is obsolete and outdated. The Bible is the word of God through the words of human beings, speaking in the words of their time! We have moved on and so should you Arlene...Kindest regards, *: Mark Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: Dear Arlene, I was with my partner for 28 years,since university in fact,until cancer claimed his life 18 months ago.We had a civil partnership in 2006 and I’m thankful for it as it safeguarded our rights and enshrined our relationship in law which was all-the-more important as time went on.We may have got married before his death had we been living in any other part of the UK.We were denied that and it’s now something which can’t be fulfilled.Life can be cruel at times but it does not need to be exacerbated by unjust actions and unfair treatment.Put yourself in my place-bereaved,regretful and angry because I live here and not in another part of the UK or Ireland.No one should have to accept second class citizenship and limitations to their own existence because of geography,religion or a lack of empathy.Equality is overdue and now is the time to rectify this wrong and demonstrate the political maturity so sorely needed.Without a functioning Assembly here then Westminister must be allowed to legislate.Kindest regards, *: B.Hamilton Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: I am a female. I have tried being in relationships with men. I forced myself to give the relationships a chance but would end up crying myself to sleep as I was in no way attracted to them. I feel in love with a woman. In the same way as friends and relatives have fallen in love with people of the opposite sex. It finally felt right. The DUP often quotes the Bible but they forget about the part where it says every single person should be treated with love. I can’t change the way I am, I tried for many many years. I hope these letters will give you an insight into the experiences of some of the marginalised individualises if NI. Best wishes Kindest regards, *: Donna Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: Dear Arlene , I myself am neither LGBT , but someone I love is , I am a very proud parent to a Transgender Individual and I have witnessed the pain my child felt before coming out and telling us , they also self harmed out of sheer frustration at the delays in services , my wife and I have had to keep our child alive and at times it has been a struggle , can you ever imagine with all this and lifes other struggles how it feels when members of your party seek to belittle and openly mock people like my child , surely as a mother you can understand the pain you would feel if your own child was hurting , and do you really think it is acceptable for leading members of your party to call LGBT people perverts,or abominations , I get that you dont understand homosexuality and transgender, but does that make those groups fair game for your parties abuse of an already marginalised community , I would ask you to use whatever influence you have to stop it , Have you any idea of the valuable contribution people like my child have in society, I know I am probably biased but in my sons job he helps members of the public every day , he is an absolute asset and has been commended several times for going that extra yard regardless of the customers race , colour , gender or sexuality , he sees people as human beings and treats the as that , even when they dont do the same. I hope you can reach out , just as we have seen in the past with Paisley and Mcguinness , two opposite side of a coin but managed to put their differences behind them and build on their similarities , I am not writing this for my son as he is living his life to the full and he has a great future ahead of him , I am writing this for all the LGBT folk who will follow that they wont receive the hurt Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: I believe it an important step for you to attend the Pink News LBGT event at Stormont next week. Unfortunately you and your party have not always felt like allies to the LGBT community. I hope as their leader, you can take something away from next weeks event improve your relationship with the community. My own personal experience of growing up gay in Northern Ireland led me to leave Northern Ireland to move to England. I grew up in Florencecourt, Co. Fermanagh not too far from yourself to a mixed religious family. I always felt that I didnt fit in from a young age with my surroundings. I have a brilliant and supportive family but culturally in Northern Ireland, especially rural areas, being different/LGBT didnt create a welcoming environment. I was relentlessly bullied for my apparent sexuality from a young age and learnt to conceal my sexuality as best as I could. This meant becoming reserved and distancing myself from family and friends so that my sexuality would not be more evident. This embedded a self hatred and otherness that I still feel today. Having such a miserable time in my formative years has had a long lasting impact on my own view of myself and my mental health. The only thing that kept me going was that I was fortunate enough to be able to attend university to study Chemical Engineering in Manchester meaning I could leave Northern Ireland. This got me out of the environment where I never felt I belonged. Moving to Manchester was such a release and for the first time in my life I felt I could be myself and learn who I really was. Over the next few years I would