DUP leader Arlene Foster will attend a reception at Stormont to “celebrate the LGBT community” today, as a law to disregard convictions for homosexual offences comes into effect.
It will be the first time a leader of the DUP, a party who ran a ‘Save Ulster from Sodomy’ campaign in the 1970s to oppose the decriminalisation of homosexuality, has attended an LGBT event.
The new law, which was passed by the Northern Ireland Assembly in November 2016, allows for the removal of convictions under old laws which criminalised homosexuality.
At the time of the Assembly vote, Mrs Foster faced down internal dissent to tell her MLAs to back the legislation.
It brings Northern Ireland into line with England and Wales, where pardons have been available since 2012 under what’s been dubbed ‘Turing’s Law’ after the famous World War Two codebreaker and computer scientist.
Mrs Foster will attend the reception event alongside the leaders of Sinn Fein, the SDLP, Alliance Party and UUP.
The other parties had all, with the exception of the UUP who allowed a conscience vote, backed the introduction of same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.
The DUP, however, has consistently blocked its introduction here.
Today’s Stormont reception has been organised by Pink News, who describe themselves as the “world’s most-read LGBT+ publication”, in order to “celebrate and thank the incredible contribution of the LGBT+ community in Northern Ireland”.
Pink News branded the DUP “homophobic” last year and published an article entitled “Meet the DUP homophobes who now hold the keys to power in the UK”.
However, its CEO Benjamin Cohen has expressed a hope that “this is the beginning of a conversation between all of the parties in Northern Ireland with the LGBT+ community”.
He added: “The conversation must start somewhere, and I hope that it will benefit the LGBT+ community across Northern Ireland.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Justice outlined details of the new law to grant pardons for those convicted of homosexual offences.
“Convictions that are disregarded will be considered as never having happened and will no longer appear on criminal records or in any criminal record checks,” the spokesperson said.
“It also means that there is no requirement to disclose the abolished offence, for example on job application forms or in court cases.”