Tens of thousands of people enjoyed the largest-ever Belfast Pride on Saturday, July 29, despite the presence of an anti-LGBTQ+ preacher who caused a disruption that is being treated as a hate crime.
The 10-day festival ran from Friday, July 21 to Sunday, July 30, and over 150 events took place. The programme included a Pride Village, a free party in the square and a family-friendly Pride-themed market featuring music, children’s entertainment, bouncy castles and quiet alcohol and smoke-free spaces.
It culminated with the Pride Parade on Saturday, with over 250 groups registered to march, a 25% increase since 2022.
The theme for Belfast Pride 2023 was Stand By Your Trans, and the parade was led by trans, non-binary and gender-diverse people, and organisers say the Stand By Your Trans theme “really resonated”.
Ulster Rugby was not allowed to participate due to the new policy the governing body introduced which bans trans players from participating. Belfast Pride organisers stated that the festival is “unapologetically trans-inclusive” and any group engaging in trans-exclusionary practices will not be permitted to participate.
As I gather my thoughts from yesterday.
Belfast came out to support the LGBTQIA community and said #StandByYourTrans.
Belfast people raised their voices over the hate and nonsense peddled at our community. pic.twitter.com/QESCV66UVP
— Aisling Playford ?️? ?️⚧️ (@ash_is_here) July 30, 2023
Prior to Saturday’s parade, a preacher appeared in the Royal Avenue part of the city and began making hateful homophobic remarks toward the crowd using a public address system. Belfast Pride co-chairman John O’Doherty described the language used by the preacher as “entirely unacceptable”.
We made sure to take pictures in front of the bible bashers.
Happy Belfast Pride ?️? pic.twitter.com/UAkItkGS4r
— Aoibhín (@Aoibhiin) July 29, 2023
O’Doherty told BBC: “Belfast Pride and the Pride movement more generally are born out of a protest movement, and Belfast Pride itself is a protest so we fully recognise the right of people to protest across our city, it’s a right that we use annually ourselves.” However, he said the comments made by the preacher were “indicative of a wider, growing problem that we are seeing in the city centre”.
Regarding the presence of homophobic preachers in Belfast city centre, O’Doherty said: “The growing number, the language being used on a daily basis, and the impact that’s having on traders, businesses, employees and people visiting our city centre, it’s something that needs to be addressed.”
— nailulu7654 (@nailulu7654) July 29, 2023
The incident was captured on video and has been shared on social media. In the video, two police officers can be seen observing the incident and speaking to someone who attempts to video the preacher.
PSNI Supt Christian Bradley said that Belfast police are aware of a video circulating online, and it has been confirmed that authorities are actively investigating the incident.
Bradley said: “Officers were present at the scene and gathered evidence on body-worn video. This footage is being reviewed by investigators. The incident is being treated as a hate crime.”
While there is no official hate crime law in Northern Ireland, Patrick Corrigan, Head of Nations & Regions of Amnesty UK, referenced a Public Order from 1987.
‘A person who uses threatening, abusive or insulting words… is guilty of an offence if
(a) he intends thereby to stir up hatred or arouse fear; or
(b) having regard to all the circumstances hatred is likely to be stirred up…’ — Public Order (NI) Order 1987
cc: @PoliceServiceNI https://t.co/gcBNJ7Bm6Q
— Patrick Corrigan (@PatrickCorrigan) July 29, 2023
Northern Ireland police did not march in uniform, a decision PSNI made to help restore trust among the LGBTQ+ community, but officers were present.
O’Doherty said: “It is incumbent on the police to ensure they are doing everything that they can to build confidence among that community. The actions of recent weeks have done nothing to increase trust in policing.”
The first Belfast Pride took place in 1991, and since then, it has grown to be the largest parade in Northern Ireland. Despite the incident involving the preacher, this Belfast Pride was the city’s largest-ever Pride celebration with attendees marching in solidarity and support of the local LGBTQ+ community.
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