Belfast News Letter: Clergy at Gay Pride to protest and take part

NORMALLY the only clergy attending the annual Gay Pride march in Belfast are those present to demonstrate.

But on Saturday, Protestant clergy were both protestors and participants. For while Church of Ireland ministers joined a Unitarian clergyman in the Belfast Pride march as supporters of the gay festival, Free Presbyterians and other religious opponents of the city centre event protested on the pavements.

Police, who had worked with parade organisers, protesters and the Parades Commission to minimise the potential for trouble, said that the day had passed off without major incident.

However, one man sent photographs to the News Letter of a torn placard and ripped Bible — damage, he alleged, had been caused by participants in the parade as protestors voiced their opposition outside the City Hall.

Press photographers also witnessed a man in the parade pulling down his trousers to ‘moon’ in front of a protestor, yards from a child.

Estimates of the number on parade ranged from 5,000 to 8,000.

However, the Rev David McIlveen said that he believed the event was smaller than last year, saying it “took only about 15 minutes to pass”.

“Our protest was very constructive and reflected the revulsion felt at the placard displayed at last year’s march which said ‘Jesus is a fag’,” he said. “We had more protestors than at any other time.”

Mr McIlveen, who watched from Writers’ Square, said he had no knowledge of the alleged incident at the City Hall.

Revealing that “at one point one of the gay people tried to embrace me”, he went on to say that the various incidents “could easily be exaggerated”.

PA MacLochlainn, president of the Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association, was dressed in the red robes of a Roman Catholic Cardinal for the event.

He said: “It’s interesting the number of people who thought I was a Pope, but there was less rank incomprehension from some of the passers-by.”

And he had words of praise for Mr McIlveen.

“He loyally and steadfastly preaches the Gospel, but he doesn’t shove it down our throats. We get on well with David,” he said.

In response to this praise, Mr McIlveen said: “I treat them as human beings, I have debated and conversed with them, but we don’t condone what they do.”

Belfast Unitarian minister, the Rev Chris Hudson, who is originally from Dublin, took part in the march as did members of the Anglican pro-gay group Changing Attitude.

Retired Church of Ireland minister the Rev Mervyn Kingston explained: “This is the first time our banner has been displayed at Pride in Belfast. We are here because it is important to increase our visibility and to show people that there are alternative Christian views to those espoused by Iris Robinson.”

But Mr McIlveen said there was no need for a gay pride march.

“Successive Governments have legislated for any gay human rights issues.

“This is a flaunting of sexuality,” he said.