A leading LGBTQ+ group has slammed the mainstream media’s reporting of UK human rights violations


From The Canary

A leading LGBTQ+ group has hit out at the mainstream media’s failings in reporting human rights violations in Northern Ireland, and slammed a media outlet’s coverage of one of its events as “callous and uncaring”.

“We’re Queer and we should be here”

The fourth OUTing the Past festival has been running up and down the UK since 3 February. This “National Festival of LGBT History” hosts 12 events across the country. And each hub has unique speakers, debates, activities, performances and presentations:

This year’s festival has a full-to-brimming programme in its 12 hubs. It covers a multitude of topics. One event gives a potted history of the first lesbian newsletter, founded in 1964. Another is a talk called We’re Queer and we should be here: LGBT supporters and football. And as The Canary previously reported, the Belfast hub that ran on 16 and 17 February was groundbreaking; not least because of the discriminatory laws that still exist in Northern Ireland.

“Callous and uncaring”

But the Belfast Telegraph‘s coverage of the festival left OUTing the Past’s organisers less than happy. The media outlet chose to focus on comments made by one of the speakers at the Belfast hub, Dublin senator David Norris.

The Belfast Telegraph ran with the headline Backlash over ‘IRA kneecapped gays’ comment – but senator Norris stands by claim. It related to accusations made by Norris at the Belfast hub that the Provisional IRA used to kneecap people if they were LGBTQ+. And while the paper gave Norris the right of reply, it did not make space for any other information about the festival.

 So OUTing the Past has hit back, saying this lack of coverage “echoes the mainstream media’s attitude that the ongoing of violation of human rights in Northern Ireland are not a subject of interest to their readers”.

Ignoring human rights violations?

The festival organisers gave The Canary the following statement:

The OUTing the Past [OTP] Festival of LGBT History notes that the Belfast Telegraphchose to focus on a very small part… of the OTP Belfast Hub… hosted in the city last weekend. The Telegraph’s report of Tuesday 20 February completely failed to mention any of the many other contributions made that evening and omitted all mention of remarkable LGBT History presentations hosted by the Ulster Museum the following day.

What makes that omission all the more glaring is that the official festival celebration on Saturday happened to include presentations showcasing the historic support of LGBT/Human Rights by different communities in Northern Ireland.


Currently, LGBTQ+ rights in Northern Ireland fall short of the rest of the UK, mainly due to equal marriage not being legalised. But broadly, in 2017 the country only had a score of 74% on equality laws, according to International Lesbian and Gay Association. This compared to 92% in Scotland and 86% for the UK as a whole.

Northern Ireland’s DUP is seen by many as pushing an anti-equality agenda. The party has been marred by criticism over its stance on LGBTQ+ rights, particularly its refusal to support equal marriage. But individual DUP politicians have come under fire too.

For example, former DUP health minister Jim Wells said in 2015:

The demands of the gay lobby are insatiable, they simply do not know that we have gone as far as we can go in the form of civil partnerships.

Marriage is between a man and a woman; marriage is for the procreation and bringing up of children. All evidence throughout the world says the best way to raise children is in a loving, stable, married relationship; the facts show that, the facts show that certainly you don’t bring a child up in a homosexual relationship.

And there have been other controversial comments by former DUP MPs. LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall said in 2017:

The DUP have a poor record on LGBT rights. Although the party leader claims they are not anti-LGBT, the DUP have vetoed same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland five times, despite a majority of the public and representatives being in favour.

Local and mainstream media

OUTing the Past continued:

We fully appreciate and are painfully aware of ‘historic’ allegations of violence against the LGBT community. It is an important topic… But the Belfast Telegraph’s coverage echoes the mainstream media’s attitude that the ongoing of violation of human rights in Northern Ireland are not a subject of interest to their readers. It is difficult to believe that the readers of that paper are as callous and uncaring as its editorial board appear to be.

A systemic problem?

OUTing the Past may well have a point about the mainstream media. As John O’Donnell, director of LGBT organisation The Rainbow Project, told QX Magazine, when the deputy mayor of Derry said that LGBTQ+ people could be cured through prayer:

There was press coverage of this, but the press coverage here is usually quite stale. It gives both perspectives, rather than what I believe should happen which is rightly challenging a lie… I think they definitely should be much more consistent on these issues.

But the issue is also a UK-wide one. As The Canary previously reported, in October 2016 the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), part of the Council of Europe, gave its assessment on human rights and the UK media. And it accused [pdf, p18] the UK press of using “offensive, discriminatory and provocative terminology” against minorities.

The ECRI said [pdf, p9] that “biased or ill-founded” reporting by the mainstream media about vulnerable groups may be fuelling “stereotypes”. And it specifically said [pdf, p18] that “unscrupulous press reporting” of the LGBTQ+ community was of concern. It highlighted [pdf, p18] that in March 2013, a trans schoolteacher committed suicide after being outed by The Daily Mail. And the report also noted [pdf, p10] that:

Intimidation, harassment and violence may be an everyday reality for some LGBT people. LGBT pupils experience severe bullying in school and are not always supported by teachers.

The report also made broad comments [pdf, p9] about LGBTQ+ rights in general in Northern Ireland.

Showcasing diversity

This is exactly why OUTing the Past is trying to make a difference. Its statement continued:

The goal of OTP Festival of LGBT History… is to showcase… the wonderful history of courage and diversity. As a history project, we are particularly interested in affording access to the growing [historical] evidence… that includes the remarkable examples of support [for LGBT rights] from many parts of NI including the nationalist community and its leaders…

We seek to challenge bigotry by educating-out ignorance… bringing rational debate, where there is stone-age irrational theology and superstition. Seeking to inform, rather than fuelling misunderstanding, fear and violence.

The Canary asked the Belfast Telegraph for comment, but received none by the time of publication.

Shining a light

OUTing the Past: Belfast was probably one of the most crucial stops on the festival’s UK tour. It took place against a backdrop of political battles between its ruling parties and a history that casts a shadow to this day. But it’s a shame that Belfast Telegraph failed to give the festival the coverage it deserves. Because LGBTQ+ people in Northern Ireland need all the support they can get. And with a mainstream media often dismissive of minorities and the battles they face, OUTing the Past is also sorely needed.

The Canary is the official media partner of Outing The Past 2018, the national festival of LGBT history in the UK.

Get Involved!

– Find out more about OUTing the Past and browse its programme.