‘We are not sick, we are not diseased.... we are people’

Stephen Donnan, an independent activist who campaigns for the rights of those in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community, said he was “disgusted but not surprised” at remarks made by both Ulster Unionist and DUP councillors at a discussion on marriage equality last Tuesday night.

He also expressed his disbelief at “leaflets” left on the seats of nationalist councillors ahead of the meeting that cited, among other reasons, that some of those in the LGBT community may have been abused by “homosexuals” as children.

The leaflet added that “those caught up in the web” of homosexuality and lesbianism “long to be free”.

Among the controversial remarks made by representatives at last week’s meeting, DUP chair Councillor Paul McLean described same-sex marriage as an “abomination”.

UUP Councillor Jackie Crawford, who also voted against the Sinn Fein tabled motion, said following the meeting: “I’m not against gays, it’s a pity for them.

“It’s a pity they have that disease and they can’t help it. It’s the same as you being born with a disability. They can’t help what they are.”

Councillor Crawford has since “clarified” his comments and apologised for his remarks, though added that he still stood by his opposition to same-sex marriage.

Speaking to the MAIL following the controversy, Mr Donnan, who is also a youth worker, said: “I was disgusted but not surprised to hear those comments.”

“What has been said in these leaflets and by Mr Crawford is ignorant and offensive, and I hope the matter is pursued by all right thinking councillors as well as organisations within the LGBT sector.

“I know that there are members in the UUP who are LGBT advocates, who speak up for us and who want to enshrine equality for us in law, and people like Jackie Crawford do them and their community a disgusting disservice.

“They are not befitting of the title of ‘public representative’ and it is a disgrace that they are allowed to broadcast hate speech in a public forum.”

Stephen continued: “Iris Robinson has made homophobic comments in the past, as has Ken Maginnis and what I believe drives it is a lack of understanding.

“We don’t want more rights, we don’t want less rights, we just want equal rights,” he said.

“The problem in places like Magherafelt, which is more rural and away from the central network of LGBT organisations, is less visibility and presence of LGBT organisations so it is harder for people in the community to step up and voice concern.

On Friday the UUP released a statement which said that leader Mike Nesbitt had met Councillor Crawford to discuss the issue.

It quoted Councillor Crawford as saying: “While I re-emphasise my opposition to same-sex marriage, I did not intend to cause any hurt or offence with my use of language.

“The term ‘disease’ was used as a figure of speech which I would not use again and I regret its unintended impact and any offence caused.”

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt added in the statement: “As party leader I am happy that Jackie has clarified his position and retracted the term ‘disease’. I affirm Jackie’s right to hold a view against same-sex marriage.”

Magherafelt Council passed the Sinn Fein tabled motion supporting equal marriage rights on a 10-5 party vote.