tell friends and family of my sexuality and fortunately and over time I had wonderful acceptance from those I loved most. Finally I was able to let those people in in a way I had always wanted to. But not everyone has the opportunities I had and have to live in an environment where they dont feel comfortable to be themselves. From my interactions with the LGBT community at home there are still so many that dont feel like they can be open with their sexuality due to the fear of having their backs turned on them by their family and local community. Many of them still feel there will be a negative impact from coming out and choose to leave isolated and concealed lives. Unfortunately most of the LGBT community I know from Northern Ireland like myself choose to move elsewhere. Fortunately things are slowly changing and younger LGBT generations are feeling more comfortable growing up in Northern Ireland which makes me very happy. However there is still a long way to go before LGBT people feel free to be themselves in Northern Ireland. Marriage equality important stage in that process. Northern Ireland being the only place in the UK and Ireland (and a large part of Western Europe) where equal marriage is not in place send a clear message to the LGBT community of Northern Ireland that they not seen the same as heterosexual people. By blocking Equal Marriage laws through the assembly by abuse of the Petition of Concern motion the DUP are are complicit in creating the environment where LGBT people feel like they dont belong where we grew up. On an international level it is a topic of much embarrassment. Through my own experience I feel acceptance from the majority of people in Northern Ireland, its time the laws reflect that. I am not going to list the reasons why Equal Marriage is the right thing to happen because that is self evident and well proven. What I want to say is think of the younger generations of LGBT people currently growing up in Northern Ireland. Make those people feel welcome in their own country so that they dont have to leave to feel like they belong. You as the leader of the Assembly have the unique ability to sew the seed of change to make the LGBT community feel welcome in Northern Ireland starting with Equal Marriage. I also encourage you and your party to be more respectful in your language when discussing the LGBT community and implore you to repremand elected members of your party that cross the line. Please do what is right.Kindest regards, *: Chris Gilheaney Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: Dear Arlene, Firstly, thank you for attending the PinkNews event. I sincerely hope you listen to the speakers and gain real insight into what life is like for the LGBT community in Northern Ireland in 2018. Secondly, I would like to give you my story of how the law here has impacted my own life, in the hope that you and your party might reconsider your attitude to our community. I am a trans woman from Derry, living in Belfast. Until recently, I was engaged to my cis female partner, however under the law here, we could not get married. If we had gotten married, it would have been as man and wife, which neither of us were willing to do. Due to the lack of equal marriage here, if we had actually gotten married, we would have had to get a divorce in order for me to receive my Gender Recognition Certificate, recognising me legally as female. This would not be the case in the rest of the UK due to legal equal marriage. You said once that most gays dont want to get married - I say that is false and utterly disingenuous. Some might not, but the choice should be there for others. The LGBT community may be a minority group, but we deserve equal rights to the rest of the British and Irish population. You and your party can leave a lasting positive legacy for the LGBT community by not standing in the way of equal marriage and ensuring that the proposed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act 2004 are accepted in NI swiftly, as the Conservatives said that they are a devolved matter too. Kind regards, Cassandra DalzellKindest regards, *: Cassandra Dalzell Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: Dear Arlene, Last year, after much, much soul searching, I realised that I am a transgender woman, and a lesbian at that. The stigma around transgender people, and trans women in particular, has been hysterically exacerbated by the UK press who, for some inane reason, wish to deny us access to healthcare, safety and the right to transition properly and easily. I am sure you are aware of the arguments of men in dresses and perverts in your bathroom but I promise you every country that introduces proper recognition and healthcare for trans people does not cause the sky to fall in or indeed any rise in such activities. As you may have heard, the World Health Organisation recently declared that being transgender should no longer be considered a mental illness. I suffer from depression and anxiety, but being a trans woman did not cause those things or impacted on those things, though societal transphobia does. When I came to my conclusion, I spoke to my GP who promptly referred me to the Brackenburn clinic, to his credit. However, I met with him last June and I have still not received an appointment for the clinic. The waiting list is unsustainable and we are in dire need of improved services, especially as from what I have heard, the lived experience I have as a trans woman will only