Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Hey Tatchell, Leave our Jeff Alone

Today has been a good day for the LGBT community the Lord were not content with Lord's Dear's amendment to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill one that would have stymied progress. But no doubt I'll be hearing Peter Tatchell going on about how this is one small step which needs to go further.

The thing is earlier today I read Peter Tatchell about a spat that Peter Tatchell was having a go at Jeff Dudgeon for remaining within the UUP. Now I'm sure when Peter was up outside the Lords yesterday and today he would have looked around him and seen that there were members of many parties as part of the vigil.

Maybe if he were to look at Northern Ireland and the inequalities that still exist there, far behind where the rest of the UK is, he will notice that the same is true. In fact Jeff and his long-time but dearly departed friend PA McLaughlin were pioneers of the cross-community LGBT politicised community in Northern Ireland. Jeff in the UUP and PA in the SDLP both working away with the moderates on both sides and important step to advance LGBT equality as a whole.

Tatchell says of Jeff  "A high-profile external challenge that shames and embarrasses the party is likely to secure more change – and more quickly." I think that shows how little he understands of how things work in Northern Ireland. The fact that last October the Northern Irish assembly came within 6 votes of actually voting in a majority for equal marriage shows that we are not that far off it. Now is the time for gentle persuasion.

The thing is as Jeff said a couple of years ago when he was sat across the table from me at the Pride Ball with PA also at the table, he could look around that room and see that the fate of LGBT rights in Northern Ireland were in the safe hands of the next generation. Some of who are the suffragettes that Tatchell wants us all to be and some are the suffragists prepared to take a stand whether in our party, with our MLAs or in our churches chipping away. You see Jeff realises that in Northern Ireland you need both to get things done. Those who are ready to explode at anything and those who stoically keep on keeping on.

The one thing that Jeff has in the LGBT community in Northern Ireland that Tatchell doesn't is an almost universal respect, which in Northern Ireland across traditional community divides is something. Jeff put his name to the landmark case to end the criminalisation of us all, and hasn't stopped working for equality since. Tatchell though has a tendency to be more like Marmite you can love him or hate him.

The obstacle that we have left to full LGBT equality in Northern Ireland now is on the Unionist side, so what we do need is people to work alongside their MLAs to persuade them to take that final step. Two of the best Unionist advocates for LGBT rights have left the party for other reasons so they will be a high-profile external challenge to unionism on a whole host of issues including this one. Meanwhile others who have the respect from within need to work away diplomatically, people like Jeff.

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