Elliott set to meet gay community
Ulster Unionist leader Tom Elliott is set for a groundbreaking meeting with members of the gay community.
The Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA has accepted an invitation from the Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association (Nigra).
It comes in the wake of the controversy surrounding his claim he had no intention of attending a gay pride event. But the invitation from Nigra president P A Mag Lochlainn was prompted by an interview Mr Elliott gave over the Christmas period in which he claimed to have found support among contributors on a gay website.
In the piece Mr Elliott said: "I read on a gay website just shortly after it, saying 'At least this person's being upfront and honest with us and he's not trying to come here for a photo opportunity and take some sort of privilege that he doesn't deserve'."
Mr Mag Lochlainn said he was surprised by the remarks but would welcome the opportunity to discuss with the UUP leader issues of concern to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
"I was intrigued by Tom's assertion that he had received support from gay voters, and delighted when he backed it up by referring to views he'd read on gay websites," he said.
"There are many matters of mutual concern that we are eager to discuss with him - violence, especially bullying in schools, the special problems of rural LGBT people, the CSI (Cohesion, Sharing and Integration strategy) and a Sexual Orientation Strategy for Northern Ireland - to name but a few. Nigra, like the whole local NI LGBT community, always welcomes dialogue and communication. We have a long history of extending the 'pink hand of friendship' in Ulster."
Mr Elliott, who made the same claim about refusing to attend GAA events, but has since insisted "no intention" did not necessarily mean "never", said he would be willing to accept the invitation.
He has met members of the LGBT community during OFMDFM (Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister) committee hearings but this would be a first for him as Ulster Unionist leader.
"I have no difficulty meeting with them," he said, "I would be happy to meet them and hear their concerns."