begin once Ive seen them - despite having been living as myself for over a year. I am frequently afraid of going outside however, as I worry what people may do or say - I am all too familiar with stories of harassment and violence - and my mother has forbidden me from telling the rest of the family (after forcing me to tell her before I was ready). I implore you and your party to act for the benefit or trans people in Northern Ireland and improve our support and healthcare services. There is nothing wrong with us being who we are we only want to live in peace and be comfortable in our own skin just like anybody else. Thank you for your time.Kindest regards, *: Vanessa Colquhoun Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: Dear Arlene, As a 21 year old gay man who made the step to come out to my family at 18 I thought that once I had the support of my parents nothing could stop me but you see my parents weren’t actually a real issue with me accepting myself the issue with accepting myself came from within. The problem is though it is hard to feel confident in yourself and accept the perfectly amazing person you are when the so called leaders of your country are labelling your sexuality “abnormal” and an “abomination” you feel oppressed and to a certain extent ashamed. I currently live in Spain and one of the reason for that was the society’s tolerance and respect for the LGBT community. If you want to “Move Northern Ireland Forward” then stop making some citizens feel like they have to move out.Kindest regards, *: Aodhán B Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: I was born in East Belfast and lived in fear of anyone finding out that I was gay for the first twenty years of my life. Even after homosexuality was decriminalised and the age of consent was equalised it felt like things were starting to change for the better, that people like me could dare to hope for a normal life. Just to live in peace and be included as part of the community seemed possible. Sadly, the party that you represent has been openly hostile towards LGBT people. Every statement made in the media and on radio and TV, every utterance on the subject from your party has been aggressively negative, belittling and blatantly elitist or dismissive of the pain that ideas like that create. When you speak about MY community even now, your intonation and nuances in your voice, your body language all screams of condescension and it feels like you revel in the holding power over another and it doesn’t seem to matter who that other is. In the not so distant past when I had seen those three letters D.U.P. and the leaflets dropped through my letterbox coming up to election time, it made me feel that my home was contaminated with hate. There was “one of them” outside my door and holding my rights away from me while asking me to vote for them. I can’t understand how any LGBT person could possibly vote for the D.U.P. Having said that, I have learned a valuable lesson in taking a step back to see what you are all about, I realised that if I was thinking and believing the same thoughts that you are then I would probably feel the same, in fact, I used to have a great hatred towards myself and the LGBT community before I knew better. What changed for me was love. I fell in love with another human being on this planet Arlene and there is nothing you or the D.U.P. can do or say that will take that away from me. Wonder Woman said “there is no greater power than love” Jesus had a great deal more to say about it but the D.U.P. as far as I can remember have never mentioned it in any relatable context. So it occurred to me that you may be lacking in love Arlene, there is very little love in the arena of politics, it’s a battleground that operates outside of love and that has got to take its toll on you. As a politician you are doing the best you can with the tools you have and your perspective may be filtered through a barren landscape of political battles and snide comments and walking a fine line of public opinion. That would make the best of us turn cold and defensive, into a warrior for our cause ready for battle. So I just wanted to say as a fellow human being “ I love you” in case you needed to hear that today, in case it might make a difference to how you see our world x Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: I am a 56 year old gay man. I was reared in the North coast by Protestant and God fearing parents. I was forced to come out as gay at the age of 15. To say that it was a hard time for me is an understatement if ever there were one. I was beaten severely by family, neighbours and so-called friends. My education virtually stopped as the headmaster of the grammar school I attended assured me that he would prevent me going into the legal profession as I wished. This was made easier as homosexuality was still illegal in Northern Ireland. When you took up the Office of the Leader of the DUP, I was hopeful that your party stance of ‘no same sex marriage’ would now change. It certainly should if you have read Timothy 2, 9-11. I was dismayed to learn that the only change in party policy was to stop using the Bible opting instead to fight the issue on ‘family matters’. I submit that one cannot pick and choose verses from the Bible when it suits them and to throw curses from the Bible to people who do not follows the rules set down by the late Ian Paisley I wish you and the entire party well and hope that you will do the same for the LGBTQ community. We are asking no more that civil marriage and do not ask or expect that we should be married in Church. I will finish this letter by imploring you to ask the question to yourself and party members ‘When did you choice to be straight?’ I am confident that they, in truth, will say that they did not make a choice and it is part of your genetic makeup to be straight. Please, please give members of the LGBTQ community the same right. It is part of my Godly genetic make up to be gay. Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: I am a proud British citizen, currently residing in the constituency of South Antrim. I have been a Unionist all my life, however currently there are no parties I can vote for, as I am part of the LGBTQ community a decision has to be made, am I first and foremost a Unionist and then gay, or vice versa? I am still young, and am in the last year of my secondary education - but my journey hasn’t been an easy one. Some of my first memories in primary school consist of me being violently and mercilessly bullied for who I was, at an age where I didn’t even know who I was. As a child, I wasn’t a stereotypical boy. I didn’t like playing football, or with toy soldiers or any of the “boy” things. I loved arts and crafts, and I wasn’t really friends with any of the boys in school. This branded me as different from an age where I didn’t know I was gay, but this alienated me. One particular memory stands out to me. I was in Primary 6, and a boy who I really didn’t get along with started pushing me about for no reason. I resisted, and this ended with me falling onto the edge of a desk - breaking my left arm clean in two. This, at the time, affected me greatly. This bullying, unlike what I believed at the time, did not end when I transitioned to secondary school. As people got to know me, they realised I was different again. I have been called all the names under the sun - think of the worst possible names you could call a person, and I can bet you I have been. Arlene, you can change all of this. Legalise same sex marriage, and slowly - stereotypes will dissolve. Some citizens in Northern Ireland may think that allowing the LGBT community to obtain civil partnerships is “enough” to please both the supporters and opposers of marriage equality. For some time, it was. Now it is unacceptable, but yet the discrimination perpetuates. However, examining civil partnerships in more detail reveals yet more inequalities – the most distinguishing being the fact that adultery cannot be used as ground for a partnership’s dissolution spurring on the stereotype of promiscuity within those of the LGBT community, and the unequal nature to which heterosexual and homosexual stand. Legalise same sex marriage, stop discrimination and put the past of the LGBT community and the DUP behind all of us - you will gain voters like me, otherwise more and more people will turn to more progressive parties despite being unionist. Isn’t putting others needs in front of your own the ultimate act of Christianity? Kindest regards, *: William Smyth Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: I am a 35 year old gay Northern Irish woman. I contribute to life here by working in the community/voluntary sector and take pride in my role and responsibilities as a citizen. Growing up LGBT in NI in the 90s was difficult. Not only did I have to navigate safe spaces in terms of a potential sectarian threat, I also had to find safe spaces where I wouldnt experience negativity because of my sexuality. Even within schools, family homes and our communities, these spaces dont always exist. As a teenager I was teased and outed by my peers. I felt I had broken my familys heart, and that in turn broke mine. I learned quickly that some thought I was a lesser person and I began to believe it myself. My mental health and relationships suffered as a result of internal and societal homophobia. This homophobia remains, to a lesser degree, in Northern Ireland today. I am pleased that you have decided to engage with my community. I disagree however, that the strong religious opinion of some in your party deserves the same consideration as my equal civil rights. Those who disagree with same-sex civil marriage are free to hold their objections, but opinion should have no impact on my rights. Religious freedom should be protected, and churches, mosques and temples exist for that reason. That is religions safe space. Civil law, is and should be, separate and independent of religion. The words and deeds of public figures contribute to a climate of equality, or a climate of difference. There are young LGBT people in NI right now who have heard the insults and criticisms leveled at them by folks in governance who should be working to protect and empower everyone, particularly minorities. Homophobia contributes vastly to the mental health problems we in the LGBT community face. By denying rights and advocating for a different class of union, your party is further enforcing notions of different and lesser. I would ask, Mrs Foster, not that you compromise your opinion on marriage rights, rather that you no longer stand in the way of me being accorded full equality of citizenship in my place of birth. I hope you enjoy your engagement with the LGBT community. You will find that by allowing us full entitlement that you will be protecting existing families and offering a comfort to those still in the closet. Happy Pride. Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: I want to keep this short but my main message to you is to ask you if your child came out as gay wouldn’t you want them to get married just like any other person? Everyone deserves a shot at love and happiness and that’s what marriage equality would give us. As only the only country in the UK and Ireland who don’t have same-sex marriage I encourage you to think why are we the only place not brining equality for the LGBT community. God loves us all equally despite our sexuality and allowing same sex marriage means we can all love each other just as he would want. Kindest regards, *: Callum Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: Dear Arlene I want to write a letter to you about my experience of being gay in Northern Ireland. I am not sure if you will read this, but it is important for me to speak out. Being gay is something that is part of me. It is part of my make up and DNA. And it is not something I am ashamed of. In fact I would say I am quite proud to be who I am and proud to be gay. However, being gay in Northern Ireland is hard. Now I am 25 years old, and thankfully never lived through the era of Save Ulster from Sodomy. However times havent really changed, especially under DUP rule. From local MLAs speaking out and calling people like me repulsive or abominations or poofs/perverts...you can imagine how hard that is to hear, especially when I was growing up as a teenager, trying to figure out who I was and how best to embrace that. However, I rise above such comments as I know that is not how the majority of Northern Ireland think. I rise above it because I know as a person I am stronger and more able to do that. However, for teenagers or younger who are questioning who they are, Northern Ireland under a very strict religious and socially conservative DUP lead, may find coming out as their true selves very difficult. In fact some may not even come out at all. And that is not fair on them. They are human beings too and deserve to be treated the same. Now, I respect your partys stance of issues such as same sex marriage. However when it has been voted for in a majority when Stormont was sitting, and with 75% of the Northern Irish electorate in favour of same sex marriage, one must wonder why you and your party will stand in the way of that becoming law? We are not asking for your party to change its views, rather allow equality to pass! That would show respect to the LGBT community - respect is a two way street, and it must be earned. I hope you can see that. As the day approaches where you will meet with the LGBT community at Stormont, I am left feeling quite anxious about it. As much as I see this as a good thing, and hopefully the sign of things changing, I approach this with trepidation - the things that have been said to members of the LGBT community over the last number of years have been disgusting, and an apology and commitment to allowing equality to pass at Stormont would be a great first step in earning that respect! I have had to deal with a lot of homophobic abuse - I even left a job because I was subjected to verbal homophobic abuse. But again, I am stronger and more resilient. I will get through this. And I know we will see change in Northern Ireland eventually - I hope it is sooner rather than later. Nevertheless, I feel as a gay man, I am not welcome in Northern Ireland. Which is why I am making plans to move away from Northern Ireland and start somewhere where equality is not something fought for anymore, but seen as a human right! I dont know if you will read this letter in its entirety, or at all...but I want to thank you anyway for taking the time to a) speak out to the LGBT community and b) hopefully reading my letter.Kindest regards, *: Michael Sims Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: I am a hardcore unionist but also gay. I praise your outreach to the LGBT community in agreeing to attend the PinkNews event in Stormont. I ask however that you go further in making every effort to change the DUPs policy on marriage equality to one of conscience. This would be in line with long-established British parliamentary tradition going back to the Father of Conservatism Anglo-Irish MP Edmund Burke of recognising that certain issues are best left to a representatives conscience. I do not expect any representative of the DUP to go against their conscience if they do not agree with same-sex marriage but I do think its reasonable to allow those DUP representatives who do support same-sex marriage to be allowed to do so. I also would emphasise that representatives should take into account ever-changing public opinion as its important all representatives reflect it in order to enjoy authority and legitimacy which gives confidence to our democratic institutions. I would also appeal to the DUP not to use the petition of concern on marriage equality or issues similar to it as it holds up the democratic process which can only work when decisions are actually made. Not all representatives will win on all issues all the time. As a gay unionist who is 25, I did not experience the worst of the Troubles but am educated and knowledgeable enough to know Sinn Fein cannot be trusted on LGBT rights nor can they ever be true champions of equality. In actual fact, the Northern Ireland state and unionism emerged out of a campaign to ensure our civil liberties and rights were guaranteed by being part of the union. I still believe this guarantee should apply today in