Police participation in gay pride parade ’empowering’

Police participation in gay pride marches in Northern Ireland is about allowing officers to be true to themselves, one policeman has said.

Paul Bloomer said gay members of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) were no longer invisible. Uniformed colleagues are expected to take part in next weekend’s Pride parade through Belfast.

Stormont’s Parliament Buildings resounded to the sound of Madonna on Saturday evening as Alternative Queer Ulster came to the historic centre of power in Northern Ireland.

An Ulster Unionist councillor, an Irish Traveller and a person from a Chinese background were among the diverse list of speakers.

Mr Bloomer said: “The simple act of Pride participation is about empowering queer police officers so they can do their jobs to the best of their abilities and remain true to themselves.

“We wanted you to see that we are you and you are us.”

He acknowledged that historically and internationally there had been a lack of consideration in policing surrounding the treatment of victims of LGBT hate crime but insisted that had changed.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK or Ireland where same-sex marriage is illegal, but that was overturned recently by Westminster.

Such ceremonies are set to become legal unless Stormont is resurrected and steps in to block it.

Members of Northern Ireland’s largest party, the Democratic Unionists, believe marriage should be between a man and a woman and argue that civil partnerships are available to same-sex couples.

Same-sex marriage is one of the issues in contention between the DUP and Sinn Fein as they attempt to restore powersharing during this summer’s negotiations.

Michael Palmer, an Ulster Unionist councillor, said he had worked behind closed doors to advance the LGBT cause within unionist circles.

He said change happened when people accepted that people lived their lives differently.

He urged members of the LGBTQ community, people with dreams and aspirations, to take responsibility for engineering change themselves.

He said: “People like me have spent many years making it happen behind closed doors.”

Others who spoke included a straight Cliftonville football fan from north Belfast who helped unfurl the first rainbow flag on the terraces in 2014.

He said football fans’ attitudes to LGBT issues have changed since the early 1990s when he was growing up in the city.

Another speaker flamboyantly recalled the procedure of transitioning from a man into a woman, spending two years considering the surgery and its implications.

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