DUP's Clarke did not know heterosexuals could contract HIV

image captionTrevor Clarke, from the Democratic Unionist Party, told the assembly he had been "ignorant of the fact that the disease also affects heterosexual people"

A Northern Ireland politician has admitted he did not know heterosexual people could contract HIV until a charity explained the facts to him.

The DUP's Trevor Clarke made the admission in a Stormont debate calling for a new HIV awareness campaign.

He was later accused of "unconscious homophobia" by Foyle MLA Eamonn McCann.

This was after Mr Clarke claimed an amendment by Mr McCann, stressing the disproportionate impact on gay and bisexual men, added to "stigma" on HIV.

'Stubble factor'

Mr McCann, from the People Before Profit party, later said it was nonsense for some MLAS to think that the stigma associated with HIV came about because some people who are heterosexual and have the condition might be thought of as being gay.

He said it was not so long ago that some politicians had proclaimed they would "Save Ulster From Sodomy" - referring to the campaign led by the DUP's founder, the late Ian Paisley.

Mr McCann asked the assembly: "What's wrong with sodomy anyway?"

The People Before Profit MLA also said he would have kissed more men in his life if it "hadn't been for the stubble factor".

image captionEamonn McCann clashed with the DUP over the party's attitude to homosexuality

Mr Clarke, a 49-year-old MLA for South Antrim, was one of three Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) members who proposed Tuesday's debate.

Their motion called for a new campaign to "promote awareness and prevention" of HIV and for increased support for the work of the charity Positive Life, which helps people living with HIV in Northern Ireland.

'Turning point'

Addressing the Assembly, Mr Clarke said: "When I came here in 2007, I would have dismissed the possibility that I would speak about HIV today, because I was one of those who did not understand the stigma attached to it."

The DUP MLA added: "I have to put on record my thanks to Jacquie Richardson from Positive Life. Meeting her for the first time was a turning point for me, having been ignorant of the fact that the disease also affects heterosexual people.

"For that reason, I have no difficulty supporting what the motion calls for," he said. "The work that Positive Life did in changing my opinion - not only my opinion but that of many others - helped to remove the stigma."

Mr McCann had proposed an amendment to the DUP MLAs' motion which highlighted that HIV has a disproportionate impact on gay and bisexual men.

The Foyle MLA was not in the assembly chamber at the time, so his amendment was not moved.


Mr Clarke told the chamber: "I am not trying to get a rise out of Mr McCann when I say this, but I feel that his amendment, had he moved it, would have been unhelpful to people who, like me, were ignorant of the fact that this disease can affect heterosexuals."

The DUP MLA claimed Mr McCann's amendment "would have added to the stigma" around the disease.

"Maybe those who are bisexual or gay do have a statistically higher risk, but his amendment brought that into the equation and amplified it," Mr Clarke said.

"I think that we should talk about all who suffer with this condition; not just those who have the highest risk."

When Mr McCann talked about the number of young people driven to suicide because of the stigma still associated with how society regards them, Mr Clarke intervened to say that the Foyle MLA was himself stigmatising young people who commit suicide by automatically assuming they are gay.

Mr McCann responded by denouncing the DUP MLA's argument as a ridiculous and "unconsciously homophobic intervention", which proved homophobia was not a thing of the past.

'Frank contribution'

A DUP motion calling for a new campaign to promote awareness and prevention of HIV was passed.

An Alliance amendment - calling on the minister of health to bring forward proposals to ensure that everyone in Northern Ireland has access to vital pre-exposure prophylaxis medication on the same basis as the rest of the United Kingdom - was also passed.

Positive Life's chief executive Jacquie Richardson later tweeted her thanks to Mr Clarke for his "huge support and frank contribution to the debate".

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