regards to gay people in Northern Ireland enjoying the same rights as gay people in Britain. It worries me that so many people of my generation who are from a unionist background do not vote for a unionist party. I personally vote for the Ulster Unionist Party and transfer to other unionist representatives to maximise unionist representation in the Strangford constituency. As you know, election results will be used by Sinn Fein to argue for a border poll which is a direct threat to the union, which is worsened if Sinn Fein can even manage to persuade liberals from a unionist background to vote for a united Ireland. On this basis, reaching out to non-traditional communities in Northern Ireland should not be seen as liberal nor appeasement but rather unionist and conservative to build support for the union, its maintenance and increase the confidence of unionists and unionism. Although Im gay, as a unionist, I share many of the same views, concerns, aspirations, ideals and worries that unionists of all persuasions and backgrounds have. Thank you for reading my letter and I really hope I see more outreach and even a change in DUP policy. Life has been difficult as a gay unionist and even very dark and hopeless at times - the words of DUP representatives did affect me when I was growing up as a teenager and made me feel unwanted and without a community and place to call home - it would be truly transformational if the DUP one day apologised for that part of its history - it would bring about reconciliation, and in fairness, your main rival the Ulster Unionist Party does not tolerate homophobia. Thankfully nowadays, I am lot more confident as a gay man and unionist and know who I am and what I stand for. I am quite often amazed I have managed to even come this far compared to the days when I was at rock bottom and didnt see a way out. Yours sincerely and warmest regardsKindest regards, *: Michael Palmer Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: Dear Arlene As a women I would like to say well done for rising to be the Head of your party. I honestly think if we had more measured female voices in politics throughout the world it would be a kinder...more accepting and safer place. As a gay women who just turned 40 I grew up in a Northern Ireland that was intolerant and homophobic. I was 25 before I managed to get the courage to tell anyone my sexual orientation because society had brought me up to think I was a freak. The fear I carried with me for years was almost unbearable. I ran away from accepting myself I tried to be straight...to fit in...but all I was doing was making myself ill mentally. I was angry at the world and myself. Myself mostly for being a coward. I now work for Cara Friend who are nominated in the awards. My job is to educate and inform school staff and students all over Northern Ireland in the hope that they will become a little more tolerant a little more understanding and accepting to young people from the LGBTQ community. In 2018 young people should not be afraid to be themselves. They should not been bullied daily because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, but they are. Cara-Friend have trained nearly 3000 students in this school year and nearly 900 teachers. But much more needs to be done to make are schools safe spaces for all. Please be a leader and lead this country to change...to a society of tolerance...acceptance and mutual respect. Thank you. Enjoy the awards. Kindest regards, *: Jo McParland / Cara-Friend Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: I would like to take the opportunity to firstly welcome your intention to reach out and be the first leader of your party to attend an LGBTQ event. I would also like to take this opportunity to share my experiences with you as a young gay man of a pro-union persuasion. I was raised a unionist and for years supported unionism as a movement (including your party). I knew your party held conservative views on most issues and was prepared to overlook it because I prioritised my support for the union. I struggled with my identity and sexuality for a number of years. When I looked back at many of the things that were said by members of your party in the public domain about people like me it was genuinely upsetting. I looked back at some of the things said and one was my (then) MP telling Stephen Nolan that people like me were an abomination and shamefully wicked and vile. I cannot begin to explain how unbelievably destructive comments like these are to people who are struggling with their sexual identity (who very often suffer from mental health problems as it is). I would be telling you lies if I didnt say that I am very bitter about the things that were said and I would wager that a majority of the LGBTQ community in Northern Ireland share my bitterness. I perfectly respect that you take a different view on the definition of marriage and I have had many an argument with fellow LGBTQ people saying that your view should not be shouted down as homophobic. I fundamentally disagree with your view and I honestly cannot understand it from a political and societal viewpoint but I have always defended your right to hold this view. I would like you to understand that there is a lot of people out there who feel genuinely hurt and disrespected. The amount of LGBTQ people who Ive spoken to who have told me they feel like second class citizens in Northern Ireland (and I also feel this way) is so sad. So many people feel