SDLP MLA ridicules claim she made '˜homophobic' comment

An SDLP MLA who was last year nominated for an award from a gay magazine has become embroiled in a heated spat online about homophobia, centring on an exchange between her and a Sinn Fein member.

Tuesday, 31st July 2018, 2:16 pm
Updated Friday, 31st August 2018, 5:03 pm
Claire Hanna in August 2016, at a fundraising event for gay campaign group the Rainbow Project

Claire Hanna (@ClaireHanna), the SDLP’s finance spokeswoman, made remarks on Twitter aimed at Michael Gray Sloan (@mgs_IRL), in which she initially accused him of being a “d**k”, then moved on to suggest he was “bent out of shape”.

This led to accusations that her use of the term “bent” was “homophobic” – something she said was “insulting people’s intelligence” given her history of backing gay rights.

Claire Hanna has been MLA for South Belfast since 2015, and a councillor before that from 2011.

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Politicians from L-R Mary Lou McDonald (Sinn Fein), Billy Hutchinson (PUP), John Blair (Alliance), Stephen Agnew (Green Part) , Claire Hanna (SDLP) and Doug Beattie (UUP) take question on gay issues during the Pride Talks back event at the Mac in Belfast on Monday

According to his 2016 Sinn Fein profile, Michael Gray Sloan was political advisor to ex-MLA Caitriona Ruane.

He is listed by LinkedIn as being a policy advisor to Sinn Fein on gay and transgender issues, and had also worked for gay campaign group the Rainbow Project.

Last year it was revealed that Caitriona Ruane had given some of the £55,000 per annum salary she had earned as deputy speaker – a role she was still technically allowed to keep, despite not even being an MLA, and the Assembly not existing – to an unnamed gay campaign group READ MORE HERE.

The Twitter spat unfolded, blow-by-blow, as follows:

In reference to her appearance at an gay pride event called Pride Talks Back on Monday, @mgs_IRL wrote: “Claire Hanna SDLP sweating at the mere notion of saying her colleague’s name: Alban MaGuinness and marriage equality. #PrideTalksBack”.

This is a reference to former North Belfast MLA Alban Maginness, who is on record as taking a traditional view of marriage.

@ClaireHanna replied about half an hour later: “You sad, grotty little liar. So poisoned by anger & loathing than you are prepared to just make stuff up in a crowded room for RTs from your angry insecure wee mates. What a d**k .”

@mgs_IRL responded: “Wow wow wow - has one hit a nerve?... Nothing like a straight person telling a gay person to get back in their box eh?”

@ClaireHanna replied: “The wee lad needs some help. Probably all bent out of shape that hostility issues like is are the biggest driver away from Irish unity and the DUP are the biggest driver for it. Hardly blame him for being upset.”

@mgs_IRL said: “Bent out of shape??? Are you serious???”

The situation then escalated, with @mgs_IRL writing: “Claire Hanna SDLP MLA described me as “bent out of shape” because I had the audacity to challenge her party and their atrocious history on LGBT rights. Honestly in shock. This woman knows the significance of the word “bent”. #PrideTalksBack”.

He later added: “Claire Hanna described me as dirty, grotty + bent. Those attempting 2 nullify comments like this from an @SDLPlive elected rep or anybody 4 that matter u need 2 look at yourselves. Challenging a politician on her party’s record should not induce insult/toxic homophobic language.”

He was soon joined by other Sinn Fein figures.

Belfast councillor Deirdre Hargey wrote: “‏Passionate & heated debates and exchanges should be expected in political discourse as we care about the issues we are debating but we have a responsibility to rise above personal attacks and abusive language! Sin é”

The party’s leader in Northern Ireland Michelle O’Neill said: “Claire Hanna should withdraw her needlessly crude comments made on Twitter this evening. Public representatives have a responsibility not to use language which is associated by the LGBT community with homophobia.”

Sinn Fein national LGBTQI+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, and more) officer Niall Polland wrote: “Bent. A word thrown around when I was coming to terms with my sexuality. Bent. A word that bullies used to refer to me, that drove me to suicidal thoughts. Bent. A word which is now used by an MLA who tonight proclaimed her views on equality. Really professional Claire.”

And in an image posted online, bedecked with three different rainbow logos, Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald said: “As leader of Sinn Fein, let me be very clear, we will not stop until marriage equality is enjoyed in Belfast and Derry as it is enjoyed in Dublin and Kerry. The north is next.”

Claire Hanna then summed up the row with this tweet: “Enjoyable night at #PrideTalksBack with all colours of the political rainbow going the same direction.

“Zealous I may be in tackling relentless spoofs on twitter, but suggesting I’m being homophobic, while at my 17th annual pride, is insulting people’s intelligence a wee bit.”

Last year, Claire Hanna had been nominated as ‘politician of the year’ at the GNI awards – an awards event organised by GNI, an island-wide gay magazine.

Speaking about the gay marriage referendum in the Republic in 2015, she told the Northern Ireland Assembly on November 2 that year: “Like many people, I watched the referendum in the South just before the summer. I actually campaigned in it, and, I have to say, as someone who has been involved in elections for going on for 15 years, that I do not remember one being as life-affirming and positive since the referendum that we had here in 1998...

“Northern Ireland is now the only part of these islands in which your marriage is invalid if you are gay. We have to clear that up.”

Lost Lives, a compendium of Troubles deaths, records that from 1966 to 2006, the IRA killed 1,768 people, out of the 3,720 total number of Troubles deaths.

Also represented on the panel at Pride Talks Back was the PUP, linked to the UVF, which murdered 569 people in the same period. Among the deaths for which it has been blamed is David Templeton, a Protestant minister who was killed in 1997 shortly after being outed as gay.