Northern Ireland

LGBT community my neighbours, says Arlene Foster

Arlene Foster at Pink News event

DUP leader Arlene Foster has told the LGBT community she looks at them "as my neighbours or my fellow citizens".

At a PinkNews event at Stormont, she said that just because they disagreed on (same sex) marriage does not mean she did not value their community.

In a speech to a packed audience in Stormont's Great Hall she said: "It is not a zero sum game.

"All I ask in return is that my, and our views, are also respected if not agreed with."

Mrs Foster added: "Whilst we disagree, this does not prevent us from finding common values to keep Northern Ireland moving forward."

She is the first DUP leader to attend an LGBT event.

Does it mean anything?

Gareth Gordon, BBC News NI Political Correspondent

"I look at you as my neighbours or my fellow citizens," said Arlene Foster.

She could have delivered that line at the Ulster GAA Final in Clones where she was last Sunday.

But she kept it for an LGBT event at Stormont four days later.

Just rewind there for a moment.

The Ulster Final? An LGBT event? Is this really the leader of a party that rigidly opposes same-sex marriage and condemns GAA clubs which names grounds or competitions after IRA figures?

Yes and yes. So why the change, in tone, if not in substance?

Read more here.

The DUP is opposed to same sex marriage and has blocked its introduction in the assembly.

But Mrs Foster told the event that she wanted to accept the invitation to it, even though it came on the anniversary of a bus bombing she got caught up in the 1980s.

She said she wanted to use the platform to encourage meaningful dialogue rather than megaphone diplomacy.

"I wanted to acknowledge the contribution of the LGBT community in Northern Ireland and to recognise the reality of diversity among our citizens," she said.

"I wanted to recognise that some of our brightest and best in this country are part of the LGBT community.

"I wanted to send a clear message from this event, that we are all someone's child and we are all a valued part of this wonderful place we call home."

'Comfortable home'

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann also addressed the event.

"I recognise that the relationship between the LGBT community in Northern Ireland and elements of political unionism has often not been an easy one," Mr Swann said.

"For my party's part I want us to be a comfortable home for LGBT members of our society, whether activist or elected representative and one they can be proud to vote for."

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