1. What’s the difference?
The UK was recently revealed by the International Lesbian and Gay Association as the best place in Europe to be gay, with 86% equality of rights. Scotland scored highest at 92%, but Northern Ireland came in last with 74%. What is it that makes Northern Ireland different?
It was the last place in the UK to legalise homosexuality in 1982, 15 years after England and Wales. And in 2011 the rest of the UK lifted the lifelong ban on gay men donating blood, but the Northern Ireland health minister kept it. England, Scotland and Wales chose a 12 month deferral period, therefore allowing celibate gay men to donate, though not those who are sexually active. Then in 2014 the Northern Ireland Assembly chose not to implement Westminster's equal marriage legislation.
So if the law’s not totally on your side, what’s it like to be gay in Northern Ireland’s capital city?
2. A city with a past
Belfast is a vibrant city, but is there room for the rainbow flag to fly? The words of politicians over the years may suggest not - from Ian Paisley’s ‘Save Ulster from Sodomy’ campaign to the recent comment by Jim Wells (then Northern Ireland health minister): "If you bring a child up in a homosexual relationship then the child is far more likely to be abused and neglected."
3. A law unto themselves?
Until 2013, Northern Ireland was the only part of the UK which did not allow same sex couples to adopt. It took a court ruling to bring its legislation into line with the rest of the UK. But Northern Ireland’s devolved assembly has not moved on other big issues that affect the LGBT community.
When the Equal Marriage Bill was passed in Westminster the Northern Ireland Executive chose not to implement it. Repeated votes on the issue have maintained the status quo.
In 2011, Health Minister Edwin Poots (DUP) chose to retain the lifelong ban on gay men giving blood in Northern Ireland despite the ban having been lifted in England, Wales and Scotland. The current Health Minister, Simon Hamilton (DUP), is still considering the scientific evidence, in spite of a High Court judge deeming the ban "irrational". England, Scotland and Wales chose a 12 month deferral period, therefore allowing celibate gay men to donate, though not those who are sexually active.
The most notable difference between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK is that religion and politics are more deeply intertwined. The larger political parties have traditionally held close relationships with the Catholic and Protestant churches. As a result, a number of politicians reference their religious values in political debates and protests – most infamously in 1982 when Ian Paisley and his supporters publicly campaigned against the legalisation of homosexuality, shouting "sodomy is sin".
After the ravages of the Troubles, Belfast has seen many changes in a short period of time. Tourism has grown, a thriving TV and film industry attracts world class business, and community relationships have strengthened. But if the LGBT community are still marginalised, can this really be a cosmopolitan city?
4. Comparing the capitals
5. Loud and proud?
Is Belfast lagging behind? Do political rows and protests about equality law and equal marriage cause a gay person to think twice about living in Belfast today?
6. Where is the best place to be gay in the UK?
Which of the four UK capital cities do you think is the best place to live for someone who is gay?