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Belfast School Apologises over anti-gay Worksheet (01 December 2014)
A Belfast school has apologised after complaints were made that it handed out a worksheet which branded gay people “homosexual perverts”. The worksheet was handed out in a in a Religious Studies class at Hunterhouse College in Belfast, but has now been withdrawn. It asked questions in relation to 1 Corinthians 6: 9-11 and was sent home with pupils, at least one parent of which complained. According to the school, the worksheet was part of a wider discussion, and that it purposely included extreme opinions, and those on both sides of the debate. The questions read "What do these verses tell us about homosexuals? Who else is included with homosexuals? What hope is there for all these people?"
One father told the BBC to say he had complained that the questions did not “allow room for discussion and almost branded all homosexuals as perverts.” Hunterhouse headmaster Andrew Gibson told the BBC: “This is in the introduction to Christian ethics centred around personal and family issues. As part of this, pupils are encouraged to consider a variety of attitudes to homosexuality, the questions were set in house but they were in the context of the CCEA specifications. We have a very strong pastoral care system at the school and deal with issues around sexuality with great sensitivity.” He went on to admit the school “got it wrong” by allowing the worksheet to be sent home, saying it was taken out of the context of the class. Hunterhouse College has withdrawn the worksheet, and claims to have an ethos of inclusivity. The Rainbow Project, Northern Ireland was consulted for advice on how the school can be more inclusive going forward.
Ashers Bakery Says NO Apology Needed in Bert and Ernie Gay Cake Row (07 November 2014)
Belfast based gay and lesbian support group has said it is disappointed that a row over a 'gay cake' had not been resolved through agreement. The Northern Ireland Equality Commission said it was taking legal action over a Christian-run bakery's refusal to bake a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan. Ashers Baking Company said it had declined the request because it was "at odds" with its beliefs. The Rainbow Project said a solution could have been found to the dispute. However, John O'Doherty, Director of the Rainbow Project, said: "The Equality Commission asked for an apology, they asked for recognition that it wouldn't happen again. There's going to be a court case around this, and this is going to get a lot more public attention and the discussions that are going to be held are going to be 'us versus them' and we have already seen that quite a lot. The reality is that we need to address the very serious issues that exist within our society around discrimination."
The Equality Commission supported the customer's claim for compensation, but lawyers for the County Antrim firm do not accept the bakery owners acted unlawfully. In a statement the commission said it is to begin civil proceedings. The row hit the headlines in July 2014, when the baking company revealed it was facing possible legal action over its decision to decline the customer's request. The cake had been ordered in Belfast by a gay activist two months earlier, for a civic event in Bangor, County Down, marking International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. At the time, the firm's 24-year-old general manager, Daniel McArthur, said marriage in Northern Ireland "still is defined as being a union between one man and one woman" and said his company was taking "a stand". In a video posted on social media Mr McArthur, said: "We feel that the Equality Commission are pursuing us because of our belief that marriage is between a man and a woman." The commission said it would have preferred not to start legal action. Northern Ireland's first minister, Peter Robinson criticised the Equality Commission's decision calling it bonkers. See our other article on this subject below - dated 8 July 2014.
Belfast's Councillor Corr to 'Tie the Knot' (15 October 2014)
Just five months after being elected to Belfast city council, Julie-Anne Corr the openly gay member of the Progressive Unionist Party is set to tie the knot next month with her partner Kerry Johnston in a civil ceremony inside Crumlin Road Gaol. "It's the biggest day of our lives and Kerry and I decided to make it quirky and lots of fun. I'll be arriving in a black taxi and and the jail was right up my street." said Councillor Corr who represents the Oldpark area on the council. The couple plan a honeymoon in Poland where they first decided to commit to one another two years ago. Councillor Corr has been outspoken on many issues ranging from flags to same-sex marriage which has been rejected three times by the Assembly. Northern Ireland is now the only part of the UK without full marriage equality.
Belfast's Top Gay Venue Kremlin is Sold (1 October 2014)
The sale of the Kremlin Licensed Complex, which includes The Kremlin Club, Union Street Bar and The Shoe Factory Club represents one of the largest pub sales in recent years and generated significant interest from investors. The purchase price was undisclosed, but is understood to be close to the £3m asking price. The complex started with the Kremlin Club in 1999 and has become one of the city's well-known licensed premises. Tim Reid, Director of Capital Markets at selling agent CBRE said: "As the economic recovery continues to gather pace, so too have we witnessed strong renewed interest in the Northern Ireland hotel and licensed sector. "The sale of the Kremlin demonstrates that there is appetite for larger pub lot sizes, where the premises have been well fitted and are underpinned by strong trading fundamentals." Formed in 2009 to lease and run the Kremlin Complex, Anthology NI will now take full ownership of the venues including the Liquor License, branding, copyrights, goodwill, fixtures and fittings. Anthea Wilson, Director of purchaser Anthology NI, added: "We are absolutely delighted to now own the freehold of the Kremlin having been the tenant for the past five years. "For us its business as usual, but with a few exciting new additions planned for the complex over the next 12 months as we expand on demand and increase our diversity."
Blair - Top 'Gay Icon' (28 September 2014)
Tony Blair, former Prime Minister has been recognised as one of the top "gay icons" of the past three decades, along with figures such as Boy George, Sir Ian McKellen and Barbra Streisand. He has been given the accolade by Gay Times to mark its 30th anniversary. Blair's period as Prime Minister saw the lowering of the homosexual age of consent, bringing it into line with that for straight couples, as well as the introduction of civil partnerships. It comes after he was given an award by GQ magazine earlier this month which declared him the philanthropist of the year. Gay Times said of Mr Blair's contribution: "Whatever the realities of his philanthropy and the backlash to his GQ award, his status as an ambassador of gay rights is undeniable. "An equal age of consent, the abolition of Section 28, legal recognition for trans people, civil partnerships, banning employers from sacking you because of who you love and making homophobia a hate crime - they were all on Blair's watch."
Panti Bliss delivery review of Northern Ireland homophobia (01 August 2014)
Irish campaigning drag queen Panti Bliss delivered her Amnesty International Pride lecture last tonight at the The MAC, in which she claimed that Northern Ireland still has a problem with homophobia: ‘It’s a great place and a place transformed for the gay community over recent years,’ she will say, ‘but there is still a long way to go.’
Panti Bliss is the drag persona of Rory O’Neill, condemned the role of religion in fuelling homophobia. “Homophobia is a problem in all of the UK. But polls suggest that Northern Ireland has a particular problem.
Twenty-six per cent of Northern Irish people in a recent vote said they’d have a problem living beside a gay neighbour and that’s a pretty stark statistic. I think the simple answer is that Northern Ireland is a more religious society and many people use religion as an outlet to express homophobic views.”
Bakery refuses to make ‘gay marriage’ cake (08 July 2014)
A bakery that refused to make a cake featuring the slogan “support gay marriage” alongside a picture of Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie could end up in court, it has been reported. Ashers Baking Company, a Newtownabbey-based bakery is understood to have been sent a letter from the Equality Commission threatening legal action if it refuses to print the icing on the cake. Ashers Baking Company published a statement on its website defending its decision to refuse to bake the cake as the slogan above the puppets was in support of gay marriage. We are run by Christians who refused the order because it went against the directors’ religious beliefs.
Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where gay marriage is still not legal. That ban is expected to face a challenge later this year, firstly in the high court in Belfast, with the possibility of the action going all the way to the European court of human rights. Northern Ireland's first openly gay mayor, Andrew Muir, has backed legal action against the bakery, saying businesses should not be able to pick and choose who they serve.
In its statement, the firm's general manager, Daniel McArthur, said: "The directors and myself looked at it and considered it and thought that this order was at odds with our beliefs. It certainly was at odds with what the Bible teaches, and on the following Monday we rang the customer to let him know that we couldn't take his order." McArthur said the company had offered to fully refund the customer, who wanted to have the logo of the pressure group QueerSpace on the cake. The 24-year-old businessman, whose company was established in 1992, runs six shops in the region and employs 62 people, confirmed he had received a letter from the Equality commission for Northern Ireland. He said: "We thought that was the end of it, but approximately six weeks later we received a letter from the Equality commission. The commission's letter said that we had discriminated against the customer on the grounds of his sexual orientation." McArthur said he was very surprised by the watchdog's letter and had asked the Christian Institute, an evangelical pressure group, for advice. The institute supports the bakery's stance and is providing legal assistance. "I feel if we don't take a stand on this here case, how can we stand up against it, further down the line?" He added that it was not the first time his company had refused cake orders: "In the past, we've declined several orders which have contained pornographic images and offensive, foul language."