like this place doesnt welcome and value them and move elsewhere as a result. I love this place for all its faults and I certainly wont be leaving but the number who are is not only depressing but alarming. This has probably been a rather long and meandering letter and for that I apologise. I would like to finally say this, I sincerely hope that the gesture you are undertaking by reaching out to our community is not only a gesture. I would strongly urge you as a leader to make sure this is the beginning of a process of reconciliation with our community. We are a very welcoming community and your decision to engage with us has not and will not go unnoticed. I would also ask for your understanding that many in the LGBTQ community are sceptical of your motives and will find it very hard to forgive your party for its past actions. Please start as you mean to go on. Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: Are you going to apologise for your party members who have been openly homophobic both now and in the past? As the party leader this falls on you. Until you issue an apology i will never take you serious as a political leader. You and your members are entitiled to have their own views and i respect your right to have a different opinion to mine but when your party are openly homophobic this needs to be condemed. By you not apologising for party members comments this shows me that you agree with them. Kindest regards, *: Vincent Armstrong Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: We have moved to Belfast from Europe, because we know, that people in Northern Ireland are kind, generous, friendly and full of acceptance. It is our great privilege to live here, work here - after 9 years of loving each other and being denied our civil rights in a European country. Yet, we are aware, that the United Kingdom has changed greatly in acceptance and LGBT rights. The United Kingdom protects love - which is a source of all creativity, positive change, health and wealth. We want to live here - as husbands - we want to get older, we want to stay here and give our energy to built up a better place for everyone. We found equality in being part of the community - here in Northern Ireland. Is it possible to find equal love? Love of our families, of our dearest ones - makes us equal. Both You and us, want to protect what we value - relations based on true love and commitment. Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: Dear Arlene, As a member of the LBGT community in the north of Ireland, I have been subjected to feeling like a second class citizen. I get up every morning and go to work where I see many happy couples walk hand in hand showing their love as a happy married couple. This upsets me as I am being denied my basic right to walk down the street holding the hand of my partner. It upsets me even more than I know I can not get married to the person that I love whilst I live in the north. My friends and family in the republic and across the world in England, America and Australia are able to marry who they want and I wish I would be allowed to marry my partner. I thank you for taking the first step by attending this LGBT event but I ask that it isn’t the only thing you do for the LGBT community, change your policy to accept gay people in the north like me to marry Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: I am in love. Im not a giddy teenager, Im 48, although my partner makes me feel like a giddy teenager. I adore my partner and our 4 boys. We cannot however, get married, cement our relationship, bring our 2 families together into 1 legally binding unit. Im never sure why we are both working, my partner is self employed running a highly successful business, we are decent people who put our kids before everything. We are no different from any other couple, yet we are worlds apart because we see other couples getting married, yet we cant. The only reason being is that we are both women. People tell us that they envy our relationship, its so close and loving, but they dont envy the fact that we dont have the privileges they have. I want to become a wife, her wife. Thats it, we have all the plans in place, the location, the florist, the caterer, the music, just not the equality. I will never beg for what is my right. You and your party however need to do what it right for your LGBTQ community.Kindest regards, *: Lynn Kyle Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: I live in England now but I’m originally from Antrim. I’ve been with my partner for quite some time and great that I enjoy the same rights as others in our society in regards to marriage, not so the case if me and my partner ever moved back to Northern Ireland with things today! I appreciate you want protection of the marriage institution because that’s what your practicing religion tells you, you do however forget that marriage doesn’t need associated always to religion and other faiths than yours differ hugely on equal marriage rights. I would urge you to think and really reflect on this “OK my religion believes that marriage is an institution for opposite sex, but what about those other faiths who have a different approach or view?” Maybe if you look at it that way then it will lead you to an alternative conclusion that will give the LGBT community the outcome they wantKindest regards, *: Mark McCloskey Dear Arlene, Submission Enter your letter here: *: It is difficult to pick out specific examples of homophobic incidents