Good grief I can’t believe it’s over a fortnight since I last did a blog post. I’m not sure where the time went at all. I suppose I have been focused on what is coming up in the next few days for me, rather than what I have been doing up to this point. I’ll write a bit about that in another post (very soon, maybe tomorrow) but for now I’m going to do something different and digress into non-trans* topics. A bit of local politics in fact.
As regular readers will know, I live in Northern Ireland, where we had a general election last week along with the rest of the UK. (For Americans and other foreigners, in a general election we elect our MPs, members of parliament. This is roughly equivalent to the US House of Representatives whereas we also have the Northern Ireland Assembly, roughly equivalent to US State legislatures. OK?) Unlike the rest of the UK, where they were choosing the government and elected the Conservatives for another term, we have our own parties here which are by and large divided along sectarian lines. On the protestant/unionist side, we have the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) which is the larger of the two main unionist parties, and also the more hardline of the two. The other main unionist party is the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) which was the larger up until around 10/15 years ago when it lost a lot of support following the Good Friday Agreement peace accord. On the catholic/nationalist side we have the larger Sinn Fein, whose roots are in the Provisional IRA (although they would probably deny that) and the more moderate Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP). A bit like with the unionists, the relative size of the two nationalist parties reversed around 10/15 years ago, with Sinn Fein gaining more support following the IRA decomissioning their weapons and effectively disbanding, under it must be said significant pressure from the DUP. There is another major party, Alliance, which is a centre-ground party attracting moderate levels of support from both communities.
The frustration for me is that in very simple terms the unionist parties are very socially conservative, with the DUP in particular being in thrall of the fundamentalist Christian movement. Only to be expected I suppose as the party was founded and lead for many years by the Rev Ian Paisley, who probably needs no introduction. The DUP have a reputation for being homophobic, transphobic, islamophobic, basically anything that’s not straight white protestant-phobic. It was a DUP member of the Northern Ireland Assembly who brought forward a “conscience clause”, attempting (and failing thankfully) to give an exception to equality legislation for “strongly held religious views”, which would of course have enabled businesses to refuse service to gay, trans*, atheist, non-Christian customers. Anyone they don’t like the look of basically. Support for this clause is party policy. Similarly, Iris Robinson, the wife of our First Minister Peter Robinson and a former member of parliament herself, has gone on record as promoting gay “cures” and stating that homosexuality is worse than paedophilia, and also that it is the job of government to implement God’s word. This was shortly before she was caught having an affair with an 19-year-old and trying to fix him up with finance for his business from her rich friends (cue much schadenfreude). Peter Robinson himself recently stated that while he would trust a Muslim to go to the shops for him, he wouldn’t trust any Muslims with any significant tasks. The Northern Ireland Health Minister, the DUP’s Jim Wells, recently stated on a public platform that children brought up by same-sex parents are much more likely to suffer sexual abuse, and while he was forced to resign as a result, he was staunchly defended by many within his party. Needless to say, the DUP are against equal marriage as a matter of party policy. These are all considered mainstream political views in Northern Ireland. It is sickening.
The UUP in slight contrast, take more of an individualistic line. Matters such as equal marriage are not part of party policy one way or another, but are left to each person’s own conscience when relevant legislation is being debated. Although with one notable exception, they all seem to echo the views of their DUP counterparts even if in more temperate language. Alliance, SDLP and Sinn Fein all support equal marriage and equality legislation as a matter of policy. Interestingly enough, this means that if you are a socially liberal unionist or a socially conservative nationalist you have almost nobody to vote for. This is all the more ironic when you consider that the rest of the UK is broadly in favour of these things that the unionist parties are against. It’s almost as if they have decided that the best way to keep Northern Ireland British is to make it as different from the rest of the UK as possible.
Sinn Fein recently brought a bill into the Assembly to extend equal marriage to Northern Ireland. Equal marriage is a fact in England, Scotland and Wales, and in a few weeks there is a referendum on the subject in the Republic of Ireland, which is expected to pass comfortably. This was the fourth time that Sinn Fein have brought this bill to the assembly, and the fourth time that it was voted down. On this occasion however, it was only voted down by 49 votes to 47. A close-run thing. However looking down who voted for what, every SDLP, Sinn Fein and Alliance member present voted in favour (although a handful of SDLP and Alliance members decided to be somewhere else rather than vote against party policy) but every DUP member and every UUP member bar one voted against. The one UUP member who voted in favour of equal marriage for Northern Ireland is called Danny Kinahan, and he is an assembly member for South Antrim, my own constituency. I read the speech he made in the Assembly in favour of the motion, and I thought it was a beautiful thing. Have a read.
Since 2005, the member of parliament for South Antrim has been the DUP’s Rev William McCrea, a bible-thumping gay-bashing gospel-singing fundamentalist preacher. Really really bad gospel singing…
Can you believe this man was my MP for ten years? Seriously, he has released numerous albums that make Daniel O’Donnell sound like Cradle of Filth. As I am an atheist and come from a very mixed religious background I would never in a million years vote for McCrea, and I usually tend to vote for Alliance. However the UUP candidate at this election was the same Danny Kinahan who had spoken so eloquently in favour of equal marriage. So despite the fact that he is also Chris De Burgh’s cousin I cast my vote for him and much to my delight he only went and won. Numerous commentators observed that his progressive stance on social issues was likely to have been a factor. It certainly was for me. As the result came in shortly after 2am I gave a little air-punch. I have a pro-equal marriage MP and I helped elect him. This makes me happy and gives me some hope for our wee country.
“But Kirsty,” you might add, “you’re not gay, you’re trans.” Well yes that’s true, but having said that, I think that describing oneself as gay or straight assumes that you are cis. I am predominantly attracted to women, so am I a straight man or a gay woman? In the eyes of society, probably the former. But in the Northern Ireland that we have at the minute, if I were to decide to go full time and fully transition I would have to get divorced regardless of whether or not Mrs Kirsty was willing to accept me as a full-time woman. Or to put it another way, she could more or less veto me getting a Gender Recognition Certificate by refusing to grant me a divorce. This point is largely moot as I neither want a divorce nor am planning to go full time, but there must be other trans people who are planning just that and are coming up against just that problem. With equal marriage, trans men and women will be able to transition and the only people who will have any say in whether or not they remain married to their spouse are them and their spouse. Nobody else’s business, and certainly not the state’s. So I’m not gay (or strictly speaking I’m not cis/gay, I could be described as trans/gay) but equal marriage impacts me, or could do. And even if it had no impact on me either real or theoretical, it’s just the right thing to do. I don’t want to live in a country where some citizens are denied the rights of others based solely on their sexual orientation. So while the election of just one member of parliament might be just a very small victory, for now at least I’m rather proud to be from South Antrim.