There are two names that are closely associated historically with the fight for LGBT rights in Northern Ireland one of course is Jeff Dudgeon who took his test case to the European Court of Human Rights to get homosexuality legalised here, the other was known to all of us simply as PA.
|Picture by Phil O'Kane at 2011 Belfast Pride Ball|
PA was often the go to voice that the media would turn to for comment about the latest LGBT issue to affect Northern Ireland in the 30 years since Dudgeon's test case he would often be the one that would appear on the local Northern Ireland news programmes or be quoted in our newspapers for comment.
At the 2011 Belfast Pride Ball to mark the 21st anniversary I was fortunate to be sitting at the table with these two men as there were both honoured; PA for services to Belfast Pride. One thing that struck me on that occasion was these two names at the very forefront of all things LGBT here in Northern Ireland was the interest and encouragement they took and gave in those of us with 'less' years under our belt.
Earlier this year while we were celebrating the success of Dudgeon v UK thirty years ago I was standing around afterwards talking with PA and Jeff. We were there to celebrate a break through event but the two of them were talking about how they were glad there was a whole range of vocal and able younger LGBT activists to take up the torch and carry things through for many years to come.
The last time I saw PA in person was on 1 October this year, we were sitting beside each other as the MLAs voted on the equal marriage motion. We were facing the Aye lobby and trying to work out who was going through those doors. He remarked how he was pleased to see one of his fellow SDLP members head through the door with "Good, there goes Alban," little did we know he was also to vote in the No lobby. Then when the voting came to a very close defeat, he turned to me and said, "We'll get it next time."
Since I found out the news this evening that PA passed on this morning I've been thinking of all the meetings I will be going to in the future and the chair that PA will no longer fill. The laugh that was so distinctive and the encouragement that was always genuine. I think that we will never wait in anticipation before any Pride parade to see what costume PA will turn up wearing as he prepared to set off on his mobility scooter with the rest of us.
One thing that also comes from the likes of PA and Jeff is that the two men were firm friends through years of association, showing that the LGBT community was one of the first in Northern Ireland to unite people from across the traditional divide. Something that those in the unionist community would do well to remember.
PA may have gone but his years of serving the LGBT community here in Northern Ireland will be a lasting legacy.