The Irish News: Gay Pride parade attracts thousands

Proud members of Northern Ireland’s gay community took to the streets of Belfast on Saturday for the biggest, noisiest and most colourful Pride parade yet.

More than 7,500 revellers braved the downpours to march through the streets singing, dancing and waving Rainbow Community flags.

The Queen of Pride, Titti Von Tramp, led the event, which this year surpassed Dublin as Ireland’s biggest Pride parade.

Thousands of umbrella clutching supporters lined Royal Avenue and the grounds of City Hall to cheer the 15 floats.

Joining in the rally was Northern Ireland’s first-ever gay rugby team, the Belfast Titans as well as the Newry Rainbow Community.

Two small counter demonstrations along the parade route – at Belfast Art College and outside the City Hall – were organised by the Free Presbyterian Church and the Stop The Parade Coalition.

But their hymns and prayers were drowned out by cheers and music.

In her absence, DUP assembly member Iris Robinson had a float in her honour.

Dubbed the ‘Iris Mobile’ it had a papier mache effigy of the controversial politician erected on the front.

At City Hall, a born-again Christian protester ran out in front of the lorry and tried to rip it off. It was later removed from the float at the request of the PSNI.

Changing Attitude Ireland, a new organisation representing gay Christians in Ireland, said they had decided to join Pride in response to the MPs remarks.

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

Organisers claimed the large turn-out was in response to the controversy stirred up by Mrs Robinson, who recently called homosexuality “an abomination”.

The city’s politicians also joined in the fun with Belfast Lord Mayor Tom Hartley among the first to arrive at Custom House Square to add his support to the marchers.

“This is the real face of 21st-century Belfast”, he said of the city, which was recently ranked the homophobic capital of the UK.

Chairperson of the Pride organising committee, Andy Thompson, said that while they would not be thanking Mrs Robinson for her comments, he believed she had played a role in bringing people out onto the streets.

“It is definitely the best Pride yet,” he said.

PUP leader Dawn Purvis, who has attended every gay Pride march since its inception, said: “It proves people aren’t just accepting Pride, they are embracing it.”

Political activist Eamonn McCann who travelled with the Derry contingent of the parade said the day signalled a growing confidence of the gay community.

“Today puts to an end any notion that Belfast or Northern Ireland are homophobic backwaters,” he said

“The fact that people have come out on to the streets in this way shows that they have our support.”