Monday, 15 September 2014

Why I'll not be signing book of condolence

Across Northern Ireland today books of condolence have been set up for Ian Paisley. While my thoughts are with Baroness Paisley, her five children and her grandchildren and other members of the family I do not feel that I can add my name to a public book of condolence.

While Paisley may have finally got around to realising that working with others was the way to do things this was almost 16 years after the first Anglo-Irish Agreement and for the years from that point and the years even before his rhetoric was as much a recruiter of paramilitaries on both sides leading to death, injury and bloodshed on both sides of the community. Yes he rose to the height of First Minister but that does not make him a great statesman as a great statesman would have been at the forefront like John Hume was. Nor does his inability to see the power and effect his words have make him a great churchman on this account, Jesus after all said "Blessed be the peace makers" and he certainly wasn't one of those in fact he was one of the last hold outs of getting the peace process moving here in Northern Ireland.

I didn't agree with Paisley sectarianism, growing up as I did with friends next door who were from the "other side" according to Paisley yet whose father was in the RUC, that didn't tally for me.

But as I got older I realised that Paisley had another attack in store for me and the way I was. He wanted to keep me down because of my sexuality. His words on the issue of LGBT rights still resonate through too many church folk in Northern Ireland and that is not just within his Free Presbyterian Church. In 2004 when there was the debate on Civil Partnerships in Westminster Paisley said:

"The census of 2001 found only 288 same-sex couple households in the whole of Northern Ireland. The Government say that only 5 per cent. of same-sex couples will commit to civil partnerships. Well, 5 per cent. of 288 is 14, so 14 couples in Northern Ireland will have the opportunity provided by the Bill, even though a majority of people who have a view on the matter across the political and religious divide oppose it. Their voices were not heard or taken into account. The basis of family law in Northern Ireland is to be changed for the sake of 14 homosexual couples."

Now over 900 civil partnerships here later we know that he had the maths incredibly wrong, part of the reason for him getting the maths wrong was that many same-sex couples didn't dare identify as such back then, others had moved to England during the 70s and 80s to get away not only from the troubles but the homophobia that Paisley and his ilk were spouting. I was one of those who knew I had to get away at the first opportunity, this I did by going to University at Kingston. It was there that even though I knew I was gay I still could hear Paisley's voice and the voice of others back home telling me that as a Christian there was no way I could be. So while I had escaped I wasn't happy, and heaven knows how I managed to survive some of the really down days.

I took me nearly 10 years from when I escaped to England and by this time I had returned home to Northern Ireland to actually be openly true to who I was, wasted years brought on by Paisley. But also there were many others who suffered far worse, people that Paisley never showed a sign of caring for. People that his party still seem to assume are subnormal, and still need to be kept down. The language that they use now is sometimes toned down the the 1982 debate on decriminalistion, or the lowering of the age of consent, or introducing civil partnerships but actually the actions or rather the lack of action is still far behind.

That is another reason why I cannot sign a public book of condolence for this man. Yes he eventually crossed a divide with the republicans, but there were other bridges and other divides in Northern Ireland that he was a figurehead for forging open that have not been repaired. His legacy on LGBT issues lives on not only with the members of his party but in far too many voters left behind (ironically on both sides).

However, while I do hope that he rests in peace and that his passing moments were peaceful and without too much physical pain. The one thing that I cannot do for a man whose greatest trait, many have been saying, was standing by his principles is to abandon mine. The only loss I have is that his is the one voice that might, just possibly have been able to soften the DUP's position on LGBT equality in the short term. I look behind Peter Robinson, who succeeded him, and I do not have hope that that softening will come with the next leader of the DUP, and that is a great tragedy that many young people will look at the situation here and continue to feel that they have to go elsewhere to be fully free of his legacy.

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