Andrew Muir, the outgoing mayor of North Down and a gay member of the liberal Alliance party, said the Bert and Ernie cake was for an event he was hosting in the constituency in May. He said it was ordered to coincide with the International Day Against Homophobia on 17 May. "Businesses should not be able to pick and choose who they serve," he said, adding that he would be supportive of legal action against the bakery. For Northern Ireland to prosper and overcome our divisions we need a new society where businesses are willing to cater for all, regardless of religious views, political opinion, disability, race, age, sexual orientation, marital status, gender and other backgrounds. I was pleased that another bakery, in Bangor, was able to step in and produce this cake for the event I hosted as mayor of North Down. We were able to ensure that this event went ahead, despite the actions of Ashers Bakery, and enjoyed a great afternoon celebrating the vibrant diversity Northern Ireland enjoys."
Gay Fermanagh Hunk Enters Big Brother House (06 June 2014)
A gay journalist from Fermanagh is one of the ten housemates in the new series of Big Reporter Christopher Hall (23) has joined a devout Catholic and the woman who claims to have bedded Manchester United star Wayne Rooney while his wife was pregnant. Christopher said he admires people with strong opinions and said during his time in the house he "won't hold back and wants to let loose and have no regrets". He has never had a relationship but looks forward to "building something special with the right man".
He isn't looking for love in the House, but ‘wouldn’t turn it down if it came along'. In the House, Christopher says he will get on best with 'eccentric, uninhibited people'. He would struggle to get on with 'egotistical people and people who judge', even though he admits he can be guilty of this himself. As a housemate, Christopher says he 'won't hold back and wants to let loose and have no regrets'.
Three Openly Gay Politicians Elected to Belfast City Council (27 May 2014)
There will be three openly gay politicians on the new Belfast City Council, including the man who brought a case to decriminalise homosexuality in Northern Ireland in the 1980s. A celebratory tweet sent by Sinn Fein Councillor Mary Ellen Campbell following her election to the new super council. She said: “Aren’t the electorate amazing… Imagine no longer [being] the only gay in the village.” She will be joined by Julie Anne Corr of the Progressive Unionist Party and Jeff Dudgeon of the Ulster Unionists. Dudgeon, who led efforts to decriminalise homosexuality in Northern Ireland, is a well known gay activist. Jeff Dudgeon, a shipping clerk and gay rights activist in Belfast, successfully challenged the criminalisation of sexual relations between men at the European Court of Human Rights, having first complained to the European Commission of Human Rights in 1975. He forced the UK government to make Northern Ireland bring its laws into line with the rest of England, Wales and Scotland in 1982. Dudgeon was honoured with an MBE in 2012 for services to the LGBT community in Northern Ireland. Corr said: “Whilst I am open about my sexuality, I will not let it define me or allow anyone to fit me into a neat category,” she said. Both the Progressive Unionist Party and Sinn Fein support same-sex marriage, while the Ulster Unionists allow a free vote on the issue. North Down Borough Council appointed the first openly gay mayor last year. Alliance councillor Andrew Muir was elected to the position last June and was reelected to the new council at the May elections last week.
Banbridge Council Bans Gay Sex Painting (27 May 2014)
Art lovers have been urged to rally to the defence of a piece of work which depicts a gay couple having sex after it was banned from an exhibition. An online protest petition has been launched by Visual Arts Ireland after Ursula Burke's image of two men intertwined, with a voyeuristic woman observing them, was deemed unsuitable for inclusion in the upcoming exhibition at the FE McWilliam Gallery in Banbridge, Co Down.Banbridge District Council said Burke's piece, entitled After Frans Van Bloeman – Arcadian Landscape, will not be included in The Past is Unpredictable exhibition which runs from May 31 to August 17 as it's not suitable for children. Noel Kelly, chief executive officer of artist representative body Visual Arts Ireland, urged people to sign a petition to have Burke's excluded work reinstated in the Banbridge exhibition, adding it can be clearly marked as having content parents may wish to control their children’s access to. A statement from Banbridge Council said: "The decision not to include the painting has been taken on the basis that the artwork in question depicted a scene of a sexual nature which was deemed inappropriate for display to minors in a public gallery. "The FE McWilliam Gallery and Studio prides itself as a family-friendly facility and encourages visitors of all ages to visit and view the exhibitions in a welcoming and comfortable environment." An online petition is available on change.org