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Belfast Pride Draws Crowd, Protest, Rebuke

by Kilian Melloy
Monday Aug 1, 2011
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The 21st edition of Belfast’s Pride Parade took place on July 30, drawing a crowd to the city but also triggering anti-gay religious protests. Organizers took pains to make the occasion welcoming to all, however, going so far as to host a "family fun day" at a city park on July 31st, reported British site News Letter on Aug. 1.

Organizers also said that the Belfast Pride Parade is the largest of its kind on Ireland, and one of the largest in the European Union.

"It’s giving people the chance to come out and be open about their sexuality and life in general," organizer Simon Rea told the media. "The support gets bigger and bigger every year and it’s great that Belfast welcomes us."

The event also drew appreciative words from the city’s mayor.

"Pride is a wonderful, colorful display, a huge parade taking place involving old and young," said Niall O Donnghaile. "There were many families as well -- a great indication and a great symbol of Belfast moving forward as a changing city."

But not everyone was pleased with the event, which drew a few small anti-gay demonstrations.

Rev. David McIlveen, a Presbyterian minister, headed up one such protest, a "gospel witness" that included about 60 people and took place on the route prior to the parade.

"I certainly do not see it as an asset to Belfast in any way. It is something that is grieving to a good number of people," McIlveen told the media. "It is an in-your-face situation which will always bring reaction," the minister added.

"We base what we are saying on God’s word," McIlveen continued, before going on to say that "the Gay Pride event [is a challenge] to many Bible believers." McIlveen protested to some of the floats, which he called "obscene," and complained about the volume at which the music was played.

"[I]t was a very unpleasant experience for anyone that would not be thinking the way the parade organizers would want you to think," the minister added.

The Pride event included a weeklong festival that started on July 23, leading up to the July 30 parade. Text at the event’s website said that the 2010 edition of Belfast Pride had brought more than 17,000 revelers to the city.

"With a 5,000 strong crowd in Custom House Square enjoying the entertainment not to mention the 1,000s at other venues across Belfast that afternoon, we’re still the biggest Pride in Ireland," the website claimed.

Another page at the site underscored that the event was meant to be a fun-filled and inclusive one.

"Who can join the Parade?" the site’s text asked. "Quite simply, you can! Whether you are a member of the LGBT community or one of our friends or family, you are welcome to walk with us if you wish to promote a positive and respectful image of LGBT people."

The text added, "REMEMBER THIS IS A CHANCE TO BE PROUD OF YOUR CITY AND LET YOUR CITY AND COMMUNITY BE PROUD OF YOU -- YOUR BEHAVIOR IS ON PUBLIC VIEW!"

The site also noted that public drinking would not be tolerated at the event.

Still, there was some mildly risqué entertainment to the event, noted u.tv. "Northern Ireland’s best known drag queen, Titty Von Tramp, was among those taking part in the 21st Belfast Pride Parade," the July 30 article at u.tv said.

"Pride is really important for the gay community," said the entertainer. "And it shows our solidarity and how many we are -- there’s loads of us.

"It’s about spending time with friends, our one day to get together," added von Tramp.

One Irish politician rejected the event wholesale, declining an invitation to take part in a panel discussion with a sharply worded letter to the event’s organizers, reported the blog sluggero’toole on July 26.

"I understand that you contacted my Kilkeel office regarding what is termed a ’Belfast Pride’ debate," wrote Jim Wells, a member of the Democratic Unionist Party, one of Ireland’s largest political parties. "I find the behavior of those who take part in this march repugnant," Wells continued. "I do not wish to be associated in any way with this event.

"My position on this will not change in the future and I would politely suggest that any further requests of this nature will be a total waste of your time," the curt note added.

"Given the serious health and social services issues which relate to sexual orientation -- suicide, self-harm, sexual health, adoption, etc. -- the unwillingness of Jim Wells (or other DUP members) to engage in this debate and, apparently, to regard the Pride parade participants as ’repugnant’, is extremely worrying and requires a serious response from the party," text at the site read.

Representatives from Ireland’s the major parties were in attendance, noted British GLBT site PinkNews on July 26.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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