as the general atmosphere of hostility to gay people has pervaded every aspect of my life. I am English and I came to teach in Strabane Grammar School as a naïve 22 year-old in 1973. I had been brought up with liberal family and friends who had no problem with me when I came out in 1972. My boyfriend was from Belfast so it was a bit of a shock to find that our relationship was legal at University in England but punishable by life imprisonment when we came to N.I. I was soon warned to keep my homosexuality secret in Strabane but inevitably it became widely known. In 1976 a pupil warned me that a group of influential parents had met at his house to discuss me as unsuitable to teach because I was gay. A representative went to see the headmaster to tell him that I should be sacked, fortunately he was a fair man and he dismissed the man. The ‘Save Ulster From Sodomy’ campaign in 1977 was particularly frightening because for the first time public figures were denigrating gay people in the media. Part of the campaign was to get every council to declare their opposition against legalising homosexuality here. I wrote to every member of Strabane Council giving my reasons why I thought the law should change. A Unionist Council member approached the headmaster to warn him what I had done and to prepare me for repercussions. That was very intimidating even though there were none. By the 1980’s I was openly gay socially and at work. I worked on the local gay helpline in Derry and spoke on local radio about the work of the line. The victimisation of me in the 1980s was awful. Hardly a day went by when my home wasn’t attacked. I had bricks through my window, homophobic graffiti scrawled on the pavement outside, homophobic abuse shouted at me, so much so that sometimes I feared leaving the house. I decided that the local clergy could possibly do something to lessen this, after all they were Christians and surely they wouldn’t condone this. I wrote to every minister and priest in the town describing what I was suffering and asking for them to address it. The only result was that a deputation of protestant ministers came to the school to demand that I stopped being openly gay at school. By a bizarre coincident my windows were smashed the night before so I was very angry when they met me and they went away without a result. The intimidation stopped when some of the culprits were pulled out of a local disco by masked men and told to stop antisocial behaviour. The decriminalising of homosexuality in 1982 (which had been opposed by the DUP) was an amazing event. I am a law abiding citizen yet the anti-gay law made me a criminal in NI, but not in England. The RUC should have been on my side but I feared them. By far the worst incident was in 1990 when a sixth form boy told me that the school believed that we were having an affair. I went straight to the headmaster and he knew nothing about it. It transpired that school-child fantasy had ended up becoming rumour and a teacher who had heard it had been bad-mouthing me. Nothing came of this but, again, it was a very intimidating experience and for some time the staffroom was split between supporters and those who didn’t trust me. In 1996 a gay activist in Belfast called P.A Maglaichlain was campaigning for education about LGBT issues in school. He was interviewed by the Belfast Telegraph and he gave them my name as an openly gay teacher. I talked to the journalist about homophobic bullying in schools and how it should be addressed by education school kids about LGBT. P.A. had spoken about extending this education to primary school children. The response was that some primary school teachers in Strabane and Londonderry launched an attack of my suitability to teach in local newspapers and the Belfast Telegraph. I have been physically attacked on several occasions in Northern Ireland but it is hard to know if it was because I was English or Protestant or gay. Only once was it a specific queer-bashing where I nearly lost and eye, but that was in England. When Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act (which were opposed by the DUP) came in 1998, outlawing discrimination of me a huge weight was lifted. I felt safer in my job. One interesting aspect of homophobia is how much I self-sensored. Having been raised in the fifties and sixties I had never had any messages other than gay is bad. At school, homosexuality was a dirty joke. The news hardly ever mentioned homosexuality unless it was in negative terms and the only representatives of homosexuality I ever came across on the broadcast media were the negative stereotypes of Frankie Howard, Charles Hawtrey, Kenneth Williams and Hugh Paddick, perpetuated in the seventies by the nauseating Larry Grayson and John Inman. It was hardly surprising that I couldn’t equate what I was feeling with what I was told homosexuality was. But even when I did accept that I was gay, those negative messages must have been firmly lodged in my subconscious because I almost believed that as a gay man I was a danger to he kids I taught. That’s why I hardly ever mentioned anything about being gay for years. A gay ex-pupil once said to me that he used to wait for me to say something about being gay in every class, but I never did. Many former pupils, gay and straight have said how important it was to have an openly gay teacher. It took me years to fully accept my own sexuality as a positive thing before I could feel confident to be openly gay at school.