Last Friday [6/6/08] I blogged an obituary of English gay rights activist Paul Patrick, In a forward to the obituary I wrote ‘One of the more unfortunately blow backs from the north of Ireland’s troubles, is that unlike the rest of western Europe, where many of the big societal issues were debated through and legislated upon from the late 1960s onwards. The north of Ireland, as far as the more prominent of these issues were concerned was passed by; and they are only now coming to the fore. In many ways the north of Ireland is still in the dark ages as far as Gay Rights, Comprehensive education and a Woman’s Right to Choose is concerned.[I could have added racism] Whilst some legislation has been placed on the Statute book, the northern political elite’s attitudes to the aforementioned issues are very reactionary, at best even progressive political party’s like Sinn Fein prefer to side step what they regard as the thorny problem of a woman’s right to choose, due to there fear of the Roman Catholic church’s reactionary influence upon a section of their electorate.
Little did I know at the very same time I was posting up Paul Patrick’s obit on Organized Rage, Iris Robinson, the wife of the north of Irelands newly nominated ‘First Minister’ Peter Robinson, and a leading Democratic Unionist Party politician in her own right, was appearing on BBC Radio Ulster’s Nolan Show condemning homosexuality as an abomination and adding helpfully, that “she knows a very lovely psychiatrist who works with me in my offices and his Christian background is that he tries to help homosexuals – trying to turn [them] away from what they are engaged in, I’m happy to put any homosexual in touch with this gentleman and I have met people who have turned around and become heterosexuals.” *
As if this was not bad enough, we now know a week previously Mrs Robinson had called for the portrayal of gay people to be banned from TV, she also complained about not being able to use the term ‘coloureds’ to describe black people.
Understandable her comments have provoked a number of articles in the Irish media and barrage of posts on web sites that cover the north of Ireland such as Slugger O’Toole.* Many of these, especially some which have come from the Unionist middle classes have supported what Mrs Robinson said, both about gays and Blacks. A small number, mainly from the fundamentalist Christian right have gone even further and not only supported Robinson’s claim that homosexuality is an abomination, but have attempted to link those who are criticizing Mrs Robinson as part of a liberal-hard left-SF conspiracy designed to deny society the right of free speech.
Sammy Morse one of the few openly gay political activist to belong to one of the north’s mainstream parties, pointed out on Slugger O’Toole that this is not simply a case of a rather silly woman expressing in a personal capacity her outdated and homophobic belief’s. As Mrs Robinson MLA is not only regarded as the first lady when her husband travels abroad on the Stormont Assembles business, but as a senior member of the Democratic Unionist Party she Chairs the Stormont Assemblies
Health Committee; and as such Sammy rightly points out as a gay man he would have no confidence that she would not allow her homophobic prejudices to influence her decisions about health care. For example he writes she might support crackpot ‘medical treatment’ for gay people.
So far there has been no official statement about Mrs Robinson’s remarks from either her party the DUP nor the Stormont administration which her husband heads, which is deafening in itself; as had similar remarks been made by a leading politician any where else in western Europe, the culprit would have been forced to eat humble pie and walk over sack cloth and ashes before being sent home permanently to reflect on their ignorance. Myself I doubt there will be much criticism from the Stormont administration as SF, whom in the past one would have expected to stand up for minorities, is these days to busy playing at mockney government to worry about standing up for the hard won rights of Gay people.
Although one does wonder if the North’s gay community will continue to allow certain Gay members of the DUP to continue to sit snug in their closet whilst their colleagues harangue gays people with talk about needing psychiatric help for the abomination which they suffer from and practice.
Still all is not doom and gloom, as some of the fiercest critics of Mrs Robinson on the web have come from within the Unionist community, if only the unionist political elite had the back bone of these people the North may just begin to move beyond the hate filled spew that came out of Iris Robinson’s mouth.
* The Royal College of Psychiatrists released a statement following the claims made by Mrs Robinson on radio. The statement said: “In light of comments made on The Nolan Show, the Royal College of Psychiatrists wishes to clarify that homosexuality is not a psychiatric disorder.” Continuing, it noted: “In 1973 the American Psychiatric Association concluded there was no scientific evidence that homosexuality was a disorder and removed it from its diagnostic glossary of mental disorders. “The International Classification of Diseases of the World Health Organization followed suit in 1992.”