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Digital Subscriptions > Attitude > 283 > DISUNITED KINGDOM?

DISUNITED KINGDOM?

THIS YEAR, ENGLAND AND WALES CELEBRATE 50 YEARS SINCE THE PARTIAL DECRIMINALISATION OF HOMOSEXUALITY. HOWEVER, SCOTLAND AND NORTHERN IRELAND DIDN’T FOLLOW SUIT UNTIL THE EARLY EIGHTIES. MORE THAN THREE DECADES LATER, SCOTLAND IS NOW HERALDED AS A BASTION OF SOCIAL PROGRESS, WHILE NORTHERN IRELAND RETAINS A STIGMA OF INTOLERANCE. BUT DO THOSE REPUTATIONS MATCH THE REALITY?

So what brings you to Northern Ireland?” asks Tom, my cab driver, as he pulls away from Belfast International airport. I offer a brief, tentative explanation: I’m a journalist for a gay mag and I’ve been sent to find out whether Northern Ireland’s reputation as a homophobic country is a fair one. With that assured authority which only cab drivers possess, he launches into a history of Ulster’s gay rights movement.

He covers a lot of ground: the favourable shift in attitudes since The Troubles; his wife’s gay best friend; the civil ceremony (one of the country’s first) he attended; how the best nights out in Belfast are at the gay bars; and how their patrons never give you any trouble.

He describes the jealousy some harbour towards the South for legalising same-sex marriage before they did and touches upon the influence evangelical religious beliefs still hold in these parts. Tom has six children and if one of his sons came out as gay he’d accept it. “If God is love, He’d be fine with it. After all: love is love,” he concludes.

After 30 minutes, my preconceptions about social attitudes towards gay men have been challenged. And I’m a little closer to understanding how the legal disparity manifested between LGBT+ rights in Scotland, which decriminalised in 1980, and Northern Ireland, which decriminalised in 1982. As we leave the suburbs and breach the inner city, hints at the upcoming election to the Northern Ireland Assembly increase; placards posture from trees and lampposts, sloganeering billboards draw the gaze of drivers. A Sinn Fein poster calling for marriage equality overlooks the gay quarter.

Northern Ireland remains the only part of the UK where same-sex marriage is not legal. As the last home nation to legalise same-sex activity and end the ban on blood donations by gay men, its tardiness is something of a tradition. It’s so far behind the curve that Peter Tatchell recently brandished Ulster the worst place in Western Europe to be gay.

Locals might argue he’s overstating the case, including — I guess — Tom the cab driver. But the country has certainly built a reputation for resistance to LGBT+ equality.

All progress has arisen as a result of legal challenges against the local government, while same-sex marriage has been consistently voted down.

”Scotland may be the most progressive part of the UK. It has become one of the most vocal champions of LGBT+ equality”

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About Attitude

On the cover, Charlie Carver talks exclusively how his dad coming out helped him do the same. Plus, music legend’s Blondie in their only gay magazine interview, Walking Dead actor Tom Payne, queer pop prince Perfume Genius, and the growing divide between LGBT equality in Northern Ireland and Scotland. Also, presenting the world’s top 100 single gay men from the world of entertainment, art, business and politics.
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