QUB student who unveiled Pride flag at her graduation is a symbol of defiance in the face of intolerant politicians

The small gesture shows the fight for equality must reach every corner of our society

The LGBT+ community in Northern Ireland faces huge discrimination, but the issue that cuts so deep for so many is the denial of the right to marry the person you love. The attitudes of some of our politicians and the law that makes Northern Ireland the only place in the UK where gay marriage is still illegal, should be protested and fought against.

On Saturday, 1st July, thousands of people joined this fight in a march for marriage equality in Belfast city centre, with members of the LGBT+ community marching proudly with allies and politicians alike.

Belfast city centre during the march for equality

Belfast city centre during the march for equality

Director of the Rainbow Project, John O’Doherty, outlined the steps he wants to see taken: “Action to make communities safe, action to make schools safe, an overarching commitment from all the public institutions to addressing the historical and current inequalities which prevent Northern Ireland from being the society that we all want it to be.”

Ciara Cinnamond, a QUB Politics, Philosophy and Economics graduate couldn’t make the march because of her graduation ceremony, but wanted to be “there in spirit.” Her small gesture of unveiling a pride flag as she walked across the stage is a powerful testament to the determination of those fighting for equality.

She told Belfast Live: “What I did at my graduation was only one small incident in a far greater campaign aimed at getting equal marriage for everyone.

“I want the opportunity to marry the person that I love and in that moment, I marched too.”

Recent opinion polls have shown 70% of people in NI want equal marriage. Actress Bronagh Waugh is right when she says, “this isn’t about religion or politics. It’s a human rights issue and until everyone is afforded the same respect, dignity and legal protection as every other couple in Northern Ireland, we will not be silenced and we will continue to fight this.”

Actress Bronagh Waugh proudly supporting her mum at the march

Actress Bronagh Waugh proudly supporting her mum at the march

The spotlight has been on NI since the general election resulted in a deal between the Conservatives and DUP, the party responsible for preventing marriage equality – in November 2015, the Assembly voted to legalise gay marriage but the DUP issued a petition of concern and blocked the change in the law.

It now seems that everyone in the UK has an opinion on the DUP, as their infamously homophobic and traditional views continue to shock those only being exposed to them now.

DUP related memes continue to flood news feeds

DUP related memes continue to flood news feeds

The jokes and criticism have crossed the line apparently, according to Ian Paisley Jr, who recently brought up the issue to Irish and British politicians at a dinner held by the not-for-profit CHAMP group.

He claimed the DUP “were the recipients of vitriol the likes of which would probably be considered reprehensible and indeed would not have been directed at any other group. If I certainly said some of those things about other groups in our society, or if you had said them, even about Muslim groups, in this city, you wouldn’t get away with it.”

But he didn’t seem to mind so much: “I’m not asking for sympathy – I’ve got the money, the cheque cashed.”

It is rather entertaining to hear Ian Paisley Jr’s complaints about his party being so publicly criticised, their way of life questioned and portrayed as deplorable. They certainly aren’t guilty of doing the same to gay people in NI.

But it’s okay for Paisley and the DUP, like he says, they’ve got the money.

But for the LGBT+ community in this country, the hate and intolerance they face can never be sweetened with a cheque. Denying them the right to marry who they love is a degrading act, a refusal to view them as equal and human.

It’s perhaps a small justice for the LGBT+ community to see the party that  opposes their way of life the most being dragged so epically, thanks to memes and other internet gold, such as this:

It could take years for NI to legalise gay marriage, and until that day comes, politicians will have to tolerate a whole lot of laughter.