New Pride flag motion falls at Antrim and Newtownabbey Council
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Ballyclare Alliance Alderman Lewis Boyle proposed an update to Antrim and Newtowabbey’s LGBTQ flag-flying policy at a meeting of the borough council on Monday evening. The motion sought an updated version of the rainbow flag to be flown annually at Ballyclare Town Hall, Mossley Mill and Antrim Civic Centre.
Ald Boyle said: “The Progress Pride flag that I propose we fly from our buildings, is an updated version of the traditional rainbow flag that is now recommended instead of the traditional flag, adds an arrow of progress in colours that acknowledges transgender people and LGBTQ people of colour.”
Urging the council to “reaffirm its commitment to the LGBTQ community, he said he brought the motion “as a point of equality and representation” and “not as a point of political point scoring”.
Antrim and Newtownabbey council approved an Alliance motion in July 2019 to fly a rainbow flag at Mossley Mill and Antrim Civic Centre during Belfast’s annual Pride event to “recognise the contribution made to the borough by LGBTQ+ residents and reject all forms of discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community” and “as a symbol of inclusivity”.
Speaking at this week’s meeting, the DUP’s first openly gay Councillor Alison Bennington, a Glengormley representative, voiced opposition to the motion saying: “The council like any other business or organisation works within fair employment and equal opportunity legislation.”
She pointed out that the Pride flag is already flown by the local authority and she suggested that flying an updated version would “significantly upset community and work place harmony” and warned of potential cost to council of any legislative change.
“As a gay person, I do not feel there is a requirement for any variation of any Pride flag to be flown in our borough. Once again, the Alliance Party is seeking to set apart a section of the community and alienate others.
“I want to be included in society. Why make us stand out by putting a label across our heads. I joined the DUP because I wanted to be treated as an equal. I am treated as an equal. I do not need a flag to be thrown back in my face. I will not support this motion.”
Dunsilly Ulster Unionist Cllr Stewart Wilson questioned if the council would still be able to endorse International Women’s Day and suggested that support for the motion also had potential to “undermine women’s rights”.
Glegormley Sinn Fein Cllr Michael Goodman said: “The irony I have just heard is almost enough to knock me down. This is supposed to be a neutral work space.”
He commented that Union flags and Ulster flags “the size of bed sheets” are being flown outside an integrated school and outside churches. “How is that respecting people who live in this borough?”
Glengormley Ulster Unionist Ald Mark Cosgrove said he was “very surprised” to see the motion to change council policy. “I have no wish to work in a council that is biased in any way but policy has to be made thoughtfully and inclusively and in good measure.
“I am proud of the flying of the Pride flag, proud of the fact we were the first Unionist controlled council at the time to adopt it, to provide that inclusive relationship for our citizens. I would like to know what has brought the proposal about and who is behind it.”
Antrim Sinn Fein Cllr Lucille O’Hagan thanked Cllr Boyle for bringing the motion. “I hope it goes through. I think people need to be progressive in this council. I am really disappointed at how things have transpired this afternoon.”
Threemilewater Ulster Unionist Cllr Stephen Cosgrove said it may have been something he would have liked to support but the motion has been brought “without any background” and had “no substantive evidence to back it up” which he described as “quite annoying”.
The motion fell after 14 votes in favour and 21 against with an abstention by the SDLP.
Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter